Happy Steve

Innovation and Learning

Start with clarity of intent.

Now build it out with an evocative vision. Improvise progress by tinkering: with lots of trial and lots of error. The not knowing is the best bit: the mysteries the surprises, and from time to time the windfalls! 

Hello there, I'm Steve Collis! 

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5 Year Plan for Virtual Worlds in Education & Integration with Moodle

We've had our virtual world "Booralie" running for almost a year now and I'm thinking "Where to next?" 

I sent my thoughts to a team of teachers at my school, Northern Beaches Christian School.

Here is that email. I finish with some conclusions as to where we might go next.

Booralie Island was the beginning of a journey - just a beginning. 'Virtual worlds' will increase in relevance over the coming years.

Technology is changing the fabric of how we relate. This is simply a fact. The choice we're left with as educators, is to stand to the side and watch new generations figure it out for themselves without us, or what I'm suggesting: notice the changes and guide our students as we see best, believing that they can benefit from, and NEED, our adult wisdom. Whether you're skeptical of the new space, or embrace it, is irrelevant - the point is to know what's happening and engage with students so that they hear your perspective and are guided by your adult wisdom. What we don't want is a conspicuous silence/absence.

Here is a superb overview of the current state of virtual worlds and current initiatives in education: http://www.l4l.co.uk/?p=592 Have a good read of it if you have time, to get up to speed on where things are up to, globally. 

Highly significant is the argument that we now have the 'V' generation - young people who have grown up using virtual worlds. A classic example of this is Club Penguin. So 5 year olds are familiar and comfortable interacting in an online virtual space then this becomes a staple tool of connection - an assumed space just like the internet has been an assumed space for some older students because they've never known a world without it.

So 3D spaces are only going to become more 'normal'. This Gartner report addresses commercial implications of this: http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=721008 (the full report costs $200!).

Consider the way that people who can't use the internet are disadvantaged. I wonder if it will become more the case that people who can't navigate and interact in virtual worlds are disadvantaged. The internet as 2D 'pages' may be seen as a dinosaur in some years from now.

So, we're on the right journey with Booralie. But, where to next?

Well, I've learnt a thing or two over the last couple of days:

1. There is at least one example, being implemented as we speak, of a virtual space being made available to every student in an entire country. The country is Scotland. Their intranet system is called 'Glow' and seems to function like Moodle for the masses - a central registration system for all the students in all the schools. Think of that! It's happening now!

A guy called Derek Robertson has set up the virtual space, like Booralie but bigger, and linked the user registration system to the country's 'Glow' system, so any student can log in with their normal username and password.

Enter discovery number 2:

2. There is software that runs very similarly to the 'Second Life' system we use for Booralie Island, but it is open source and free. In Craig's words, as we explored this other system on the weekend together, it is the "Moodle of Virtual Worlds". It is called "OpenSim" - keep that in your vocabulary. I've been aware of it vaguely for a while.

However I have recently discovered that there are companies that will set up and run OpenSim for you at the fraction of the price you'd pay to Linden Lab for a Second Life island. You can have much more space for less money. There are no imposed rules (such as users have to be over 13). There shouldn't be any problem tying it to our LDAP user database, i.e. we could make it so that once a student is on Moodle, they can also enter our virtual 3d space.

Thrown into all this is the "SLOODLE" project - that allows Moodle tools to operate in a 3D environment such as Second Life or Open Sim.

What would your Moodle page look like if it was 3D? If it was a house you could walk through? How would that change the way our students view the subject? Their engagement with it? My students are always asking "Mr Collis where on the Year 8 French page is it?" Imagine if I could reply "It's through the new door at the back of the lounge room." How would you logically set out your Moodle page if it were a house, not a page? Or if it were a beach? Or a space station? Or a café? Or a cave? Or a scene from Kill Bill? After all, visually we're wired for 3D space, not 2D space. Moodle begins to look clunky, doesn't it?

Taking all of those developments into account, I have some specific suggestions for where we go next. I need to research them more, but this is what we should probably be doing and where I think we'll probably end up:

1. I <think> we should leave Second Life and get OpenSim set up instead, with a lot more room, and linked to our Moodle user system. The new space would still be called "Booralie".

2. Therefore, envisage a situation where every teacher knows their students can automatically log into our new Booralie. It's assumed. It's normal. They login using their Moodle password. This means younger students in Primary would be able to log in. (We could, and should have a separate space for Primary).

3. We open up a section of Booralie to other schools. ANY other schools. We use the principles of the Beyond Borders website. We charge a fee to the school, thus making it scalable. We aim for the beginning of 2010 with this, and make it a teacher training course that we offer. We need a name for this space. It will become a name recognised in many schools.

4. Within a year from now, some Moodle courses appear in Booralie, especially our online courses where online students can interact with each other in-world. Within 3 to 5 years from now, many/most of our courses exist in Booralie. Also, every Faculty has space on Booralie. We notice that we take Booralie space for granted like we take the physical space of NBCS for granted.

This is all in my head right now. We'll see how it pans out, won't we!?