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: Sloodle

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:






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!?