Conference on IT and Innovative Learning Environments

Thursday/Friday his week I’ll be attending a conference/workshop on “It and innovative learning environments” at university level organized by the Danish Ministry of Science in Copenhagen.

I’m especially looking forward to hearing the two keynote speakers:

  • Phillip D. Long, Ph.D. Professor of Innovation and Educational Technology and Founding Director, Centre for Educational Innovation and Technology, University of Queensland, Australia.
  • Renate Fruchter, Ph.D. Founding Director of Project Based Learning Laboratory and Senior Research Engineer, Department of Civil Engineering, Stanford University, USA

I’ve never met Professor Long, but I’ve read a some of his publications concerning design of learning spaces (i.e. Trends in Learning Space Design), and I think he has some pretty interesting takes on educational design. He is scheduled to talk about Open Scholarship and Learning, which should be interesting too!

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Professor Fruchter a couple of times during my recent research stay in the Bay Area. She’s a very energetic and positive woman, and I think it’ll be fun to reconnect with her. During this research stay a bunch of my colleagues from 5 different Danish universities and I attended a 2-day workshop at Stanford exploring the future of e-learning, and since this conference is kind of a follow-up event I’m also looking forward to reconnecting with them and the organizers from Innovation Center Denmark in Silicon Valley.

I’m also interested in hearing the Danish Minister of Science, Charlotte Sahl-Madsen’s thoughts on innovative learning and the future of our universities … On Friday I’ll be attending different workshops, and here I’m especially looking forward to hearing what colleagues from the Danish School of Education, Tina Bering Keiding & Morten Misfeldt have to say on the alignment between learning and physical space – not least since this is a topic I normally don’t pay much attention to due to my explicit focus on virtual space/place in my PhD-project.

Dan Gilbert, Learner Designer Technologist, Learning Innovations Inc. will facilitate a workshop entitled Innovative Tools and Techniques to Enhance Creativity in Your Classes: Connecting Design Thinking with Teaching and Learning”, and this should be interesting too. I’ve previously attended a workshop by Dan and it was inspirational and great fun!

Finally, I’m really looking forward to seeing how conference participants will be using Twitter #itlearning. This will be my first Danish conference organized with the explicit goal of using Twitter and I have no idea how this will be received – but I am expecting a lot of fun :-)

/Mariis

First impressions from a Twitter newbie

After more than a month of computer problems, incl. malfunctioning OS, lack of permissions, ruined logic board, slow support and lots of frustration I’ve been reinstalling programmes, applications and services, incl. Twitter. I’ve actually had a Twitter profile for quite some time, but I’ve been reluctant to use it – not sure why, when and how? But yesterday, as I logged in to check my account, I noticed a lot of buzz concerning a live-streamed event – TEDxNYED – and since the list of speakers seemed interesting, I decided to hang around. As it turned out to be a very interesting learning experience, I thought I’d use this post to reflect a bit on my newbie impressions …

Why use Twitter?
Well, the jury is still out on that question. My main concern is whether I really need more information? It may seem a bit strange, but I’m already experiencing some information overload from existing mail lists, the blogsphere and my other networks. At this point in time in my PhD-project I really should be aiming at convergence, but on the other hand the constant drawback of living in a connected, digital world is the fear of missing out on important information. As always information management is key and I’ll return to that. Even though I’m a newbie, I have of course been listening in on colleagues’ discussions and research, comments in the media and especially in the blogsphere etc., but I have to admit that it wasn’t until yesterday’s experience that the use of Twitter became valuable to me, which leads to the next question.

When to use Twitter?
In yesterday’s event it was possible to use Twitter and Facebook as backchannels during the live-steamed presentations. Despite newbie problems trying to figure out exactly “how to” and also some language constraints (Twitter and general Anglo-American idioms and lingo), I did find the Twitter chat valuable. I’m familiar with the backchannel phenomenon from SL, where especially the Metanomics show makes really good use of the backchat (via the so-called chatbridge) to democratize and expand the discussions, and in my PhD I’m focusing on promoting this particular way of communicating in my in-world teaching sessions. Now, I’m not sure if yesterday’s speakers actually followed the Twitter chat real time (they seemed to focus on the local f2f audience), but after the presentations several of the speakers continued discussing and elaborating, and as I understood from experienced Tweeters this is common practice. George Siemens (one of yesterdays speakers) wrote an interesting piece on “frustrating (= non-participative, non-sustainable) conferences” and together with Tittenberger and Anderson, he wrote an article on how to improve live participation and sustainability of conferences – and yesterday was the first time I had a really good experience with this (outside SL) thanks to Twitter. There can of course also be disadvantages to this backchannel phenomenon as expressed and experienced by Danah Boyd in this much debated post, but I did see an interesting potential and I’m sure I’ll be logging in to Twitter for future events.

