Wow! Last Sunday I was on Phillip Island, outside Melbourne, taking photos of koala bears and waiting for the “penguin parade” (you watch the little critters waddle between the ocean and their burrows)…a spectacle tourists aren’t allowed to take pictures of, so you’ll have to settle for perusing a website: http://www.penguins.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=9&Itemid=54&mytabsmenu=1.

 I was Down Under for the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education’s (AACE) Global Learn Asia Pacific (GLAP) 2011 Conference. If you think that name is a mouthful, get a load of my presentation’s title: “Establishing Virtual World Presences for the International Baccalaureate’s Teachers, Administrators and Students.” I had all these grandiose plans for blogging at least every other day while attending the symposium, but I was participating, presenting, collaborating or networking (code for socializing) from 8 AM to midnight every single day. I took the weekend off to do some sightseeing but many of my fellow attendees saw only the hotel and the airport!
AACE GLAP 2011 Logo

AACE GLAP 2011 Logo

One amusing anecdote and then I’ll get to the conference content. I’ve experimented with Twitter, but it’s blocked by The Great Firewall of China, so I’ve never used it in the classroom. Regardless, I’ve always wondered whether or not ANYONE was actually reading my tweets…to me, it’s always seemed like I was talking to myself. Well…I finished my presentation…it was after 4 PM, so I thought the day was all over except for the poster session…turns out things were running late elsewhere too. I stopped by my room to drop stuff off and decided to check e-mail…then I started tweeting about how brilliant my presentation was…including a complaint about a burnt-out projector bulb…using the conference hashtag, #gl11. There were 100+ people in one of the ballrooms reading my tweets on the big screen! Between my room and the poster session, I passed two people who smiled and said “Brilliant!”…I had no idea what they were on about. When I reached the poster session, people told me what had happened. So that was my introduction to the power of Twitter…from now on, I’ll be conscious of it! ;)

OK, on to the conference itself. This was my second AACE GLAP, and I was amazed again at the status of the … well, “geek celebrities” is the best way to describe them…presenting and attending…the programs read like a “Who’s Who” of educational technology. I have an entire notebook filled with 2011 scribblings… trying to keep up with the flow of information was tough…I think I’m going to start shooting video so I have a record of everything. Dr. Curtis Bonk, author of “The World Is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education” (highly recommended, BTW), started off the conference with an overview of educational technology tools and how they can be utilized in the classroom.

Dr. Curtis Bonk at the AACE GLAP 2011

Dr. Curtis Bonk presenting at the AACE GLAP 2011.

Dr. Rick Bennett, of the University of New South Wales, was the keynote speaker…his topic: “Global Classrooms, Rural Benefits: Creative Outreach through Computing in Education”…about how to offer education to students in remote locations around the world. My presentation was in the “Global Learning Communities” category. Yes, you’re right… can’t fool you, you’ve detected a pattern…the theme of the conference could be summarized as “exploring ways that global educators can make education global.” I won’t reproduce the website description here…visit www.aace.org/conf/glearn for more information… and while you’re at it, join the AACE and join us at the next conference in Lisbon (www.aace.org/conf/edmedia).

Of course, there’s no better way to globalize education than via 3D virtual worlds…but then, you knew I’d say that. I went through the program circling presentations on the subject and found that I couldn’t possibly attend them all…these days the very definition of educational technology necessarily includes 3D virtual worlds…just as I can’t possibly summarize them all here…so I’m going to highlight just one aspect of the topics that were explored at the presentations I attended.

An Austrian professor discussed the Avatar Project, which was essentially a European-Union-wide attempt at teaching educators how to use Second Life in the classroom. An Australian PhD candidate discussed her project, which involved training wannabe teachers how to use virtual worlds for their various subjects.  Conclusions? Adults, particularly “digital immigrants” (versus “digital natives,” i.e., people who’ve grown up using computers), struggle with not just the mechanics of using virtual worlds, but also with the pedagogical methodologies (sorry, but sooner or later I have to justify the money I spent on my MS in Education, and that means using “pedagogical methodologies” in a sentence at least once a month) of teaching subjects in Second Life, OpenSim or other venues. I’ll get back to “other venues” later, because I want to start discussing the utilization of World of Warcraft and other “real games,” as opposed to, e.g., Second Life, which immigrants see as a game but natives don’t. I could’ve saved these folks lots of time and effort re: their research…I already knew that many if not most teachers have a collective mindset that anything resembling a game cannot possibly be of any practical benefit in a classroom…it’s pretty much that simple.

Yes, we still have many educators who are technophobes in general (why won’t they retire or otherwise find something else to do?), but it’s “games” in particular they simply don’t understand. And that, in my opinion, explains all the other so-called objections. The Avatar Project professor said that her trainees complained of Second Life lag and glitches…gee, sorry…every other program is problem-free by comparison, I guess. They griped that they couldn’t grasp how to do this and that with their avatars…right, if you give up after five minutes then just about anything is impossible. No, I believe that all of this naysaying has as its root a fundamental suspicion that this is really, truly learning. You know how we teachers are: If we don’t believe in something, we make sure it doesn’t happen…actively and/or passively.

I’m still trying to decide what to do about this as I contemplate my training programs for next year. Our directors, our outgoing and incoming principals, as well as other school colleagues and I just had a big pow-wow about this yesterday. Yes, on Saturday…a 3D Virtual World Pioneer never rests…it’s not just a job, it’s a MISSION! We plan on getting all our teachers at least acquainted with 3D virtual worlds. Should I spend a month “pounding the pulpit” with the plethora of research on using “games-based learning” (I still hate that designation, I prefer “virtual worlds learning,” but then nobody asked me)? The books, websites, etc., have always been available and to my knowledge my colleagues have shown little to no interest to date. No…I’m going to have my students (you know, the ones who “get it”) make my points. I hope the folks at the Flat Classroom Conference (FCC) won’t hate me for using this anecdote. One of the FCC exercises involved teachers pitching a project idea to students. Naturally, my group of educators chose 3D virtual worlds… we presented to eight different learner teams, about half of those attending the conference. UNANIMOUSLY our idea was deemed the best…and I do mean EVERY student, EVERY team. But then the proposal was sent to teachers for evaluation…and that was it…they tried applying some templates (boy, do I hate templates!) to our idea and it was all over. So this is what I’m going to do: I’m going to make a classroom project out of students making presentations about 3D virtual worlds… and then have them teach the teachers! Not re: the mechanics, my IT teacher teammate(s) and I will take care of that. I want students to look our educators in the eyes and tell them that this is the biggest thing to hit education since the invention of the printing press. Kids can’t be accused of having an agenda, of being biased, ad nauseum…they will express in impossible-to-misunderstand terms that it WORKS…and they can take their best shot at explaining WHY…then we’ll make the connections (for those who can’t or won’t do it for themselves) between the testimony and the pedagogy. What do you think?

I’m not going to upload more shots of people attending presentations. Instead, here are two photos from the Great Ocean Road Tour (http://www.greatoceanrd.org.au/) I took last Saturday:

Great Ocean Road: 12 Apostles

Great Ocean Road: 12 Apostles

Great Ocean Road: Loch Ard Gorge

Great Ocean Road: Loch Ard Gorge

 
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