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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Filtering by Tag: 3D Virtual Environments

Launch of Minecraft @ NBCS

Launch of Minecraft @ NBCS


Quick announcement first: I am presenting on 'technology as a game changer' at the ES4A conference on Wednesday June 29 at 12.40pm (Sydney time, GMT + 10). I will publish my notes right here, and hopefully a live video stream. So, check back here at that time if you want to tune in live!


Virtual 3D worlds continue to fascinate me as with their potential for immersive, collaborative, community-of-practice learning processes. 

It's not that I think every school needs a virtual world. It's just that time and time again, as I have observed students in virtual 3D environment, I have gained insight into the nature and dynamics of collaborative learning. See my previous posts, or www.youtube.com/lestep for our previous projects.

My colleague Andrew Thompson approached me a few weeks ago with a proposal that we launch a 'Minecraft' virtual 3D world for the students. I didn't even know what Minecraft was.

In very brief: the Minecraft environment allows participants to 'mine' materials from the natural world, from sand to diamond, from wool off roaming sheep to wood from trees, then craft these materials to create buildings, equipment and other structures. An element of danger in this giant-sandbox is added with monsters, which are optional, which come out at night and can destroy the virtual infrastructure unless savvy defences are left by the inspired builders.

So, we met and came up with a plan to get it going, advertised to the students, set up a behaviour charter, recruited just two or three student leaders, and just last Tuesday, 5 days ago, hit the 'launch' button.

YIKES! A lot can happen in a few days. On day 1, only one student realised the world was open, and set about creating a big school sign at the top of a tower. By day 2, 10 to 15 students had constructed a village, and by Thursday evening there was a thriving city!

I took some brief footage each day when I logged in. Have a look:


The most recent news, today, day 5, is that some students have banded together and intend on creating a replica of our school grounds within the world!

Yesterday, another student showed me this:

a student has simulated a binary adding machine on our new #M... on Twitpic

Believe it or not, it is a simulation of a CPU. Each block is in fact a binary 'gate' of the sort: AND, OR, NOT, XOR, etc... this is the sort of transistor junction that allows computer processors to perform arithmetic. The simulation, above, adds two binary digits together.

What's the point of all this? Well, it yields insight into how people, adults and children alike, learn:

- we learn from each other in a community of practice.

- we take joy in achieving new breakthroughs and passing around the new skill to others.

- we collaborate spontaneously in ad hoc groups as inspiration strikes.

- we learn by experimentation, fueled by an authentic and therefore unstoppable desire to understand, to achieve a sense of agency in the new environment.

Only a few minutes ago, while I was in-world, a student shouted out that they had discovered a large mine underneath the ground. 'We should create a public teleport to it', he said. Another student created the teleport function and posted it prominently in the town-square. Meanwhile the first student went about equipping the mine with flaming lights and a ladder so that people could get around in the dark. 

This is a Year 8 boy. His first thought was to use his discovery to assist the rest of the community.

And it happened just now, Sunday afternoon.

But it isn't homework that sees the students earnestly exploring, building, upskilling. 

We could improve so much if we got rid of 'school' altogether, and built new learning villages founded on authentic learning principles. Viva the Learning Village, and down with skool!

Booralie Virtual Island Student-Built City

I've created a video tour of our Open Sim virtual world in its current state. We opened it to student leaders 6 months ago, and then to any student a few weeks ago, and momentum has now built up.


The island is available 24/7 and is slowly being built by its student population.


To me, this space exemplifies 'community of practice' learning processes. Behaviour is self-regulated. Learning is organic, spontaneous and authentic.



In the video:


0 min - I walk through the initial forest, through the 'sandpit' where anyone can build, 


1 min - to Booralie Metropolis, where teams of students claim land and put up buildings. 


4:30 - I show the process by which objects in the world can be programmed. 


5:30 - Next, I fly around the entire island showing some class projects, including quiz chairs linked to Moodle using SLOODLE. 


7:30 - Finally, I conclude with some comments about the nature of learning and power of 'community of practice' learning. I think schooling as we know it needs to go extinct as soon as possible. Schooling has toxic elements that breed passivity and alienation in a good proportion of the students... students who will otherwise go on to have highly successful lives. A 'learning village' model has been articulated and is long overdue.

What if a school subject was 3D?

Read on to see how Tim Barrett is creating a school subject in 3D virtual form, so that students literally walk through the course in a virtual world.

You may be aware we established a new 3D virtual island using free software called "Open Sim". This is open source software, meaning it was created by volunteers who allow anyone to use it without paying. Admittedly, we do then have to pay a company, "Reaction Grid", to run the software for us. This is as cheap s $75 a month, and they take much of the hassle out of actually getting your virtual world to work. This is much less expensive than Linden Lab's Second Life, where we run our original island.

