Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Take a Tour of Second Life-A Literary Tour That Is!

The final quest in our 3D Game Lab module (excluding the extra challenges) asked us to create a notecard tour of Second Life. Notecards allow users to compose informational cards about points of interest in SL. Could be an info update for visitors in a new location, an advertisement for attractions in the area, or anything the creator wants it to be. The great thing about Second Life is that everyone has the capabilities to create! Our assignment asked us to choose a topic (I chose literature, and by extension, literature libraries), do a "Places" search in SL for that topic, explore different destinations that adequately represent our topic, find the 10 that we feel suite our topic best, and landmark each of them. We then had to create a notecard labeling our 10 destinations, describing how they tie in with and represent our topic, and provide a landmark link in the notecard so readers could easily navigate to all the locations. My topic search came up with a diverse variety of places I could visit, and I tried to choose areas that represented either specific literary periods, authors, or those that provided me with a lot of links to books out on the web. That is why I decided to do literature and libraries, because my overall emphasis was to show SLers taking my tour how much content is out there for students and teachers to access.

aaalisonnn's Second Life Literature and Libraries Tour

The SL Globe Theatre
Where better to begin our tour of literature and libraries than with the Bard himself?! This is probably the most historically accurate rendition of Shakespeare's Globe theater that is located in SL, and the Internet in general. The Globe provides SL users with a fantastic way to experience Shakespeare's world without needing a time machine. The theatre is actually a working venue, accomodating Live Shakespearean plays, and other dramatic theatrical performances by the Metaverse Shakespeare Company, as well as other artists. Along with this great way of learning about Shakespearean literature first hand (or Second Life!), this destination provides users with an experience of Elizabethan England, including replica's of Queen Elizabeth I's summer home of Hatfield house (which also provides a discussion forum for SL'ers to talk about the thetrics they've witnessed recently. Truly a grand destination to visit, for those interested in literature!

Pathway to World Literature
This particular destination is a feature of the Cybrary City II's Community Virtual Library, a virtual "cybrary" included in SL for users interested in accessing library privaleges in the SL environment. Inside Cybrary City II, you will find many features that are remeniscent of a college or university campus. Pathway to World Literature provides TONS of different panels including various types of literature from around the world. Just click on the panel, and you're given an option screen to take you to any number of places on the web with links to additional literature resources. Walk around Cybrary City and you might stumble upon the reference desk, a relaxing reading area, or even theCollege of New Rochelle's Mother Irene Gill Library, which includes a walking tour of world art! There are pathways not only to literature here, but also to other literature resources provided by colleges all over the US and Canada.

Principality of Amalfi-1750
Interested in the literature from the Enlightenment? Mezmorized by baroque music? Fascinated by Italian architecture? The Principality of Amalfi is a community designed to emulate the baroque architecture and culture of 18th century Southern Italy. During this age, not only in Italy but in much of Europe, art, music and literature were highly valued. The Enlightenment period was still affecting major cultural centers, Italy included. There was much experimentation and new ideas were being born. Visit the art museum in the palace, or explore the many magnificent houses. There is even a Catholic chapel on the hill! This destination is important on our tour because it depicts one of the most prolific periods of time in which literature was written.

The name of this destination might remind you of a familiar Lewis Carroll character, and it should. Alice is a sort of garden of literature! Rather than being filled with scary Red queens and rabbits running late, Alice provides SLers with a great place to read different pieces of literature, from books, to lectures, to poetry. Walk into the enclosed garden grove and look on the walls: you'll see a variety of books, the pages of which you can turn and read right there! And there are all kinds of genres. There are even pieces by other SLers! I might also mention that there is a playground, and a theatre area. This area is meant to bring out the child and reader in all of us, and the literature on display changes from time to time. A very interesting destination if you're a Carroll fan, and if you're looking to learn more about writing and sharing in SL.

The Origin of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Who doesn't enjoy The Wizard of Oz? Few people know that the novel's author, Frank L. Baum, wrote it sort of as a commentary on capitolism.Yet others have suggested that Baum had religous intention with his novel. This destination focuses on a different interpretation of the novel, which is more philosophically/theologically based. Author Michel Rubatino wrote the book "The Origin of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz" examining Baum's claim that he discovered, rather than originally created, the maps that inspired the land of Oz. A fascinating new way to look at a piece of literature, Rubatino's exploration is provided to SLers, in a fantastically constructed Wizard of Oz inspired landmark. Enter through the passageway to the Emerald City, and view the animated model of "god's Garden of Thought," Perhaps you'll see Oz differently from now on.

Renaissance Island 
This is a great destination for students to learn about the Renaissance time period, and also about literature that came from that time period. In addition to this, if you click the period character (peasant man) you see when you first teleport here, he will provide you with a list of options for the area. One of these is oportunities for students. Teachers can use these resources to come up with assignments or challenges for their students, some of which may include choosing a piece of literature from the Renaissance and building a story in Second Life. This place is a colorful and fascinating model of the Renaissance, and a great place to start thinking about what it would have been like to live and read in the time period! Also, go over to the map and find the Parish music library, a great place to visit to learn about the music of the time. Music is literature, comprehensible by all, no matter the language!


Sci-Fi Expo-Sci-Fi Island Library
Science fiction is a favorite genre of literature for many people. This destination offers a nearly out-of-this-world experience for the sci-fi fan, or anyone interested in learning more about the genre. Click any of the books on the book shelves for links to sci-fi classics, such as works by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and others. Included in the library are also many other classics, not necessarily science fiction, so it's a great place to find other book links too. The Sci-Fi Expo also features rooms linking to sci-fi roleplaying locations in SL, as well as a room dislaying all kinds of space ships and time machines. A Trekki's paradise, Sci-Fi Expo celebrates a great genre that is often overlooked in literature studies.

Cybrary City II Public Library
At the Cybrary City II Public Library, SL visitors will find a wide variety of literature genres and books of  interesting subjects. There are free and purchasable books here. On the walls of the building, the Community Virtual Library (also mentioned when you visited the Pathway to World Literature) provides Internet Subject Guides. You can click and be guided to a page where many links and resources are all gathered together in one place!  If you click the laptop near the reference area, you can get a free Info NoteBook from SquirrelTech, so you may have your very own laptop! Walk directly across the way from Cybrary City II PL and visit the State Library of Kansas virtual branch, featuring just as many free book links, Internet Subject Guides, study tables, lounge areas for reading, and information on literature projects happening in Kansas, such as the Kansas Letters to Literature project. This location includes a double-dip for libraries, and lots of resources for SLers!

