The students were from several local and international partner schools and they met and worked face-to-face for the first time with outstanding professionalism, fertile imagination and spontaneous playfulness. They were supported by some talented teachers, consultants, and of course IT staff.
Students took roles as experts, mentors, learners, participants and presenters as required. The Congress began with some 'big picture' presentations, a little teaching and much facilitating but as time went on the teachers did more learning, sharing with each other, and chatting with students - sometimes even distracting them from their work :-)
70 people had no problem simultaneously accessing and working online in Skoolaborate - MLC had a 100MB internet link and 30% of that was set aside for the Congress.
Can this kind of learning experience be sustainably provided for similar numbers of students at Hobart College? Is it possible to provide and manage rich virtual worlds that students and teachers can access as they would other learning environments?
After observing what worked at the Congress several key elements to the successful implementation of virtual world learning are apparent:
- leadership, management and administration needs to be a partnership between students and teachers
- some students should take key roles as teachers, presenters, experts, facilitators and mentors
- appropriate physical learning spaces are important when required
- some mobile access and group projection facilities are needed
- being able to use and easily connect student/teacher owned laptops - people like to use computers they are familiar with when doing new and complex tasks.
- teacher facilitation needs to be measured and responsive to need
- 'big picture' contexts help to provide meaning and value
Other issues that came to mind during the Congress are shown in this map. (Click for whole map.)
For us at HC to move beyond just a few students and a couple of teachers using virtual worlds we need those worlds to be reliable and flexible. If one third of HC students are to use VWs we need systems and processes to manage 400-500 users with perhaps 75 (2 classes and 25 other individuals) concurrent avatars. We will need some students to be experts 'in-world' and some teachers to be expert facilitators.
Perhaps this could be achieved at Hobart College using a combination of:
- a local networked Open SIM grid - implemented and managed by students
- access to Skoolaborate for those under 18
- access to educational areas of Second Life (eg Jokaydia) for those 18 and over
- selected local-network or online game environments and other online VW services
Can this be in place by 2009? Possibly...
In the meantime it was great to meet face-to-face for the first time Emily - who has helped many of our students and teachers in-world, Mike - who lurks in-world doing essential expert building and maintenance, and Westley who had the vision and determination to bring us all together.