The war against mobile devices…can we really say we’re moving towards digital literacies?

I have just read this really interesting blog article from a public school teacher, as she describes how despite the age gap, and despite all the myths which surround young people and their digital know-how, she managed to introduce her son to a Google tool (Google Forms) to be able to collect data for one of his school projects. The article shows how in this one instance, the teacher (and the mother) had much to contribute to the digital education of one youth. One can only imagine what one can do for many other youths.

In another article which I also happened upon today, I was reading about the war that many school administrators and educators seem to wage upon mobile devices and their usage in class and on the school premises. It reminded me of an observation session I recently experienced in one of the local secondary schools here in Malta. As I waited in the school’s headmistress’ office, I noticed a box lying on one of the tables. Students seemed to be pouring in at 7.45am in the morning to leave their mobile phones in this shoebox, before they started their school day. Another school, a private independent school, which I also happened to walk into a few months ago, had clear instructions above the entrance that stated that no mobile devices should be allowed on the school premises.

Yet, recently during our last election campaign, many of our politicians, were promising the use of tablets in the classroom. Couple this to the fact that most of the Internet access in the schools is controlled solely by a single agency dedicated to the Information and Communications Technology. I find it very strange that many teachers at schools, do not have access to a number of social media sites, as well as a number of sites, that may not be considered as ‘strictly educational’ – whatever that means. I also very much wonder, who holds the power to allow for sites to be accessed in schools, or otherwise. To my mind, the person or persons responsible for schools should be working hand in hand with teachers and higher education researchers to be able to define what should be kept out of schools.

So back to the article discussing the war waging against mobile devices, I found it very interesting that the author focused on school administrators and leaders calling upon solutions to be found to the behavioral issues that many seem to have with allowing mobile device usage in schools. I think that we have this tendency of rather than addressing problems, we try to ignore them, hoping that eventually we wouldn’t have to deal with them. In the case of mobile device usage, technology use and applications in schools, the consequence we’re facing is that of having a society that is not considered as a digitally literate society. Despite the records showing how more than half the population of Malta seems to have an active Facebook profile, I believe that we’re still a long way from being called digitally literate. It takes more than the ability of updating personal status, to be effectively digitally literate. And the problem is that inside schools, and even universities, rather than embracing change, and finding solutions to problems, we keep ignoring 21st century practices in the hope that eventually everything will sort itself out. I have a bad feeling that unless we really get our acts together in Education, we will have to sort out very bad consequences ourselves.

 

My thoughts and reflections on Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds

Ok, so here I am – back in Lisbon, Portugal and staying at the Real Palacio. I think that in all I have been to Lisbon for 3 times and I have visited Porto once. I have to say that I am not too thoroughly impressed with the promised 5* service of the hotel. To start with, I was thoroughly disappointed with the fact that we were not advised that maintenance works were being carried out at the hotel’s spa. The result was that I had to forgo a much expected and much needed spa relaxation session after 2 long days at the conference. Ah well – it’s not such a big deal but I would have expected star service and well, in that, it lacked. The food was excellent though!

And now to go back to the conference organized by Inter-Disciplinary Net. I have to say that the organization of the conference is pretty impressive, both before we came here as well as during. The one thing which I would have to complain about, is that the acoustics inside the room during our whole group plenaries were absolutely horrible, and it was very difficult to really follow what the speakers were talking about.

Secondly, IDN have this concept of discouraging the use of PowerPoint or keynote slide presentations. Thankfully a number of presenters did not really heed this suggestion, and they did display images and some stuff which we could follow. Unfortunately, in my opinion those who had no visuals, and no resources, could not really communicate well with the participants. Maybe next year, the organizers would rethink the way this is done. The most important thing that should be stressed is that people have got to stop reading their talks and presentations. It makes the presentation really boring!

Re the content, I found that there were a number of presentations which gave me something that I could take back with me. In particular, the presentations that were especially useful to me, and really interesting, were contained within the strands that discussed Blended Learning, and Learning and Teaching in Virtual Worlds. As many were presenting, I started getting together a number of research ideas which I really hope to push forward. I really liked Simon Evans‘ presentation as he showed quite an insightful perspective, looking at research, from the perspective of a researcher who is immersed inside the environment.

In particular though, I enjoyed the presentation delivered by Anna Peachey and Mark Childs, on Blended Learning in Virtual Worlds.

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Their presentation focused on this project that ran in collaboration with the Chicago Museum, the aim of which, was to get students to create and argue hypothesis. The project used a blended environment as young learners attended a 3week summer program, that also featured this immersive environment in Second Life.

As an aside, it has to be noted that SL is definitely the social virtual world that was mentioned the most during this conference. I have to say that because I was working inside my own small Avaya world, I have been ignoring Second Life. Something tells me that I should really try to move back inside the world and somehow I need to find ways of bringing in my students with me. It’s where all the ‘life’ is found, it’s where the students can really find a space to interact and explore, and it’s also where I can make use of the developers’ expertise to develop the 3D area.

So there is much more information about this very interesting project online and I do suggest some more time is dedicated to reading about this. The project site is Virtual World for science: http://fieldmuseum.org/schools/i-dig-science
Student blog project contributions can also be found:
http://idigscience.tumblr.com/

I was also very interested in the way Deakin University in Australia, are managing their blended courses in Virtual Art, using face-to-face and Second Life modalities.
The Deakin Virtual Art Education Centre can be found here:
http://www.deakin.edu.au/arts-ed/education/teach-research/arts-ed/centre-in-sl.php

I think though that my best prize presentation (for the projects that interested me the most) has to go to two different persons, both from Australia (they should be given a prize just for the fact they travelled all the way to Europe for this). Dr Tom Edwards, from Tabor Victoria discussed his project on training Counsellors using a blended approach in face-to-face and SL environments. Sue Gregory from the University of New England in Australia, discussed her own PhD project with pre-service teachers, as she, like me was working with groups of people inside a virtual world, (she used SL) to engage teachers with technology during their classroom teaching. Her project was carried out over a period of 5 years and had some wonderful examples of the different modalities of using virtual worlds for Education, amongst which role playing. I think that my students would love doing something like that. More information about her project can be found here: http://www.virtualclassrooms.info and here
http://www.virtualprex.com.

A final interesting presentation that I think should be worthy of consideration is this project, ABV4Kids project, which is the anti-bullying village for kids. I think that having something like that for our own local context, or else hook up to partners interested in having a more global kids’ virtual village for discussing these issues might be a really good idea.

Ok so that seems to be it, from my end for this conference. I do hope that there is a follow up to this and that the e-books for this conference somehow make it to publication. I look forward to reading in more detail about the research that has been presented here! Well done to all and Ola!
PS I finally made it to go to a Fado Restaurant in Lisbon. Together with a few other conference participants we went to the Clube de Fado – fantastic food, and really lovely Fado music. I do advise this experience if you happen to be around the Lisbon area!