The Librarium
As soon as one arrives in this destination, one may see just what kind of library this is. The Librarium may seem small, but it contains a great depth and breadth of literature, from Old English manuscripts (which are displayed near the front doors) to a History of Gardening in England (1896). This library also allows SLers to volunteer their time and services to help maintain and run the place. All the books on the shelves are free, and available to take as a copy, and attach to your avatar. You could carry around A Midsummer Night's Dream, or Frankenstein, whatever you choose (and the library has), can be held by you! There is a lovely fountain, and a nice reading area too. Prefer to be out among nature while you're reading? There is a lovely orchard, or grove of trees, out back of the library. The Librarium is affiliated with the Alexandrian Free Libraries. You can find out more about free libraries in SL here, by clicking the display in the orchard, next to the side of the library.

The R.F. Burton Memorial Library
The R.F. Burton Memorial Library of New Babbage is another member of The Alexandrian Free Library. Step inside the green dorrs, past the gargoyles out front, and you'll be met by a blazing fire in the fireplace, a vast pendulum art display,  and shelves upon shelves of books. Click on a book and receive a direct link to that book on the Internet. Walk through to the back corner of the library and read under the giant tree growing indoors! This is a very classic library, and readers can make their bookworm avatars sit in front of the fire and pick up a good read. Across from the library is a lovely botanical garden. This library is a very extensive resource, for readers, or students interested in expanding their reading repertoire!

In creating this tour, I learned more about Second Life than I ever have before this point. It was essentially similar to a research assignment: I had to choose a topic I was interested in, find sources (in my case, places) that supported the topic, and synthesize a type of report of my findings. My tour card became my piece of writing, because I had to tie each location on the tour into the broad topic I had chosen. I tried to explain to users how each one of the destinations I picked could help people come to understand an aspect of literature more deeply, or give them library resources to further their research. Anyone could navigate through this tour, if they knew the basics of Second Life. I could imagine assigning something like this to my English students, to help them become more familiar with a piece of literature, its setting, or characters. If there is not a credible location in Second Life for students to visit, I could even challenge them to plan their own SL rendition of a novel's setting. If they had the SL skills, and were ambitious enough (and we had enough TIME), they could even work as a class (with my help) to create a virtual version of say, Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. The Yorkshire moors could come to life, in Second Life!

The greatest thing I have observed in my experience of Second Life is the unlimited potential for creativity. Creativity is one of the most valuable things that students can access, in and out of the classroom. Placing students in a SL environment, and giving them the opportunity to create their own character, explore new places, and contribute to their surroundings could be very powerful in terms of motivation. Of course, if I were going to design an English unit using Second Life, I would use it as an enrichment tool, or grounds for projects, rather than holding class there all the time, because I do think students need to have real face-to-face instruction in order for them to stay on task. The key is planning and structure, and teachers must work ahead of time to ensure that they have created a safe, direct, and user-friendly environment in which students can participate. I would use a 3D Game Lab quest type of assignment system for my students, in conjunction with Second Life, so students would have a clear objective, time frame, and video instruction/support. Using mixed media, combined with in-class activities, could provide a great experience for students who might not have had a very good experience in English courses before. Second Life is fun, but mostly, it's fascinating. I have had a great experience with the module,and I hope to continue investigating and learning!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Second Life Photo Montage!

I've been diligently tromping around SL all evening, and just completed Quests 4 & 5 together, AT THE SAME TIME! I love to dovetail, and killing two birds with one stone has always appealed to me. Ok, so bad bird cliches....

BEFORE: I am so sad because I am so dull
AFTER: Look how awesome I am! Red hair and painty pants!

Second Life allows you to completely, utterly, fantastically, customize your avatar's appearance. As a girl who grew up with hundreds of Barbie dolls, (and Polly pocket dolls, American girl dolls, you name the doll, I probably had it), being able to dress my avatar up and change her appearance was very appealing to me. In games or virtual world settings (especially in The Sims games) I have always enjoyed creating avatars or people who looked like me. In Second Life, if you can dream it, you can be it. I've always wanted to be a wild child, have bright red crazy Ariel mermaid hair, and have tattoos. But since I'm on my way to being a teacher, this type of image isn't really what schools are looking for. My avatar in SL is everything I'd like to be if I could do whatever I wanted with my appearance. Just take a look at the drastic differences between my before and after photos! In the first photo, I am wearing some dress that a dear soul donated to me on my first day in SL. I tried to make myself look like I do now (well, my face at least), and that dress was a desperate attempt to escape the hideous default school girl clothes. In the second photo, my creative appearance. Painter jeans, black t-shirt with neon paint splatters, and a cool blue jacket that I think pulls the whole artist look together! There are also tattoos under my jacket sleeves, but you can't see those :}

When I was finally satisfied with my altered appearance, I teleported back to Dr. Z's (I was editing my appearance at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre in SL) so I could grab a tour card and start "'splorin!" That's what my 4 year old cousin calls exploring. I went with the Ancient Civilizations tour, which I found to be very interesting overall. Unfortunately, the last 4 landmark cards, and their locations, did not exist anymore. I was unable to visit the Four Directions World Bazaar, the Minoan Empire, Island of Crete and Aegean beach, Egyptian Empire, and Nubian Empire. Sad day. But I did get to go to a lot of other fascinating places! I started out in the Apollonian Empire, which I found to be very realistic and full of places to run around and sit on, as well as a great representation of artwork and architecture from the time period. This would be a great place to take students if I were doing an ancient Greece literature unit, reading the Iliad and the Odyssey. Kids like to see where what they're reading has taken place! There I am sitting on a cobra throne in the middle of an ampitheater! And of course in a marvelous chariot, preparing to race! However, there was no one around to race me, so that fun was short-lived...