This new Open Sim island is 8 times as large as our original, and we have a great deal more control over it, including the ability to allow our young primary students to access the world.

I've been spending some time preparing the island for a huge influx of students. I've already granted some students access, and also created an account for every member of staff at our school (they've been wandering in out of curiosity and having a walk around!)

The next step is for me to recruit student leaders from every grade and train them up rigorously to be 'moderators' of the new virtual world. They will protect the space against misbehaviour, cyber-bullying, or vandalism. They will set the tone and culture of the virtual world.

I've been busy 'terra-forming' our virtual world, adding trees, streams, and a huge mountain, so students have something to explore when they first log in. I've disabled flying so they have to walk around, unless they program for themselves a car or plane.

When they first log in, this is what they will see:

They have an invitation to follow a forest path through to a 'sandbox', which is an area of the virtual world where any student can start building.

They also see another arrow:

You see, I don't want students to feel forced into doing the training immediately. They can walk through the forest for a bit, if they want, but they'll be told they have to do the training before they wander far!

So, the student follows the arrow towards training, and sees:

There are some simple posters telling the student to approach the booth and click on it. What happens next is quite magical: the Open Sim software sends a signal to our 'Moodle' course management software and links the students virtual world account to their general school learning account. Many thanks to my colleague Grant Harbor for his input and assistance in getting this to work!

From this point onwards, a whole variety of 3D objects will recognise them. These 3D objects are virtual manifestations of learning materials that would have otherwise just been listed on a Moodle subject web page in our school poral.

Let me give you an example. I've not yet created the rest of the training course, I've just put in a proof-of-concept test object. Let's look at it:

In Moodle, I created a student survey question – do they prefer cats or dogs? Then, in our 3D world I made that survey question appear in 3D form. This means the student can answer the question in the virtual world, rather than in the text-based environment of a Moodle page. The student clicks on the coloured bar indicating their vote. Over time the two bars, red and green, will grow to show the proportion of students voting for each.

Contrast this 3D virtual world learning format to a bog-standard Moodle page, which looks like this:

And, of course, Moodle by itself, even though very text-based, is powerful and at our school has thoroughly disrupted the role of teacher-as-distributor-of-information and even teacher-as-director-of-students and recast their role as a mentor or coach. With learning resources at their fingertips, students are free to work at their own pace and in their own way, and we've seen them really thrive because of this.

However, as great as Moodle is, do you see the possibilities of a virtual-world manifestation of Moodle course activities?

Rather than working down a text web page, students could literally walk through a course. The subject could be set out like a village. Lessons could be cast as buildings in specific genres: shops, museums, banks… meeting halls, fiery lakes with a rickety bridge, mountains defended by dragons (defeat the dragon with learning!), and so forth.

The student might start with a map, and find their own path through the course. The starting point could be a crossroads with four signs. Students follow the path they choose. The road could fork. Students could be required to collect 'tokens' indicating mastery of each subject module. It's study, Burke and Wills style!

For Maths and Science students could undertake their own construction projects, creating 3D objects and simulations.

In History, great moments and turning points could be re-enacted by avatars, or even rewritten speculatively, with the enactment recorded as a video for online publication and teacher feedback and assessment. An assessment might be for a full three-week role play, where students are assigned social roles, (peasant, merchant, king, priest) and a context and must interact authentically for the historical context. This would also be a great spur for reflective writing.

In English, the 3D space would become a role-play space, a performance space, a publication space, an inspiration space. Chapters of texts could be recreated by students, so the book becomes alive with living landscape and personalities. Watch now as a Year 11 student meets Pip or plays the role of Miss Havisham. So too might King Lear rage at the storm. (Cue 3D storm now! And… action!).

And don't get me started about Visual Arts! What a match!

Don't get me wrong on one point: our new island will NOT be content-driven. As with our original Second Life space, students will be the major 'owners' of the space, literally building the world & the online culture over the coming months.

But they won't be the only builders!

Our first steps into true virtual 3D courses are beginning immediately with my dear colleague Mr Tim Barrett: http://twitter.com/tim__barrett

Tim is our school chaplain and has been teaching 'Studies of Religion' for a few years now in an entirely online mode, and in a face to face mode.

He will be our pioneer at taking everything we've learnt about student learning in Moodle, and recreating the learning in a 3D space.

It might blow up in his face! Maybe it won't work! This is an experiment – our first steps!