However, I’m not so sure that I’ll start using Twitter on a daily basis – at least not for now. I definitely need to learn more about the many possibilities, so for a while I’ll settle for being a lurking participant in the periphery until I get a better feel for the many accompanying tools one can choose to use in relation to Twitter, and that leads to the final question.

How to use Twitter?

Evidently writing a max. of 140 characters is not complicated – it’s the management/storage of information that can be a little tricky, not least because there are so many different accompanying tools to choose from. When I started out yesterday, I already had FriendFeed installed and I like that probably because I’m used to pop-ups from my Thunderbird mail.

During the event I started following more people, and when my SL/FB friend BevanWhitfield noticed me, she quickly recommended Tweetdeck, but also mentioned that I should be careful in joining too many groups. And so I installed Tweetdeck, but it’s a much more complex tool than FriendFeed. I had a look at SIGs related to e-learning and there were soo many! And which one do you choose then? Another friend of mine made a “mention” in Tweetdeck and I wasn’t sure how to reply. A nice feature was the ability to synchronize with other accounts such as FB, but here I’m wondering if that’s really what I want to do. There’s bound to be a lot of redundancy, and I need to figure out how to handle that.

In sorting the information hashtags (#) seem to be part of the solution, but this is also something I need to learn more about. My SL/FB friend, ldinstl_chimera, pointed my attention to Backupify, which may turn out to be a great service for storage and management, whereas Arielion Clawtooth, mentioned Twapperkeeper, so there are plenty of new things to figure out. Incidentally, today TOPsSocialMedia tweeted a list of top 10 Twitter tools.

So to summarize my first impressions; it was fun, engaging and somewhat confusing and overwhelming – just as one would expect a newbie experience to be :-)

/Mariis

Case MIL09: Student analysis of SL – part 4

Flower

The fourth and final synchronous analysis of SL in the MIL course was done by Flower and the theme for her presentation was that “we learn through experience”. Now, this is one of the rare occasions where the English language doesn’t fully cover the meaning of a Danish expression. In Danish we have two different words for “experience” – briefly explained one which deals with the more rational type of experience and the other which deals more with the emotional type – the latter – and the one Flower referred to – is perhaps best known in the Anglo-American sphere through the concept of “Experience economy”.  The two words are however not mutually exclusive and I’m afraid  the nuances are a bit more subtle than I’m able to explain … Anyway, the important point for Flower was that we learn through engaging experience and to illustrate this, she started out by taking us to Phantasy Acres, where we received Christmas gifts and went ice-skating.


Fitting objects can be tricky – and may change your appearance  radically .. especially if you’re a cat ;-)

It was highly interesting to observe how the majority of the students actually seemed to enjoy the ice-skating activity – especially since this kind of experience adds no value for me personally.  Activities like dancing, car-racing, paragliding, surfing and the like are quite popular in-world. Feel free to accuse me of being unimaginative, but animating the avatar never really appealed to me.  In my own defense, I think this has to do with the augmentation-immersion problem, and I think Flower nailed it, when she later in her presentation showed a photo of me and my co-facilitator, Mew as examples of an augmentationist vs. an immersionist.

Next stop was Pax Island, where Flower asked us to explore the beauty of the landscape and finish off by jumping into a waterfall before returning to the sandbox on The MIL Island. This experience also included Mew and one of the students trying out a kissing pose – something definitely NpIRL!

Back in the sandbox on the MIL Island it became quite obvious why Flower had put so much emphasis on “experience” as vehicle for learning. RL Flower is a speech therapist and works with clients/patients who have been diagnosed with ALS. My knowledge of ALS is very limited, but Flower explained that her clients slowly deteriorate,  the disease affects their motor skills, and some lose the ability to speak/communicate. Consequently all clients end up in wheel chairs and become more and more isolated from the world. Theoretically Flower is inspired by especially Peter Jarvis, who has (among other things) accentuated the relation between sensory input and learning. The optimal outcome for Flower, if she should chose to use SL, would be to provide her clients with different types of experiences of being “somewhere” literally NpIRL in a social setting also enabling her clients to communicate without oral language in real time.