After Apollonia was the Hittite Empire, quite a bit different aesthetically than the previous. It was equally beautiful, and I found a variety of shops to peruse as well. For a powerful, feared empire of people, the Hittites certainly knew how to relax. In the first photo on the left, there I am lounging around in someone's comfortable home.
I left the Hittite Empire to teleport over to my next destination, Museum Island. This place welcomes visitors with opera streaming throughout the immense display of different landmarks and memorable destinations throughout Europe. I spent a lot more time here than I thought I would, just because the world was so well constructed, and the area was easy to navigate because there were nice little direction arrow signs, as well as information signs, all over the place! I saw a huge Greek statue that sort of reminded me of the Statue of Liberty (except it wasn't)....

I saw the Library of Nereus (which I wasn't allowed to fly up and sit on, much to my dismay), and I walked through all of its rooms and crevices. I think that this area is mostly a display for architecture, since there weren't any scrolls in the library itself, but it was still really beautiful. I have always wanted to travel to visit Ancient Europe, but I've never had the time or the money. Exploring these areas in SL made me feel like I was getting to explore those places, without even leaving my house! Anyway, here I am in front of the library.

I stumbled upon the Hanging Gardens of Babylon by accidentally flying into and falling on top of them. This area of the map was gorgeous! I even got to see the Law Code of Hammerabi, which looked more like a log standing on its side, but it was still interesting. People certainly knew about beauty in the ancient world, I wish I could have hanging gardens in my backyard.... but I think my landlord would be opposed. After the gardens, I visited the tomb of an ancient princess Neferteri, which was pretty creepy because it was subterranean and dimly lit, not to mention the minor-keyed opera blaring over the music stream. I just got a quick snapshot with the sarcophagus and was off. Also, you cannot sit on Nefertiri's tomb...

I left the Museum world area for ROMA, a world of roleplaying and re-enactments of Ancient Roman civilization. However, when I arrived via the teleport button, I was dropped into a hodge-podge of vendors and merchants, and had a hard time getting out of the maze of booths and signs, to the actual square. Once there, I recognized a lot of "Romanesqe" landmarks, such as the Colleseum, and gladiator rings, and a beautiful fountain. I also saw a lot of other avatars dressed in traditional Roman fashion, or in gladiator garb. It was turning evening when I arrived, and there were all these owls flying around...I have no idea why, perhaps that's something Roman? I talked to a few of the RPers in this area, and most were just looking to buy clothing or weapon attachments to get into simulating the gladiator fights. One of the individuals I met took me over to show me the ring where the fights happen. He also showed me the lions that are there (maybe for looks), but nonetheless, the lions made the Roman gladiator arena very realistic. Oh hi there lil' lion! 

ROMA was interesting, and even though it contained a lot of confusing mazes of vendor booths, and people asking me for my Lindendollars (like fountains and donation pots, and beggars), I moved on. My next (and what turned out to be final) destination was someplace the tour called "Blues in the Night." And the only way I can think that this location name can be explained is by describing what I came upon when I got there. I was thinking maybe I would arrive in a swanky night club, like somewhere in the 1920s (though that's not such an ancient civilization), because I was thinking about the song "Blues in the Night" written by Harold Arlen, and popularized by such legends as Ella Fitzgerald. However, I was mistaken. First, I was teleported into a vast empty space nowhere near the location point. I looked around and finally found an area nearby, which I noticed was mentioned in the landmark card, called "Delta Point." I have no idea what this area was for, or about, but I came across a lot of scary, obnoxious loud music, and a room called "The Dark Alter." Definitely gave me the "blues in the night" because it was rather terrifying. The tour creator mentioned that a nightclub in this area had parties where SL users could dress up, sometimes in ancient civilization costume, but I obviously missed those party invites. I wandered around, but could find no real information or objective, just more vendors selling random things I had no need for. Perhaps the previous club's location had been removed, which was sort of a travesty, since this was the last functional location in my tour. Note in the photo I am looking around in a very bewildered sort of way, at a puzzling glass building, into which I could not gain entrance.

Ah, the Second Life tours! I enjoyed this one for the most part, but was somewhat disappointed with the final location I tried to explore. However, I do see how tours like these could provide an organized outline for students in SL, especially if they were designed to enrich or correlate with a classroom social studies or literature unit. This tour inspired me to find places that were modeled after notable locations in literature, starting, of course, with the Shakespeare Globe Theater. Students could even create their own tours (like I'll be doing) focused around a certain location or subject, and take their classmates on a virtual world tour! I look forward to creating my own SL tour soon!

Exploring in Second Life

While flitting around in Second Life (and I say this because I flew almost everywhere, so much quicker!), I discovered that I could maneuver very easily if I kept my avatar in the rear-view position. Since I’m used to rear-view gaming POVs, I preferred this option. Since I’ve been in Second Life before, I’m used to all of the controls and different viewing options. I hadn’t really messed with the snapshots before, but I found that the hardest thing to do when taking photos was to get my avatar in the position that I wanted to. Even though the controls are fairly straightforward, sometimes it was hard to get into the perfect pose, so I could get my background and my avatar in the shot. Eventually, I found my signature, interesting photography pose: sitting on top of buildings. There I am in my favorite snapshot, atop the capitol building, with the moon and stars in the sky. Lurvely.

Iowa Island was smaller than I had anticipated, but it was a great place to run around and explore. It was also cool to think about how people from our state, and even school, were the creators. I especially loved the garden, and the lovely gazebo structure, which I “got comfy” and posed in for this picture.

I also met another person tonight while exploring the island. SL user Oliver James was from Canada, and he was exploring SL for a class also, studying social interactions in different platforms. We chatted for a while about school, and became SL friends. We plan to meet again and explore more of SL together!

I definitely feel like the mobility aspect in Second Life is important to get acquainted with. The snapshots also give us a way to document things we see, or memorable places. This could be fun for students who are writing stories based on SL experiences, and want to illustrate them! 

The post for my next quest will follow!

My Second Life

Today I began the 3D Gamelab quests for our Emerging Instructional Technology course. I was a little late on starting (ok, a lot late) because I've been sick for almost all of Thanksgiving break! LAAAAAAAME! But luckily I'm feeling a lot better, and so today I started, and hopefully, I'll finish the quests by tonight (extra badges for me!!).

