Virtual Learning Environments

exploring a virtual stairway to heaven

Virtual educational environments do not replace the real world environments; however, they do offer something unique that is both engaging and exciting. Open Sim worlds like Second Life takes virtual education beyond the notion of gaming…. creativity, independent inquiry, and collaboration are all fostered. These high order thinking skills are at the heart of quality education, and if the tool works, I say use it!!

Northern Beaches Christian School is an inspiration when it comes to new learning environments, both physical and online, so its not surprising that they have a Second Life Island. The gallery, bookstore and radio-station allow students’ work to be “published” and shared. Students “fall in love” with the environment, are engaged immediately, and my second life experience backs that up…for all my negative ideas about people opting out of RL for SL I have to admit, I was excited and eager to explore as soon as started to realise the possibilities of that environment.

Distance education is made more connected and exciting by utilising 3D online learning spaces, with a sense of “presence”. When creating spaces it allows for maximum “ownership” which is something that every good educator knows is vital to deep learning. When initiating a virtual classroom, or learning experience Calogne states that it is desirable to skip the logical first class of orientation to software, as this is challenging and can be boring. Students need action and excitement to help them envision how they will use it effectively.

Students at Dulwich High expressed their belief that working together in a virtual world “evened” the playing field, putting them all on a similar level…and that it was conducive to trying new things, creating new forms, etc. as it was an all-new environment. Originally part of a Visual Arts and Design class, it ended up inspiring the students with respect for other subjects, such as math and science, that were once considered boring…Now that’s cross-curriculum to the max! “Education centers on discovery, and yet students often have a limited view of their of their role in the classroom. Shifting students from passive roles of castaways and survivors to the active roles of researchers and explorers requires a change in their perception of themselves and their willingness to participate” Calogne

The images on the right come from my exploration of Dulwich High’s virtual world, created by the students using an Open Sim. I think it’s so exciting, and the way the students talk about their experience is fantastic…they were so engaged, learned more than they needed, or thought they were going to, and ultimately, so proud of their work! Now that’s an educational achievement!!

New Media & ICT’s

One of the most important factors, I believe, when integrating ICT’s to the classroom environment is that of meta-cognition. In this new and emerging digital age, it can be sometimes overwhelming for a teacher to come to grips not only with researching, learning about and employing new media. However, it is just as important to consider the ways in which these tools can be used to create meta-cognition….after all, only using an Interactive White Board as a projector is really a “dumbing down” of the technology.

For myself, I know there is still alot of learning to be done, before I can hope to fully integrate the multitude of new technologies in a quality learning environment, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, and part of that is the realisation that the learning will be continuous. As much as one can learn now about ICT’s available, there will only be more devices, more applications to come, so I feel that it is a commitment to fully enter the digital age that is required for us as educators.

Schools, Teachers and Education systems that try to simply incorporate some ICT to meet standards will be left behind, and indeed, are doing themselves a disservice, as this “new world” is faster, more interactive, and more engaging for students. In my teaching studies I have been introduced to many exciting new media concepts, alot of which really emphasise collaboration, and meta-cognition; however on my practicums so far I have seen little evidence of ICT’s being more than projection, or processing tools. I found the Blooms Digital Taxonomy to be very helpful in equating the different levels of cognition with ICT tools and applications…it seemed to make clear just how these different tools can be used to achieve all levels of thinking, including the higher ones of analysing, evaluation, and creation.The included rubrics were most helpful!!

This links to a most valuable resourse!

http://edorigami.wikispaces.com/Bloom%27s+Digital+Taxonomy