But imagine, students walking through mosques, cathedrals, churches, temples, monasteries, or recreating scenes or situations at Medina, Galilee, Bodh Gaya. Consider: the imagination gives us the power to connect with 'otherness', putting ourselves in others' shoes and gaining insight into the universal human condition. In Tim's course, students will literally walk in the shoes of others. Not a bad thing, since many of our students are from the culturally monolithic northern beaches of Sydney.

I'll keep you posted (and I am sure Tim will too, over at http://www.chaplaincymatters.org/). To hear what happens next, subscribe to my blog – look for the button in the right hand column of this page.

As always I welcome and will be delighted by your comments!

I'll finish with some more images of our work-in-progress virtual island:






Sydney Morning Herald Report

Some weeks ago Sydney Morning Herald reporter Megan Johnston visited my school to investigate ways we're using technology to disrupt and improve learning.

The report came out today, and I have to say she did a very good job of taking everything we threw at her and simplifying it without losing accuracy. 

The article refers to our virtual worlds program. She describes our approach to safety "all student activity is recorded and student moderators enforce the island's behavioural code". She refers to its popularity, "the island has become so popular it is now running out of space", and goes on to mention our new Open Sim project, "a second island [...] is being developed". 

Actually I have exciting news regarding our new virtual island. This is 8 times the size of our original space, and uses the open source software Open Sim:

Booralie 2 opensim_001

Our new world will be accessible by our Primary students. I can't wait to see their creativity come out in the world.

My colleague Tim Barrett is about to launch on an experiment to create a 3D version of his online Studies of Religion course. The idea is that students will literally walk through his course, journeying from location to location and immersing themselves in the relevant places, contexts, and moments in history. Instead of 'writing about' they'll 'role play', and when I say 'role play' I mean enter a 3D mosque, or cathedral, or temple, or church, and gain insight into how people's view of the universe is projected onto their buildings.

You can see Tim's blog here :http://www.chaplaincymatters.org/ and follow him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/tim__barrett

The same article, and a further one by Margie Sheedy in the same paper, refer to the 'Real Audience Project' - I've blogged a plenty about this. It's our name for taking student work and throwing it on the net. Not just in ONE class, but heading towards EVERY class in the school having an online 'stage' where student thoughts, essays, poetry, songs, videos, insights are put forward for the world to seeand respond to. A couple of prime examples: http://learningin10.wordpress.com/ (6 year olds talking about war), http://nbcsnews.wordpress.com (with 16,000 visitors), and 

A hidden jewel in the article by Johnston refers to "one group of HSC students recently debated politics with teenagers at an international school in Vietnam". This is a twist on the Real Audience Project. Why learn about the issues in the 'Society and Culture' course via a textbook, when you can interact directly with students from Vietnam? Students from this class report profound new insights that have arisen from this approach. The teacher of this class is Mrs Shani Hartley. Her students blog here: http://saclife.edublogs.org/. She blogs here: http://shartley.edublogs.org/ Follow her on Twitter here: @shhartley .

Shani is an inspiration, and a very active member of our school's innovation unit, the "Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning". Have a look at the blogs and twitter feeds of some other of my colleagues:

Mark Liddellhttp://markliddell.wordpress.com/

Grant Harbor (who drives Real Audience Project with me): http://gharbor.wordpress.com/ (Grant is also a Moodle guru)

Chris Woldhuishttp://edwoldblogwold.blogspot.com/

If you'd like to visit our school and see some of these, and other projects in practice, drop us a line. See www.scil.nsw.edu.au/pd for more information. 

This is just the beginning. You can subscribe to my blog (see the right hand column of this page) and you can join us on this journey. I'd love to hear from you, and I'll keep you in touch with where we go next.

A Day In the Life of Booralie Island, our School's Virtual World

A typical day in our virtual 3D island:

At lunch each Friday we all meet to build, swap ideas, and so on.

I noticed one student - a boy in Year 8 - had built a little ANZAC memorial in front of his shop:


In Australia it is 'ANZAC day' in a couple of days from now - where we remember Australian and New Zealand soldiers and their sacrifice in World War 1.

The sign needs updating, of course :-)

Then, some of the Year 9 girls said they had built a recording studio. Here is one small part of it:


They have programmed the drums, keyboard and guitar so that it looks like you are actually playing them, i.e. it's animated.

When I arrived home from school, I thought I'd log back into Booralie Island, and found some students working on a Coliseum - style arena. Some other students were logged in and were chatting:


Booralie is a great 'equaliser' in social interactions, partly because of the social codes and culture we've established, and I think it helps that students have pretend names too.

Just another day, where as normal I am highly impressed at students from my school and what they are creating in our little virtual world!