I've been a member of SecondLife since last year, but when we started our new gaming module in EIT, I created a new account, just so I could try and learn along with the rest of the class. Initially, I liked SecondLife because it is so similar to a video game that I had a lot of incite to use it. In all of my gaming, I enjoy games and simulations that allow a user to explore and discover, rather than to fight or to compete with other players. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy a little competition now and then, but I would rather be looking for new areas to discover on my map, or collecting every last blinking gem in Spyro the Dragon. Which I have done, in all 4 Playstation 1 & 2 Spyro games....

My favorite thing about SecondLife is that it provides a vast amount of places and people to discovery and interact with. When I first arrived at Welcome Island, I spent most of my time flying or running around, looking for things I could collect or interact with, and of course, things to pimp out my avatar :) Which eventually you find in SecondLife, because there are TONS of users who are eager to share items with you, be it clothes or landmark tags, which is just so nice! Searching for new places and marking them in my landmarks bar is one of my favorite things to do. I have already found the SecondLife Shakespeare Globe Theatre, and I creep around there from time to time, to see what's happening. You could spend literally days and days exploring in SecondLife, because there is SO much to see. Navigation is very important in this virtual environment, and users have to be organized if they want to keep from getting lost. That is something that I had to get used to, but I value my landmarks very highly now.

As far as using SecondLife in my educational future, I can see it being a great platform for my students to practice their creativity and discovery skills. These skills are extremely valuable in an English and Language Arts classroom, and I want my students to have every opportunity to foster their own creativity. I thought I could use SecondLife and the avatars to help students create their own fictional characters, and their experiences in SecondLife, wherever they might choose to go, might provide great inspiration for their writing. I would especially use this to help students generate topics for fiction workshops. I could also see using SecondLife for research, where students could use their avatars to explore and relive the many re-enactments through history (and literary history) that are out there in SL. What could be better than putting students right in a world with Shakespeare?! I have got to learn more about designing worlds in SL, so I could create my own spaces for students to interact and explore. Check out this video from Second Life Shakespeare Company, from King Lear, Act 3, Scene 7: Gloucester's Castle. PRETTY BOMB! Here's their homepage.

While researching for my final paper on gaming in education (in Professor Gao's course), I came across a series of articles talking about using SecondLife in different areas of education. Hsiao-Gheng Han's article "Second Life, a 3-D Animated Virtual World: An Alternative Platform for (Art) Education." suggests using Second Life to show students galleries of famous and historical art, techniques, and also allows them to see how they too may create and display their own art via SL. The Second Life in Education Wiki is an AMAZING resource, with all kinds of links to resources highlighting the uses of SL in classroom education, as well as ways for teachers and instructors to more greatly understand the medium so they can use it with their students. I have bookmarked the heck out of this wiki....

I must say, I have too much fun in Second Life, gaming for homework, than I should. But it's awesome. And thinking about the potential SL has for inciting motivation in my students to learn things that might otherwise bore them to near death, I get pretty excited. If you'll excuse me, I have some XP to be collecting...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Addicted to..... Learning? Gaming in Education

Sign of the times: this is family bonding

How do the elements of gaming fit into learning?

How could gaming be designed to support learning, not just “edutainment” but actual, concrete learning? Could we start to design history, literature, math, etc games that students will become interested in, just as they would if they were playing Gears of War, or FallOut3?

I chose to play Mass Effect, a science-fiction RPG third-person shooter style game. Although this game does include a certain level of violence and some mature dialog (the game is rated M for mature), I chose to examine it because it was very well received by video game critics. My boyfriend owns the game (and it’s sequel, Mass Effect 2), and recommended the series to me when I explained the goal of this project.

Joe told me that a player’s success and experience in Mass Effect depends on a large amount of social interaction between your character, and the characters he/she meets throughout the game. Not only do you have to communicate with your ship mates and squad members, but you also have to practice diplomacy when meeting with other races and institutions within thje intergalactic council. At each opportunity of interaction and speech, your character (Commander Shephard), is given dialogue choices to either declare or respond with. There is always a clear “good” choice (geared toward peaceful interaction and a global perspective), and a clear “bad” choice (geared toward aggression, conflict, and xenophobia). There is also a “middle ground,” called “Investigate,” which offers you more choices for communication. The game has been praised for its highly developed network of social interaction.

I thought that the social interaction choices this game requires of its players could help develop moral awareness in students. Not that our schools necessarily have an agenda that includes types of moral instruction, however, I first saw the choices of social interaction as a tool that could help students learn more about the consequences (positive or negative) of their choices.

This brings me to my next point, also relating to the social interaction choices of the game. Since what you say affects the next steps your character takes, making one decision one way, might trigger events to go, say, positively. However, should you make a different choice, say you choose to respond to a conversation or proposal aggressively, the next few events you experience could go in quite a different, more negative direction. It all depends on your ability follow cause and effect. Like real life, the choices you make in this game don’t go unanswered. So you must choose wisely, lest you make a fatal mistake, lose trustworthiness, or jeopardize the galaxy!
However, as Dr. Z says, "it’s not about the’s about the gaming."

While I watched Joe play ME last night, we jotted down a few “buzz words” of gaming that we observed:

-problem solving skills
-resourcefulness/critical thinking
-task management
-real-time strategy
-decision making
-hand-eye coordination
-social exchange/interaction
-cause/effect relationship understanding
-leveling/progress motivation
Now let’s remember the list of 8 gaming characteristics Dr. Z mentioned. How many of our “buzz words” fit into any of these characteristics? I’ll include them as I think they could be categorized, behind each of the 8:

1. Choice: decision making, anticipation/prediction, resourcefulness, critical thinking
2. Failure: cause/effect relationship understanding, real-time strategy, critical thinking
3. Progress Bars: leveling/progress motivation,
4. Multiple long and short aims: goal-oriented, task management, multi-tasking
5. Rewarding ALL successful efforts:
6. Prompt and meaningful feedback: feedback, cause/effect
7. Elements of Uncertainty/Awards: cause/effect, critical thinking
8. Socialization: social exchange/interaction, understanding cause/effect

I know that some of those may seem like a stretch, being included in a few of the categories. But you can see that the elements of the game I’m playing match up to a lot of the characteristics that can be observed in gaming as a whole. In gaming, you have to think before you execute (well, most of the time). You must use knowledge, prepare, consider,apply, anticipate, predict, construct, synthesize a plan, and then take action! You can evaluate your performance after you’re done, to see if you need to go back and perfect/re-group to perform better the next time. Don’t these terms remind you of something?