Flower was one of the MIL students who really had a difficult time learning how to master SL and in the beginning of the course when I strongly encouraged all the students to do their analysis based on their work practice target groups, Flower was very skeptical. But much to my admiration she kept on coming in-world, fought to overcome the initial barriers and never gave up no matter the technical difficulties and personal frustrations and feelings of being incompetent. Her presentation was flawless, well founded theoretically and very sober with regard to the disadvantages of using SL, and as I told her I was really impressed and proud on her behalf. It is experiences like this that really highlights the joy and satisfaction of teaching!

Judging from Flower’s own reflections on the course the most important lessons that she learned came from her own experience as a “newbie” which in many ways placed her in the powerless and uncontrollable situation that her clients often must find themselves in.  And this is something I recognize from all of the four courses I’ve run in-world so far. Those students who are teachers RL benefit greatly from being newbies – from being learners …

/Mariis

Case MIL09: Student analysis of SL – part 3

PerSecond

The third student analysis of SL was conducted by PerSecond and he had asked us to meet him at our regular meeting place in front of the fireplace on MIL’s island, but was otherwise very secretive about his presentation. As we were waiting for the other students to turn up we small talked about our avatars’ clothes – a topic that seems quite popular for both gender in-world. While it doesn’t make much sense to discuss the in-world weather, I do think the interest in the avatar appearance stems from a deeper need to figure out and find your way with the new identity.

PerSecond was actually reluctant to change his appearance from the default look, when he first entered SL, because he didn’t want to put emphasis on that part, but as he learned that caring for your avatar’s appearance signals that you care for the world and are willing to make an effort to learn how to master the medium, he changed his mind. PerSecond told us that had recently received a t-shirt with his company logo, which enabled him to identify more with his otherwise estranged avatar, and as we shall see identity was part of the theme for PerSecond’s presentation. We then headed off to what turned out to be PerSecond’s own home on the Innovative Learning Island.  RL PerSecond works at VIA University College that offers a combination of vocational, higher and further education and they’ve had a presence in SL for quite some time, but it wasn’t until PerSecond entered the MIL course and thus was forced to spend time in-world that he became convinced of the teaching and learning potential of virtual worlds. For his presentation PerSecond had prepared an interesting set-up with a video screen on one wall and a slide presenter on another – a challenging set-up if you don’t master the camera:

Like Perlo & Francine, PerSecond also chose to use the Didactic Relation Model (showed above on the slide presenter) as basis for his presentation and analysis, but he also pointed to other relevant models and theoretical foundations and combined it with video clippings from a couple of other worlds most notably Blue Mars and Hipihi. PerSecond’s primary target group would be building construction students, and one of the main reasons as to why he has been hesitant with the use of SL, is the lack of possibility to integrate other 3D modeling apps in SL – something which Blue Mars offers e.g. through support of content creation tools like 3DSMax.


PerSecond showing another important tool: Revit

As part of the presentation we also went on a short tour to see part of the construction site that recently won the annual Danish e-learning award. It is one of the rare sites that also make use of relevant audio – as you enter the building you hear a lot of very loud background noise that would be normal at a construction site.


Be careful not to step on any of the dangerous cords on the floor!

Using SL for work place training is obviously what appealed to PerSecond and he also envisioned different types of role play to enhance the professional identity of the students.  There are already different outfits for the avatars to wear near the construction site, so that the students could enact different professional roles, but as another example of role playing PerSecond had prepared a little surprise for us in the shape of a second avatar, Per Memo. Per shifted between the two avatars and we were asked to comment on the presentation on IM with Memo.

PerSecond pointed to another interesting advantage of using SL as part of this training which had to do with time and flexibility. Here in Denmark it is unfortunately often difficult to find sufficient internships for our students in the vocational sector and SL could provide an excellent supplement and enable the “school part” of the education to be closer to RL practice – something which most students undoubtedly would appreciate. The ability to leave the setting and return at any time convenient for the students also would provide more flexibility.

