Archive for the ‘Pedagogy’ Category

Virtual Worlds for Teaching – Wrong Question

November 9, 2007

OK, now I understand my objection to what people are thinking about Second Life and education. Look at this call for articles (below) for a special issue of Innovate. Its the same beef I have with Michael Wesch when he asks “What are we DOING to change how we are teaching” in light of digital tools and web 2.0?

How many times does the call say “content,” “delivery,” or “teaching” vs. the times it focuses on “learners” and “learning?” When it does wonder about how learning is assessed, do you get the sense it even considered a learning-centric means like a portfolio? Why does it refer to “student work” and “protection” rather than “student intellectual property” and its licensing?

The other day Gary pointed me to Barr and Tagg’s piece on the prevailing “Instruction” paradigm vs. the “Learning” paradigm.

Gary, Theron and I wrote an op-ed for the local paper when they got all excited about virtual worlds. And for EDUCAUSE 2007 Microsoft commissioned a piece (Out of the Classroom and Into the Boardroom) from a team that included Gary and me. We looked at the future moving beyond the current teaching-centric LMS — punchline: Dump Blackboard in favor of worldware and web-based collaborative tools (Google Docs, SharePoint, Blogger).

I think maybe its time for me take the challenge to write a piece proposing a learning-focused use of Second Life — or more likely, setting out the features that are necessary and sufficient in a virtual world for learning-centric activities to happen.

I think there would be two sections:

  • What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for (sustained, if not lifelong) learning centric activities to proceed
  • What are the virtues that virtual worlds offer to learners and learning that are not met in the “regular” virtual world of Web 2.0?

The Innovate call for papers:

Innovate, published as a public service by the Fischler School of Education
and Human Services and sponsored, in part, by Microsoft is soliciting
manuscripts for a special issue on academics in virtual environments. This
issue focuses on the use of Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVEs) as an
enhancement to K-21 education. A MUVE combines graphics and audio with the
ability to communicate with multiple users in real time within the context
of a 3-D virtual environment. MUVEs are not necessarily considered games,
as programs like Second Life and There have no end goal or objective.

Harvard’s CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion course opened the
doors for other academics to use virtual environments to enhance teaching
and learning. In the past two years, over 300 colleges and universities
have claimed virtual land in an attempt to enhance content delivery. This
virtual land and its future development occurs only a computer network.
While critics and skeptics exist, many educators are looking to take the
plunge and discover the potential of virtual-based teaching.

Submissions for this special issue may address, but are not limited to,
these key issues:

1. Does teaching in virtual environments enhance course content? If so,
how? If not, why not?

2. How is learning assessed within virtual environments? Are these
assessments comparable to existing forms of assessment?

3. What are the ethical considerations of creating virtual content? What
are the practical concerns? If a university funds virtual projects, who
owns the content? Who should own the content? How are students protected?
How is student work protected?

4. Are there best practices for teaching or research in virtual worlds?
What are some strategies for beginners?

5. What are the challenges of teaching in virtual space? How are these
challenges addressed?

6. How are virtual projects funded? What avenues for support exist?

7. What pedagogical approaches are central to the delivery of materials
within virtual worlds?


THEIR VIEW: A place for new, old technologies to coexist

November 9, 2007

Reprinted from an op-ed piece published in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News:

By Gary Brown, Nils Peterson and Theron Desrosier

Monday, September 17, 2007 – Page Updated at 12:00:00 AM

It is great news that Craig Staszkow can say with confidence that there are now “traditional online offerings.” (Daily News, Aug. 27).

In less progressive quarters much concern persists about the quality of this new “tradition.” Still, we’re not so sure about his characterizations of those online courses when he describes them as “stuffed into one dimension and driven by chat rooms, threaded conversation and question-and answer sessions with an unseen teacher assistant.”

Even as we come to understand there is a new tradition, it is still fair to say that the range of designs in those “traditional online courses” varies dramatically. In fact, many thoughtfully organized and well-facilitated courses are very rich and multidimensional. Examples of this success exist in Washington State University’s Center for Distance and Professional Education courses in operations management, where students have solved real business problems saving people’s real jobs as well as saving companies millions of real dollars. And there are great examples, for instance, from WSU’s Human Development Department where, in one course, students conceptualized and wrote new state laws to empower very real citizens.

We’re also excited as are Staszkow and Dave Cillay, the director of instructional development for WSU’s Center for Distance and Professional Education, about the potential of virtual worlds. The reality of the virtual is amazing. Research continues to confirm the viability of virtual reality, culminating in a recent study published in the journal Science. The findings challenge the “axiom that everything you are is anchored in your body,” says Vilayanur Ramachandran, the director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego. He adds, “What you regard as you is really a transient construct created by the brain from multiple sensory sources.”

Information processing research has been pointing to this phenomenon for some time, finding again and again that our perceptions of simulations conjure up the same physiological responses – heart rate, skin conductivity, brain waves – as do “real experiences.”