Bloom’s Taxonomy tells us that higher order thinking skills include: analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. As you can see from the image, gaming uses ALL of the taxonomy thinking skills, from knowledge to evaluation. We must recall information from the situations we encounter, understand this information so we can use knowledge in new situations. Then we must break things down, use critical thinking (hey, didn’t I mention that?) in order to prepare for executing our next move. Then comes putting things together and creative thinking, so we can finally act out our plan. After the action, we can evaluate, make a judgment. If our performance was not as we expected, we can go back and try again, using a different strategy. We must think about what didn’t go right the first time, what did, and what we can do to improve. This is such a valuable process, central to gaming, and central to education! In her TED talk, Jane McGonigal goes further than just promoting gaming in education; she explains ways in which gaming can help promote a better world, and mentality of living. 

After doing this “experiment,” I see so many ways in which gaming could incite learning and motivation in students. Not only is gaming about fun, it is about progressive understanding, preparation, discovery, and learning from doing. You learn as you go along, and the progress that you make will either help you level up, or help you understand another element of the path to your goal. The analogy of “leveling up” can be applied to knowledge and education because every piece of knowledge you gain helps build your experience and foundation to build upon, and to “level up” to the next stage. I think gaming could be a powerful instructional strategy/tool, and I hope to see where it develops in the future. In fact, I became so interested in this topic, I chose it as my focus for my final paper in Technology in Education. I also beat Mass Effect yesterday, and I've moved on to Mass Effect 2. I'll be looking forward to the release of ME3 Multiplayer in March of 2012. I'm pretty sure Joe's going to pre-order it soon! Stay tuned, and I’ll update you on what further support I find on gaming in ed. Until then, keep gaming!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Fresh Start in a New World with Flat Classroom

Earlier, I watched the keynote of the first Flat Classroom Project installment of 2010, by Judy O'Connell from St. Joseph's College in Hunter's Hill, Australia. In her video, Judy mentioned the popular film, "Avatar" and how it can be seen as a kind of metaphor for the Flat Classroom Project. In the film, Jake Sulley is given the opportunity for "a fresh start," on "a new world." "You'll be making a difference," he is told, and these words are his invitation to travel to Pandora on his mission. All Jake must do is say yes, and accept his mission. As we come to see in the film, it is not an easy one, but Jake comes to learn about, participate in, and eventually understand a different culture and group of people different from himself. He learns, however, that he and the people of Pandora, are not so different after all.

Like Jake Sulley, participants in the Flat Classroom Project are given an opportunity to participate in a new world. "The Flat Classroom Project is your Pandora, a fresh start in global learning, it's your opportunity to be world-class students, develop your world-view, demonstrate to all of use the importance of good scholarship and good digital learning." O'Connell is spot on in her analogy, in that the power of the Flat Classroom lies in students' opportunities to expand their perspectives in our world, and see beyond the walls of their physical classroom. Instead of limited interaction with students within our physical community, Flat Classroom makes meeting, communicating, and collaborating with students across the globe, a reality. Children are highly adept at using online applications, Web 2.0 tools such as social media, search engines, as well as other tools supporting creativity. Therefore, they have the perfect set of provisions to support their learning in an online, global environment.

The Internet provides an optimal platform for global education to occur because it "levels the playing field" for individuals anywhere. Using multiple means of creativity and sharing, from text, audio, video, hypertext, and other multimedia, we can show our thoughts and ideas, and give feedback to others, with just the click of a mouse. And because our students today are so used to (and good at) this high level of media creation and manipulation, it is becoming more prominent in classrooms, both traditional and online. Check out this video created by Michael Wesch (in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University!) about how today's students feel about changing the face of learning and the traditional "classroom."

The Flat Classroom Project supports both digital literacy skills and learning, as well as global collaboration between classrooms across the planet. In the Flat Classroom, cultural understanding becomes personal, for each student, because he or she is interacting with students from cultures outside their own. What better way to learn about another culture than to speak and work with individuals from diverse backgrounds? The result is that students become less ethnocentric, and more globally aware. By learning about other areas of the globe, we also learn about ourselves. They also work on their skills with Web 2.0 tools, as well as tools essential or online learning and communication. There may come a day where our classrooms, however we define them now, may look a lot different, in that there may be no more "classrooms" but students will host their own learning networks, through online collaboration and communication.

I am starting to look at my own classroom experiences differently. I am starting to think "I wonder what it would be like if everyone in my classes, including myself, became more globally aware?" Would we see each other differently? Would we see what we read about, write about, and learn about in the same way? Will my future students have a better sense of global relevancy, and how will this affect the lessons I teach and the literature I choose to share? As a future English teacher, I am focused on how my students will read and write in the classroom, sure. But now I'm starting to think, how will my students read, write, and SHARE? And where will this lead them?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Better Tell Columbus He Was Wrong, Because the World is FLAT

Brandy Agerbeck's Graphic Facilitation of
 Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat
I originally became interested in the ideas contained within Tom Friedman's The World is Flat  because my dad (principal at Prairie Point Middle School and 9th grade Academy) had been talking about it. Being an administrator, he likes to keep up with changes related to education, and one of the biggest so far in this millennium is the fact that schools are starting to globalize. I remember him throwing me a copy of the book, saying "Ali, you had better read this and prepare yourself, because teaching is not ever going to look the same again." That was in 2007.

And until I came to college, and began my teaching program, I didn't really understand what he meant. But after seeing how much more there is to learning than just sitting in a classroom for 6 or 7 hours a day, seeing myself communicate and collaborate effectively online with my peers, creating my own, original work and sharing it with others, and being able to stay in contact with my friends when they went back to China, I knew something had changed. Something was different, and my own idea of what I was to become as a teacher was starting to change too. Our world, our communication, our ability to see ourselves as part of this vast networks of people and knowledge, no matter our location, was losing its rigidity. The walls had come down, like they did in Berlin almost 22 years ago, and that was only the beginning.