Given the fact that PerSecond was reluctant to use SL just a few weeks ago, I was quite impressed by his presentation and not least his willingness to explore and try out the many affordances of the medium. Per will continue his work with SL as part of his Master Thesis in the spring where he may be looking into the possibility of using SL as platform for work they are doing at VIA with Chinese collaborators.

/Mariis


Case MIL09: Student analysis of SL – part 2

Lizzie & Jorn

Lizzie & Jorn, who were in charge of the second didactic analysis in the MIL course, had decided that we should start out by exploring a particular design which then would form the basis for their discussion and reflections, so we went to Teaching 4 – Iowa State University, CELT, where Thursday Xu has created a model of Wenger’s Community of Practice (CoP):

The model has been created as a kind of spiral shaped staircase and as you move up floating text with key concepts central to the theory appears. Other than that there seems to be no apparent interaction possibilities with the model.

After exploring the model we all went to Media Learning, where Lizzie & Jorn had been able to make use of a presentation setting owned by another (first year) MIL student, Inge Qunhua, who is an experienced and award winning SL teacher.

As part of their presentation Lizzie & Jorn started by analyzing the CoP model and I think it is safe to say that none of them or any of the other students was impressed by the model – above all due to the lacking interaction possibilities. My role in these discussions was mainly to listen and observe and it was quite interesting in this case because I did not agree with the students. During the MIL course we have visited other theoretical designs that are based more on interaction between the design and the avatar. Right next to the Cop model, Thursday Xu has created a build of Bloom’s taxonomy, where questions regarding the theory are posed in the local chat as you move your avatar around in the model and we have also been exploring Zotarah Shepherd’s MI build where the avatar can play instruments or solve a mathematical puzzle as examples of the different intelligences and the MIL students clearly preferred these more interactive designs.

In my opinion interaction doesn’t necessarily equal learning. I don’t think my understanding of musical intelligence is enhanced solely because my avatar can be animated to play drums though I recognize that the fun engagement and activity may play an important role in the memorizing process, but there is so much more to learning than just memorizing. In line with Wenger, I believe that negotiation as part of the creation of meaning is essential to the learning process and in this sense my pedagogical foundation obviously is dialogic and I tend to agree with Wegerif. 2006 who finds that one of the goals of education, perhaps even the most important goal, should be dialogue as an end in itself.

Judging the quality of designs for teaching and learning is however very complex and I think that one of the first things you need to clarify is whether the design is intended for single- or multiple-user purposes. In the case of the latter you of course also need to consider the role of other participants and e.g. a facilitator. Lizzie & Jorn found that the CoP model was a “stand-alone” model and therefore they didn’t find it interesting, but as part of their analysis they had also created a suggestion for an alternate CoP model to be used with their particular target group; dental hygienists. This imaginary model was presented as sketches drawn by Lizzie and put emphasis on 3 of the core concepts from the CoP theory;  mutual engagement, shared repertoire and joint enterprise:

By the end of their presentation Lizzie & Jorn also invited us to join them in trying to place the two CoP models within a third model, namely the model created by former MIL student Carsten Storgaard as I’ve referred to earlier in this post. It turned out to be quite difficult, but started an interesting discussion on models and their usability in general.

Afterwards in their reflections in FirstClass, Lizzie & Jorn, mentioned how difficult it is to teach when you’re unable to see the facial expressions and body language in general – the chat (text/voice) becomes crucial in environments like SL in order to get the sense of not talking to an empty space. One of the things Lizzie & Jorn also criticized about the CoP model was the lack of a place for discussion in the model if you’re in a lager group, but in hindsight they concluded that the need to gather (f2f) in order to discuss is more psychological stemming from our RL habits than practical, since there is no other reason to do so in SL where you always can communicate via group chat regardless of distance. They also felt that their presentation had raised more questions than answers, which for someone who believes in the value of unfinished dialogue was good to hear …

Besides the fact that I was really surprised by all of the students’ lacking recognition of dialogue as main means of learning, I do think Lizzie & Jorn did a great job and we all had a very interesting experience. It is, nonetheless difficult not to mention the irony of the situation; the students really criticized the CoP model and its apparent disability to promote learning, but judging from the discussions and the comments during the session it turned out to be an event with both challenging and meaningful negotiation of several of the topics in the course ;-)

/Mariis