So the question gains urgency, why use new technologies to create pseudonymous avatars and virtual worlds when the real world is rich with challenges?

There are good answers, of course, and Staszkow mentions virtual travel to Minnesota to inspect the bridge and build new virtual bridges as one example. Great, but why stop there? How do we decide when to use virtual technologies to create new virtual worlds versus using virtual technologies to augment the world where we sit and ponder this question? Rather than make believe, why not use technologies that allow us to inspect the pictures and microscopic details of the collapsed bridge site and engage the reports and even the engineers who really have inspected the site? For examples of this use of the Internet to engage professionals, check out Brett Atwood’s WSU School of Communication’s students’ blogs and you will “see” where real professionals engaged WSU students and enriched their discussions about a real and complex copyright case.

Recently in the news, George Hotz hacked the Apple iPhone, unlocking it from the restriction that it only be used on the AT&T cellular service. While not condoning hacking, we note his blog provides a view into his collaborative learning process. Hotz understood the power of the real-world Internet, and elected to work the problem in public where he solicited and got feedback critical to his success. He collaborated with people from around the globe as each worked on different aspects of the problem.

John Gardner, the new WSU vice president for extension and economic development, also is blogging. He is exploring this global competency and establishing a vehicle to support his professional learning, inviting feedback on his ideas and directions for WSU. His blog is beginning to gather comments from a global community, a vast, multidimensional resource available to him now. Even as we wait for similar sorts of communities to gather in Second Life, they are flourishing in ways that augment the “traditional” Internet that is shaping and reshaping where we live, work, and learn.

New technologies don’t supplant old ones – note the pad and pencil by your phone. The trick is bringing them together in proper measure.

Gary Brown is director of WSU’s Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology. Nils Peterson is the center’s assistant director, and Theron Desrosier is a design consultant for the center.

OpenEd Week “X”

November 2, 2007

Previously I posted on David Wiley’s Open Ed online course. I decided to drop in on the course and see what was happening. I found Alessandro’s post of his frustrations with the course, with David Wiley’s reply:

Alessandro blogged tonight about the same frustration many of us (myself included) are feeling with regard to the Intro to Open Ed course. Alessandro’s frustrated that I haven’t been providing as much feedback as might be desired. I have to agree. With about 60 students following the course, I could easily spend all day every day responding to what you are all writing and still not keep up.

I think its important to surface an assumption going on here and look into some alternatives, especially in light of what this course is about (or maybe what I read “Open Education” to be about). David talks about reading and responding to each student, as if that is his role. Students talk about the “dry” readings and their posts as summaries of those readings.

What if instead, David had framed the course differently — A few general readings to start things off, and a request for each student to propose an open-ed project that interested them and that they would research. However, rather than working alone, students would be asked to form teams among the class members, selecting among the proposed projects the one that they found most interesting. My friend and former colleague Stephen Spaeth designed a distance course (Decs 340) using that concept. The students were all older, working, and had authentic on the job applications for the ideas of the course. Theron DesRosier places this design idea into a broader context when he talks about bringing the outside world into the class.

In addition to working on projects, students would weekly post about readings related to open education they were finding that aided their projects. Some would delve into learning objects, others into copyright and licenses. The topics of the course would get “covered” but driven by the authentic work of the students. The learning of any individual might not be as wide as the course survey, but it would be deeper and more lasting.

Wiley’s student Karen Fasimpaur has proposed a project that I think fits the notions above when she writes (outside of class!?) about her project idea to create a kids dictionary. This looks like an open education activity, when she asks “How could this be hosted to best facilitate mass collaboration?” [Frankly, I’d like to get involved in such a project, and I’d start by suggesting that kids working with parents and teachers could be the authors. Other dictionaries would be a resource to them. I’d also endorse Karen’s inclination to use a wiki for the reasons outlined here.]

I see notes in the course that it has been redesigned in the latter weeks of the semester to give students more reflection time. Perhaps it could still be modified to give students more peer-critique responsibilities as well. A rubric such at the one in WSU Critical Thinking Project might be adapted to provide the framework for the peer feedback, and (for next offering of the course) even the framework for the instructor assessment.

How are we changing teaching in light of digital tools?

October 19, 2007

Digital Ethnography wiki asks:

What are we DOING to change how we are teaching? If you have any great examples of how you have changed up your classroom (or “classroom”) in ways that are more in tune with the information environment in which we all now exist, please comment. I am looking for examples that span all the possibilities

This is the group lead by Micheal Wesch that has created a series of provocative videos including:

So Wesch and company asks us “what we are DOING to change how we are teaching” and I want to rephrase the question to talk about learning — because the “Vision of students today” video really suggests that the learners and the learning are contextualized differently.

By way of answer, I’d point to these pieces of CTLT work (in no particular order):

What do you think? Am I on the right track to shift Wesch’s focus from Teaching to Learning? Am I missing examples, or are these unclear?