Now, we know that according to our understanding of astronomy and physical geography, the world (our Earth), is not actually flat. But our "world" in the relative sense is indeed been leveled. At every stage and opportunity for different groups to interact, we are shrinking. We are no longer limited by our geographical location, as Columbus proved with Globalization 1.0, when he set sail and opened trade between the New World and the Old. Nor are we limited by our ability to innovate and make changes in markets and labor, exemplified by multinational company expansion, breakthroughs in hardware, and a heightened sense of relevancy in commerce, which were the dynamic forces behind Globalization 2.0. Today, we are at stage 3 in the globalization process, and it is shrinking the world even further than the previous .0s. Globalization 3.0 is unique because it focuses on the "newfound power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally," (Friedman, 10). Not only will the 3rd era of globalization be powered by the increased involvement of individuals, but its participants will be more diverse. Today, anyone with an internet connection has the potential to communicate, collaborate, and compete globally. That is why we are asking ourselves as educators, "How can I fit into the global scale, and how can I help my students come to understand, participate in, and appreciate the ability to go global?"

Coming to terms with the world being flat may take getting used to, especially because for some, it is hard to understand what you have never experienced before. But for students we will teach today, they have already been participating in a global platform by their activity online, and I think with support in the classroom, students can come to understand just how amazing this type of communication is. Flattening the classroom is just like flattening the world, removing geographical and communicative limitations to make room for growth. Students in the Flat Classroom Project meet other students from different areas of the world, and get to work with them towards a common goal. This allows them to not only learn about the material of the project they are doing, but it enables them to learn about other kids, their own age, from different backgrounds and areas. It helps them realize that, though we might speak different languages at home, or dress differently, or do other things in different ways, we all have the common ability to think about and share ideas. We all have a voice, and now it can be shared so that everyone can hear, no matter where we are. And that is AMAZING.

I think the biggest benefit that flattening has brought to our world, and will bring to our classrooms, is an expanded sense of relativity to students. Though we may be just one person, we are not limited in our ability to reach out and communicate with others. "It's a Small World After All" has never been more true, and yet so contradictory. Our world seems so immense in size, but when you really look at it today, we are all a lot more connected than we ever have been before. I want to help my students understand that they are individuals, yet are able to contribute their own voices, experiences, and knowledge to a much "bigger picture," with an audience that is limitless. Through flattening, ethnocentricity begins to fade, and I think this allows students to see themselves as part of a group of high-potential future innovators. Who knows what will happen next, with the playing field as level as it stands today.

So I called up my dad, after watching Friedman's lecture again, and told him this:

Dad? You were right. Teaching won't ever be the same again. You'd better tell your history teachers to adjust their lectures, because the world isn't round. It's flat."

And he knew exactly what I meant.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Immersed in the Blogosphere

I have spent the past few weeks "surfing the blogosphere" as some may call it, reading blog posting by different writers, professional educators, and my own EIT colleagues. I haven't really gotten too deeply into the swing of posting yet, mostly because I am so busy this semester, but the blogs I've been reading have certainly gotten me more interested in the process.

Tonight in our EIT web conference on Adobe Connect, we were sharing our reactions about using social networking tools. Almost everyone has heard of or has used Facebook, and that social network was not featured in our class discussion, but we did compare the functions of Twitter and Blogger. Both of these Web 2.0 applications are used for social networking and communication, in that users can share information, thoughts and opinions with others who may be interested in the same topics. In our conversation about using both Twitter and Blogger over the past few weeks (and I came out favoring Twitter), I started to think about how these applications and their design/sharing style might appeal to some more than others.

I remember when I first joined Twitter. Nobody followed me for the first month, except for a few pity "follows" because I started following them. I didn't really understand the function of Twitter until I started talking to a couple of my friends about it. I have a good friend, Mr. Derek Grote (Twitter handle @mrgeduventures) who explained that he used Twitter to make connections in areas of professional development. He explained hashtags to me, and I thought "okay, I'm an aspiring English teacher, I'll search things like 'writing' 'education' 'technology' 'schools'" and started to make some connections there. By the time I got to EIT this fall, I was pretty familiar with the uses of Twitter. Or so I thought.

Twitter is a timeline, a record of thoughts, conversations, utterances, and shares that is always moving. Keeping posts under 140 characters, though some may grumble about it, actually makes the sharing easier. I prefer using Twitter to share links, thoughts and ideas because I am spontaneous, and I like to get my thoughts out quickly, before they jump away from me. With a single Tweet, I can share ideas with my followers, and with hashtags, I can share them with others too. Because Twitter moves so quickly, I have been introduced to TONS of new information, all rather concise and to the point (those 140 characters'll getcha). I prefer viewing my Twitterfeed on Tweetdeck rather than searching the net for blogs.

Don't get me wrong, obviously I appreciate and support the unique web application that is blogging, and I love my little Bloggy (though I neglect her sometimes). Blogger gives the opportunity to share thoughts and opinions about anything with anyone, and that's pretty cool. I mean, I don't necessarily know if anyone reads my blog regularly, but it's nice to know that I can blog regardless of whether I have 10 followers or 10,000. Blogging takes time though, because one is writing for a public post, and I am more likely to take time to organize my thoughts, and turn into a super-perfectionist, and that often slows me down. A favorite English professor of mine once told me to turn down the brightness on my computer monitor to black so I couldn't see what I wrote. "That way, you'll write the truth." I think he meant what's actually inside my head, instead of a neatly tied bundle of ideas. So sometimes I find Blogger harder to express myself on, because I feel less candid and more inclined to edit, edit, edit. Which is good, and you should edit anything you're placing in the public domain. But that doesn't really help me express myself on the go.

I think it would be interesting to offer use of either (or both) of these social networking applications to students in my classes, with the assumption that they would be approved by the administration and parents of course. Some teachers are using Twitter to engage students and keep them accountable, as in the case of these high schoolers at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, MN. 

Other teachers are using blogs, wikis, and other platforms to allow students to share ideas and thoughts, as well as comment and question, on topics being discussed within the classroom. My sister's AP English class did this last year, using Googlesites to talk about different pieces of classic literature. Nate Pruett, an English teacher at Cedar Rapids Prairie High School, uses the Google Blogger to share updates with his AP class, as well as receive questions, comments, and other feedback. Check out Mr. Pruett's AP Blog

So I wonder which students would prefer? Sharing thoughts via Twitter, or Blogger? Would some students prefer the spontaneity of Twitter, being about to Tweet a thought or question now and then, with hashtags to alert the teacher and the rest of the class? Or would some rather use Blogger, and organize their thoughts into a longer, more detailed blog post? Would a lot of little Tweets equate to one  complete blog post? I hope the district I get hired in will allow students access to both of these tools, because I am anxious to see how my students would react.

