Handheldlearning 2008 – Virtual worlds for educators

This week I was invited to join a panel of presenters to talk to educators from all sorts of establishments. Handheldlearning2008 was not specifically about mobile devices so it covered a whole host of subjects. One of them was of course virtual worlds.
We gathered for out session at the Brewery centre a the Barbican (horrible to get to from waterloo on a tube)
The agenda was as follows:
Virtual Worlds and Social Networks
From Second Life to Endless Ocean, from Habbo Hotel to Bebo and
Facebook, learners and teachers have a variety of alternate worlds where
they can socialise, collaborate and share information. This session is an
opportunity to explore, debate and understand the implications of these
systems for teaching and learning.
Featured speakers and panellists include:
Cindy Rose, Senior Vice President, Walt Disney Internet Group, EMEA
(Alan Welsman European Marketing Director came instead as Cindy was not able to come for personal reasons)
Ian Hughes, Metaverse Evangelist, IBM
Dave Taylor, Developer, Imperial College, founder of SciLands
Kurt Squire, Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Ron Edwards, CEO Ambient Performance
Kathy Trinder, Research Fellow, Glasgow Caledonian University –
danah boyd, Social Media Scientist, University of California (Berkeley) –
Donald Clark was our moderator/wrangler/continuity agent. (The last education session had Dave, Ron and I chaired by Donald, so we knew what was what)
We each did a presentation. Alan from Disney was up first, explaining some of the disney properties and where they fitted in the whole social network and online space. I liked the concept that putting things online was still living Walt’s dream. As Walt Disney sought to create immersive fantasy worlds on film, so they are doing so now online. He showed the video that was played in LA for the fairy virtual world coming to europe next year and alluded to Cars (much more up my street).
I then did a pitch a bit different to my normal “what virtual worlds are for” and aimed at the various things IBM has for education rescources.
Powerupthegame.org, innov8 (SOA/BPM game) and the recently launched Forbidden City. I also talked about rehearsal studio.
When it got to questions we had a very long Q&A session. Mostly around the fact that IT departments are stopping things happening. I have to admit I was rebel rousing a bit. IT policy is “not a law of physics its just people”. Whilst we are “lucky” in IBM to be able to explore, its an essential to get innovation and adoption. I suggested that waiting for official sanction and permission was too late, people should just get out there and explore.
Next up was Dave Taylor from imperial college. he showed the great pieces of work in Second Life around scilands and health. He also finished wih Robbie Dingo’s starry night video. I love this video.
After a break Ron did a pitch about Ambient Performance, he showed the brilliant Augmented reality demo on the N95, and then linked with Dick Davies for a live Forterra Olive demonstration.
Finally Kurt Squire did a very intelligent and passionate pitch about his experiences and research around deeper forms of engagement with students over the web.
We then split to panel, turned our chairs around and were joined by Kathy Trinder and danah boyd.
We therefore had a passionate panel who cared about virtual worlds, games and social media. So we had lots of conversation, and some disagreement on subjects. danah is of course very well known in social media circles, and I was very happy to be on a panel with her. Much of what I talk about is not based on actual research, but my personal experience.
The general conversation was that teachers and educators really do have to engage with social media and virtual worlds. They should not replicate what is going on just for schools, but should be the eyes on the street out there. Being moderately literate in the ways of the latest generation is the key.
I am not getting at anyone in the audience but we had a question/statement. It started badly “I have never used one of these virtual worlds or games but all I see is children totally immersed and not communicating”. Before the panel could explain the odd elements to that conversation the audience joined in and said how wrong that was. danah then used an anecdote that a mother complained here two daughters never talked just sat on their laptops and typed away. When the daughters were interviewed it turned out they were in fact talking to one another but that the mother was to controlling so they sought a quiet back channel.
Things that engage and immerse are not wrong. The greatest change though is that the immersion is now with other people. Whilst you can think it is all space invaders, you versus the machine, that is but one facet. Gaming with other people counts, and extend way past the game itself. The game is merely a background frame of reference.
We had quite a discussion (familiar to many metarati) on the notions of identity. The problems thrown up with people choosing to look or act in a certain way being mixed up in many peoples minds with who they actually are. Kathy was leading the charge on this, but many of us joined in. I am very passionate about the difference between roleplaying and my online presence as epredator. It may have visual interpretations, but that should not be confused with who the user is. as I often point out people can be dishonest in real life. Many of us choose to be upfront and honest wherever we are.
The underlying elements are the same as faced by enterprises, the problems faced by education is the same, with different subtle elements.
We cant access x,y,z. We need to control x,y,z, We dont have time for x,y,z.
The basic principle that education needs to change and embrace the devices and fabric that already exists, not resort to simply creating and procuring new devices. That of course, as was pointed out by danah, need to be balanced with creating a social void of the have and the have nots and the can and the cannots.