As far as being active in the blogosphere, as well as the Twitter feed, these past few weeks, I have got to say that, although I felt overwhelmed at first (there are SO many things I could click and read!), I've gotten my PLN on iGoogle established and am breezing through the blogs. I think blogging can also be a very reflective tool, because I have come to understand myself better as a writer and an educator through doing my posts.

I'd love to continue waxing on the joys of social networking tools, but it is 9:30pm, and I've got a tutoring lesson left to perfect, some audio to clip, and 5 chapters of Class Warfare: Besieged Schools, Bewildered Parents, Betrayed Kids, and the Attack on Excellence by J. Martin Rochester left to read tonight. So I'll be going now, but please, share your thoughts on Twitter vs. Blogger. Who will be victorious?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Please Stay Healthy This Fall!

So, getting pretty bummed that I've barely received comments on my last few posts, especially because we're SUPPOSED to be commenting! And I'm trying really hard to read everyone's blogs, and comment, even though I feel like I've been hit by several freight trains, and my nose has been running all week long. Seriously, I should be quarantined.

The only thing keeping me alive today, besides the exorbitant amount of homework that still have to accomplish, has been Joe wrapping me in blankets, making me endless cups of tea and supplying me with an arsenal of Kleenex. God bless that man, I love him dearly. Especially because I've been cranky all day, and I look like this---------->

And anyone who will live with and support a crabby invalid (who resembles a possessed demon when photographed) deserves a medal. Or at least a pat on the back.

This happens to me every year. I'll be going strong for the first 4 or 5 weeks of school, getting things done on time, getting enough sleep, feeling a general sense of accomplishment and well-being. And then, just when I think everything is going smoothly, I am struck with some horrible cold or virus, knocked down from my productivity and thrown into a tumult of coughs, sneezes, chills, and NyQuil induced delusions. When I get sick, I get SICK.

So I thought I'd blog briefly (well, briefly for me), and provide my readers with a few tips on maintaining health during the seasonal change. Believe me, you don't want to be taking 20 credit hours, working, tutoring, writing a thesis, AND be battling an illness. It just makes for a very unpleasant experience.

1. "Everytime you shake someone's hand, wash yours." Okay, so we've been told to do this since preschool, but it still holds true! Germs are spread easiest from skin-to-skin contact, and just because we have immune systems doesn't mean we shouldn't practice hand washing. WASH YOUR HANDS PEOPLE! After bathroom visits, before and after meals, after you've been handling money, etc. Use anti-bacterial soap and hot water, and don't cut corners!

2. "Keep your hands off." This means avoid touching your nose and eyes, where it is easiest for germs to enter your body and infiltrate your immune system. I am guilty of itching my eyes often, because I wear contacts, and who doesn't itch their nose every once in a while? Wash your hands before inserting or removing contacts, and after blowing your nose. Duh.

3. "Go to bed." Being in college, I know that it is hard to get to sleep before midnight some nights. Make that most nights for me, or anyone else who's busy. But sleep is the most important thing in battling and recovering from a cold. Your body regenerates and heals itself while you sleep, so getting a good 8 hours (preferably more!) is key in staying healthy. So turn off those Glee episodes and get some shut-eye! Your roommates will thank you.

4. "Get your shot." Flu shots take 5 seconds, and you can get them almost anywhere these days. Medical clinics, health centers, hospitals, even drugstores like CVS and Walgreens offer flu shots for walk ins, and with most medical insurance providers they're FREE. Okay, I know that needles can be painful, but which would you rather deal with: 5 seconds of pain, or 3 weeks of sinus pressure and post-nasal drip? I'll take the shot.

5. "Build up with healthy food." I'm terrible when it comes to eating healthy. Mostly because I feel rushed all the time, and can't seem to find a balanced diet. But getting the proper nutrients into your body is important, and a well-nourished body can fight infections better than a body fueled by soda, frozen pizza, and Poptarts (take no offense if this is your regular diet). The food guide pyramid may seem like old news, but it's still helpful in determining what our bodies need to optimally function. Check it, yo.

6. "Work out." Our bodies need exercise to support and enhance regular immune function. Though I have a very strong aversion to physical activity, I know it's important, and my lack of exercise probably contributed to my current cold.

7. "Stay away." This means avoiding contact with people who are already sick. You don't have to ostracize those with a cough or a sneeze, just be wary. Even family and friends can pass on a cold, we don't strictly get sick from touching door handles and computer keyboards. Don't share utensils, food or drink, or personal items. Joe's already a goner because he lives with me, and has been within sneeze proximity. :(

8. "Sanitize yourself." Keep hand sanitizer nearby for instances where you can't wash your hands right away. Use an alcohol-based solution, as they kill germs more effectively. Teachers, we especially have to ritualize the sanitization, because working with students all day invites germs in droves.

9. "Another reason to quit." Okay, for me this doesn't apply, but if you smoke, STOP IT. Not only does it slowly fill your lungs with poisonous tar and who knows what else, it also changes respiratory structure and over time decreases immune response, according to a study conducted and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2004.

10. "Did you just double-dip that chip?" Don't you dare double-dip. I don't want saliva mix with my salsa, and neither should you. If you're sick, don't share!

11. "Another reason to shop." Clothes and personal items can be breeding grounds for germs. Opt for bags that are easy to wipe down and sanitize, and for clothes that can be washed easily and frequently. Also, wipe down your cell-phone with a sanitizing wipe, as hand-held devices are often overlooked during sickness.

12. "Try to smile." Happiness can boost your immune system, and who doesn't like to be happy? Engage in activities that make you smile and laugh (I might recommend Monty Python's Flying Circus "Ministry of Silly Walks")

13. "No biting." Nail-biting is a great way to introduce germs to your mouth, and into your system. So sit on your hands or something. Don't bite.

14. "You want me to sneeze where?" As we were taught in elementary school, cover your coughs and sneezes. Aim for the crook of your elbow, where at least if you can't wash after, you won't be touching anything (unless you normally feel with your elbows...)

If you follow these 14 tips, I believe you will successfully evade any cold or illness. And if you do end up getting sick, drink LOTS of fluids, take it easy, get rest, and communicate with your friends, family, and teachers so they know you're recovering. I HATE missing class, because attendance is important, but if I do have to miss a day because of an illness, I always make sure my professors are informed so that I don't appear unaccountable. Usually, people are pretty willing to accommodate for an illness-related absence.

Please stay healthy everyone, because the alternative is quite unpleasant.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What is 21st Century Education?

What is a 21st century classroom? To understand, we must first understand what characterizes the 21st century. We must also look at what new skills are being emphasized in schools and society today. In an ever-changing world, such as the one we currently inhabit, there is the constant need to be prepared for whatever happens. Therefore, students today must adopt and apply these new skills in the classroom and in their every day lives. 21st century education embraces 21st century skills in combination with new forms of technology, and today’s media-centered digital learners. The goal of 21st century education is to prepare our children to become global citizens, capable of interacting and innovating to preserve our free institutions for a better tomorrow.

According to, 21st century skills include the following:

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence

Agility and Adaptability

Initiative and Entrepreneurialism

Effective Oral and Written Communication

Accessing and Analyzing Information

Curiosity and Imagination

These skills help develop the “whole child” in their learning, instead of simply focusing on lower-order thinking skills like identification and recall. What’s more, these skills encourage the pursuit of a global citizenship, preparing individuals for interaction, communication, collaboration, and innovation with others across the world. In addition to these skills, the use of technology and its accompanying tools will assist in further connecting our children with their futures.

The 21st century classroom looks very different than the 20th century or “traditional” classroom. Take a look at these two classes:

What differences do you see? Aside, of course, from the nun at the front of the classroom, and the black and white grain of the first photo, you might note some stark contrasts. First of all, notice the way that students are arranged in the first photo (circa. 1950s, a Catholic school classroom). Where is the instructor standing, and what are they doing? This a “classic” classroom, where teachers lectured to students, and everyone sat in their own little desk, with their own little textbooks, taking notes and staring straight ahead. Rigidity, along with memorization of facts and passive communication between teacher and student were the norm.

Now look at the second classroom. Note that instead of neat rows of desks, there are circle tables with multiple students seated. The instructor isn’t standing at the front of the classroom, as a “sage on the stage,” demanding the students’ complete attention for an endless lecture. In fact, I can’t even discern where the teacher stands in the second class. So many students are gathered together, seemingly collaborating, working with computers and programs and immersed in their work. Active learning and outcome based assessment are present in this classroom.

The second classroom is an example of 21st century education at Clemson University. The Holtzendorff Teaching with Technology Experimental Classroom at Clemson, also known as the “sandbox classroom” was converted from an indoor swimming pool, and is now home to some pioneering technology and pedagogical practices. Originally dedicated on December 18, 2007, the classroom features a new philosophy of teaching and learning, very characteristic of 21st century education. “The classroom is called a sandbox because instructors and their students are exploring the use of technology in teaching and learning with an adventurous and curious spirit similar to that of children who explore and learn about their world in a sandbox. Interactivity, spontaneity, and collaboration are encouraged in this sandbox,” (Polowczuk). This reminded me very much of the research being done by Mitch Resnick and the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab.

He suggests that learning must be drafted to mimic that of kindergarten discovery, because it is the best form of learning. New technology supports this type of learning, which is why it is becoming more prominent in the classroom.

To give a comparison of 20th and 21st century education, I present a video by 21stEducator:

The biggest differences between 20th century and 21st century classrooms also appear in the inclusion of technology and multimedia in classrooms to enrich and provide a platform for learning. Although many of our "digital natives" have been used to using the Internet, electronic media, digital images and other devices strictly for entertainment, these tools can be utilized to promote media literacy in the classroom as well! Web 2.0 and the increasing popularity and functionality of social media are coming together to create massive potential for use in the classroom. Dr. Michael Wesch attests to how Web 2.0 applications and their respective medias are breaking ground for bringing media literacy into the classroom, and supporting 21st century skills and education in general. View his presentation An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube, where he discusses the importance of such social communication tools as Twitter, Jott, Diigo, YouTube, TeacherTube, and more.

You might ask now, will all of our classrooms end up looking like the "sandbox" at Clemson? There is all this talk of classrooms going 1:1, will every school truly benefit from the 21st century philosophy? The important thing to remember is that there cannot be a strict "department store model" for the 21st century classroom. Of course classrooms will need to incorporate technology. Globalization is one of the most prominent characteristics of the technologically-enriched classroom. The world is no longer a round, spinning place (ok, it still is, physically speaking) but communication and collaboration-wise, the world is now flat. Hey, there's a great book you can read to learn more about that concept (The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman)! Now our classrooms are becoming flat too, and with our new capabilities, students here in the U.S. can communicate and share ideas with students from China, India, Australia, really anywhere they have an Internet link and access to some type of social media or collaboration tool (like Skype, Adobe Connect, or Wetoku). Students and teachers can use epals to communicate and chat with other students and teachers from anywhere in the world! The global potential inside 21st century classrooms is powerful, and will be a key element in building connections for the future of the next generation.

So the differences between 20th century and 21st century learning are numerous. You might even say that they are so extremely different that we can't possibly be moving in the right direction, because everything is going so fast! But if you really look at our world today, with the way things are changing, in climate, political issues, social and welfare concerns, global communications, international relations, and more. 21st century education is "bold, it breaks the mold. It is flexible, creative, challenging, and complex. It addresses a rapidly changing world filled with fantastic new problems as well as exciting new possibilities" ( And I think that we are on exactly the right track. In changing the face and function of our classrooms, if we go about implementing technology the correct way, with support and real reasons for including it, instead of using it as a "quick fix," we will be preparing students for the continually changing future.

What will 22nd century classrooms look like then? It seems like our schools are changing every day, or at least reform is being demanded and planned. But what does this mean for students? I think the digital natives will thrive in the 21st century classroom, because it has been designed for them. In the words of Ian Jukes, an educator and Futurist "We need to prepare our children for THEIR future, not OUR past." I couldn't agree more Mr. Jukes. Readers, what do YOU think?

Photo credits: