A brief interpretation of Virtual Museums in Second LIfe though research on Museum Design

So this week, I took a look at some museums and exhibits in Second Life, with a particular focus of analyzing them based on some of the research and writings on museum exhibits and design. Although we’ve used authors like Falk and Dierking, Pine and Gilmore, to name two, I decided to utilize a few new resources to help me frame my thinking about my visits (Urban, Black, Gammon). Full bibliography is at the bottom, with some key ideas from those articles underneath.

As a general point of discussion, none of the sites I visited covered all of the appropriate design ideas. What there was, however, with some insight in each one about strengths and needs for improvement to make the experience more vivid and powerful.

In order:

Exploratorium 2When you arrive at the Exploratorium Island, There are a variety of interactive exhibits to explore – test your ability to track objects, be a molecule undergoing brownian motion, or take some visual perception tests. From a Gammon’s work, there is a definite sense of each exhibit attracting and holding attention. Urban emphasizes the importance of setting, media richness, and user agent. These are all true for the many exhibits that populate this space. Black details 23 characteristics for visitor involvement, and these exhibits do engage including features like enjoying the activity, it is enjoyable and planned out, users have the power to select, learning will occur because of participation. Each exhibit by itself clearly shows effort in the design.

sl1 explo_002 Some shortcomings here included a lack of cohesiveness that Urban might attribute to lack of consideration of setting. Gammon states the importance (as do many others) of linking to prior knowledge. Black uses the phrase “clarity of vision”. Although the exhibit is bright, full of interesting exhibits, and covers a range of science topics, there is a lack of a general sense of the plan, and signage is minimal to the point of being confusing. Probably most frustrating for me, was the lack of depth of the science explained. With the opportunity for lots of different media richness (Urban), I felt the designers could spend more time providing better information, learner guidance, and differentiated entry points for learners (Black).

To compare the site to others, I also visited:

Basilica San Francesco Assisi:
http://slurl.com/secondlife/san%20francesco%20assisi/246/109/68/?i&title=San%20Fran cesco%20Assisi

st francis 1This site has a striking look and feel to it. Unlike the Exploratorium above, the site was rooted in reality. This location addresses the scale and setting issues brought up by Urban in his article. Although I’ve not been to this location in real life, it has the authentic look and feel of the original space in Italy. One of the impressive features was the opportunity to purchase a heads-up display, that gave guidance and information for many way stations along the path. For the most part I found this display helpful, but there were some glitches. The controls did not always work, and once a description started, it kept looping until you are out of the approximate range of that specific exhibit. is probably the most frustrating aspect of this design (for me anyway) was a general lack of direction available to guide a visitor through. Although the heads-up display gave useful information, it was not as intuitively easy to use as it might’ve been, and more importantly, did not really the two specific places within the building.

st francis 2 It was interesting to me that both visits (and the others I looked at) all lacked some major elements that would’ve made the visits more engaging. It certainly cuts to the core of Urban’s comment about developers who are using Second Life as a “Third Space”. Although they are passionate in creating very interesting spaces, they are not fully applying all the principles of good design into the spaces consistently, and thus minimizing the impact that these places might have if they were more fully thought through.

Readings that have specific information that is applicable to virtual world design:

Black, G. (2005). The engaging museum : developing museums for visitor involvement. London ; New York: Routledge.

Gammon, B. (2003). Assessing Learning in the Museum Environment [Electronic Version], from http://sciencecentres.org.uk/events/reports/indicators_learning_1103_gammon.pdf

Urban, R. et al., A Second Life for Your Museum: 3D Multi-User Virtual Environments and Museums, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2007 Consulted October 4, 2009. . http://www.archimuse.com/mw2007/papers/urban/urban.html



Key ideas: developers in Second Life are often using it as a “third place” to develop their serious leisure pursuit.
Characteristics of Second Life environments:
scale: there’s a lot of flexibility in Second Life to work in the scale of your project based on your intention, and not in the physical limitation.
Setting: how artifacts are displayed is very open to interpretation. Some spaces minimize the setting to make the artifacts standout, others create a rich copy of the original space to set their setting, others invent new ways of representing the works.
persistence and evolution: more so than real-world, Second Life spaces evolve dramatically over time, which can be both powerful and unsettling for return visitors.
Media richness: a Second Life exhibits can incorporate powerful use of media to enhance the experience. Whether it is sound, video, or just interactivity, all of these features create the opportunity for a rich experience.
visitor engagement: There are many opportunities in Second Life to create this gauge, and invite people for second and third visits based on their experience.
Intended purpose: although it is not possible in Second Life to re-create any specific real-life equivalent, there is a need to match the intent of the space, and the design as close as possible
Collection types:it is possible to have a variety of types of artifacts and Second Life — from replicas of original objects like paintings, to interactive models in which participants can take an active role. The spectrum across these wide variety of the exhibit types within the Second Life environment create multiple opportunities for experienced.
Target audiences: because of the anonymous nature of Second Life, collecting specific information about the audiences for exhibit is challenging, if not entirely impossible. That makes targeting exhibits based on user experience a tricky problem indeed.


Specific ideas he mentions about learning in museums:
Developing skills
[mental and physical]

Does the exhibit:
Attract and hold attention — absorbed, repeat, attend for requisite time
comprehend content — challenging but achievable, attain detail and depth, makes difficult easy to understand
increase or consolidate knowledge — clarify, consolidate, address open-ended, retention weeks later, pre-post increases
link to prior knowledge — connectedness through mapping, Everyday experience,
process and apply information — new ideas, deep discussion capability, use information to complete task
challenge belief, attitudes, values — change is evident, new perspective
inspire strong emotional reactions — emotive language, described exhibit in personal emotional terms
increase awareness of other people’s beliefs, attitudes and values — spontaneous empathy, tolerance
increase empathy with other people’s beliefs and attitudes and values –

develops skills of cooperation
develop skills of communication
increased sense of self-confidence and self efficacy
increased sense of identity and self-worth
inspire interest and curiosity
motivate to investigate further
associate experience with positive feelings
skill-based — prediction, deduction, experimentation, decision-making…
numeracy and literacy skills
manual dexterity and other skills
artistic appreciation and criticism

a model for interpretive planning
when you wish to present such a specific site resource issues themes etc.
who you’re targeting the presentation I have to consider the nature of the target audiences there needs to expect patience
why you wish to develop/change the presentation — by defining specific objectives and outcomes. What are the benefits for the visitor, for the site collections, for the organizations, and our these benefits evaluated
how do you intend to present the museum — the interpretive strategy and gallery concepts — to achieve the objectives of the outcomes required

key principles:
interpretation is inclusive
external image is vital
interpretation emphasizes the overall visitor experience
the threshold is all-important
atmosphere matters
through orientation, interpretation gives visitors the power to select
interpretation is enjoyable
interpretation should be based on the latest audience research
interpretation seeks to use visitors personal context to build on pre-existing experience, skills and knowledge
interpretation is planned
interpretation emphasizes clarity of vision
the interpretation itself must be selective and themed
sound interpretation requires sound research
sound interpretation recognizes multiple points of view
interpretation is committed to active viewer participation
Interpreters believe learning occurs as a result of visitor participation
visitor participation means “pacing” displays
visitor participation also needs rest, recuperation and time for reflection
visitor participation means encouraging social interaction
visitor participation requires an impact on the emotions and senses as well as on the intellect
visitor participation requires a palette of approaches and layering of content
interpretation must also relate to the detail
interpretive approach will enable regular change into continuous program of activities and events

First we shape our buildings, then they shape us

This week’s post is framed around some experiences from this week, and some ruminations from weeks past. The title comes from a Winston Churchill quote that I have kept with me over last seven years or so from being involved in a new building design. And in light of the visits we had, some of the readings, and most importantly my own thoughts and experience, I have some thinking going on about design for formal and informal environments.
A week ago, we visited the Bishop Museum, and toured the newly reopened Hawaii Hall, as well as the science Center. Here were two facilities that had different origins — Hawaii Hall was built 100 years ago, and although it was face lifted in minor ways a few times, it was closed, reinvigorated, and reopened with a focus towards applying good visitor design ideas for the first time since it opened. Info here: The Science Center, on the other hand, was designed from the ground up and therefore had a different approach, look and feel, and goal.
On Tuesday, we visited the Waikiki Aquarium, and looked at its designs from the visitor experience, including the audio tour. The aquarium, has gone through a series of redesigns, and applying new exhibits and approaches over the years.

So along with that, I’ve been thinking about classroom design and library design in particular. My wife recently was at the Sinclair Library at the University of Hawaii and commented on the redesign which created a more friendly, open space for students. An area for socializing with food, coffee available for students, different configuration spaces with more openness, location of a Student Success Center to support studying, research, and other areas of student life. Essentially, they became more of a learning center, and less of an archive of paper text. As a result of small budgets, they did a lot of the work themselves: painting, receiving donations for furniture, rethinking spaces and making the most of what’s available. The results, a threefold increase in traffic over the last three months.

This made me think of a talk I heard in December 2008 by the architectural firm Fielding Nair International and their architect Randy Fielding titled “Transformation through Innovative School Design”. In this talk, he both talked about creating spaces for the 21st century, as well as gave design examples from his company and others. It made me think a bit about how a space like a library, or the Bishop Museum, or the Waikiki aquarium, would start if a donor gave them $2 million to redesign their facility. Make old things new? Or go back to square one, and design with a new eye?
To that end, Fielding discussed 20 modalities and four supporting areas that come into design ideas based on the social nature of humans and the way people learn. The modalities are:
independent study
peer tutoring
team collaboration
1 to 1 learning with teacher
lecture with teacher at Center stage
Project-based learning
technology-based with mobile computers
distance learning
research video wireless Internet
student presentations
performance-based learning
seminar style instruction
community service learning
naturalistic learning
social/emotional learning
art-based learning
storytelling (floor seating)
learning by building
team teaching
play-based learning

Not all of these modalities fit our thinking about informal learning spaces, at least in the way we think of them in exhibits in museums, but there are kernels in each one that support the readings that we have had two this semester.
More importantly, Fielding lays out four design areas that he thinks are significant in any new designs of formal (and informal, in my opinion) learning designs. They are (my explanations, not Randy’s):
The Campfire: a place where a group can gather around, share information, tell stories, and create a social context for their learning. This area has a sequence or synchronized mission to it.
The Watering hole: a more informal place to gather, that allows Asynchronous and unstructured sharing.
The Cave space: this area is designed for more quiet, reflective, individualized learning. A study area, a workroom, an out-of-the-way place.
Real life: spaces that are outdoors, or authentic for learning, experiment, grappling, learning with real objects.

At the end of his presentation, Randy shared a matrix that has been developed to aid schools in determining whether their design meets 21st-century goals. The instrument is called the Educational Facilities Effectiveness Instrument. The website where it is located is here:

The instrument includes criteria like entryway, technology readiness, supporting small learning communities, inclusion of learning studios, storage, transparency, casual eating areas, music and performance areas, outdoor learning, etc. In total there are 200 criteria that are assessed with this instrument. It includes images/exemplars of each category to prompt designers to consider ways to include these.

Some images from his slideshow might paint this a little better:

plc diagram




big design

Are all of these criteria relevant for our thinking about informal learning environments? Probably not, but these prompts would lead one to really identify what areas in your informal environment you really wanted to focus on. For instance, maybe the addition of considering how outdoor areas might expand the kinds of experiences you offer is worth considering. The small way, the Sinclair Library transformation, models this. There was an outdoor lanai area that was redone, with furniture, better lighting, etc. and the result was increased usage on the part of students, who found the area inviting and welcoming. The Waikiki aquarium utilizes very well outdoor areas for their reef tank, small presentation areas, and fish and monk seal exhibit. The ability to be outside changes the feel of the environment, and creates context from the indoor and outdoor experiences of the facility.
So we have a wide range of opportunity as designers. Sometimes it’s weekend repainting and asking for donations of furniture like the Sinclair Library. Sometimes we have the opportunity to design from the ground up, as in the Bishop Museum and science Center. And other times, we can redesign with some resources on spaces into new learning areas. Instruments like the EFEI give a context upon which we can draw out our thinking and our understanding of the research on visitor experience and learning to best design old places new.

A New Layer of Interaction in the World – Augmenting Reality

Readings from this week:

Black, G. (2005). The engaging museum : developing museums for visitor involvement. London ; New York: Routledge.
(Chapter 7: Applying the principles of interpretation to museum display.)

Gammon, B. (2003). Assessing Learning in the Museum Environment [Electronic Version], from http://sciencecentres.org.uk/events/reports/indicators_learning_1103_gammon.pdf

Hein, G. E. (1998). Learning in the museum. London ; New York: Routledge.
(Chapter 8: the construvist Museum)

Standards for Museum Exhibitions and Indicators of Excellence. (2009). Retrieved September 16, 2009, 2009, from http://name-aam.org/about/who-we-are/standards

So the main focus both in the readings in their class discussion centered around ways to both analyze, and engage learners in museum environments. My interest this week stemmed from a some examples that Peter gave during class that triggered some new thinking in my mind about ways to build in learner centered information, and the potential to assess that real-time.
Three of the examples that Peter gave were virtual guides: one of multimedia CD of The Galleria dell’Accademia, which is where the statue of David from Michelangelo is held, amongst many other significant works. This CD started my thinking about a new way to think of informal learning. At one level, it’s just a standard virtual tour: maps of the Museum with the exhibits labeled, visual 3-D imagery that allows a user to move through and approach exhibit objects, and layers of information that can be pulled up on any given object such as historical information, connections to other pieces in the exhibit, embedded images in either movies. Peter mentioned, and I agree, that although this multimedia product was available when you leave the museum in the gift store, it would have best been situated at the entrance to the museum, to guide the visitor, shape their understanding of the scope of the exhibits offered, and build in prior knowledge before they approach the actual objects. All of these things are good instructional design ideas.
He also showed us a virtual tour of Pompeii, in which a view of the current site was slowly reconstructed into the best understanding of what it looked like at its height 2000 years ago. Probably the striking thing with this visit was the fact that we often only see the ground-level of these sites, and have a hard time imagining things like roof lines and second stories. In particular, we visited the theater and seeing how high the edifice was built upon the stage, the fact that the seats were covered under a canopy, really got me thinking about how important that layer of information matters when we view objects and sites.
The third interface that he showed us, was of the Museum in Naples that had viewers interact with the visual display on frescoes before they entered the museum. The wall sized virtual display allow the user to reach out, zoom in, and interact with the frescoes, with supporting text and audio that explains the historical significance of areas of the fresco. This is a huge improvement in engaging the learner, in giving them the hook (from Csikzentmihalyi), because it sets up a higher level of attentiveness, addresses multiple modes of learning and engagement, and allows self-directed ownership of the information.

So with all of that, it triggered in me an appreciation for what is about to come through mobile technology. There were three separate, but importantly connected pieces of information that I drew together through this process. The first was a TED lecture from 2009 by Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry, in which they show a device they call “the sixth sense” the wearable device that projects onto any object to hold in front of it, and impresses this with text, images, and even movies about the object. Imagine this device in a museum, where as you walk through and face exhibit objects, you get a very personalized layer of information that you can zoom in for more specifics, or zoom out to get a broader sense of what things you might draw from this experience. Maybe you haven’t thought about the historical connections from earlier readings you had made. The device knows that your family history and included connections to this artist four generations ago, and shows your family tree that makes the connection for you. Perhaps in your calendar in two months, you’re planning a visit to a city where other pieces by this artist are available, and it lets you know that. These are all possibilities that exist today, if these devices come to be. Here is the video from Ted that is the first generation of this device — think of what the implications of this will be in just a few years.

Another development that lays on top of this is the recent release of “did you know version 4”. This video, looks at trends in learning and technology. In looking at the version that was just released for September 2009, one of the key trends that it mentions is the likely scenario that pocket computers (like the iPhone or Google android device) will be the primary way that computing happens by 2020. It also mentions that “the computer in your cell phone today is 1 million times cheaper, and 1000 times more powerful and about 100,000 times smaller than the first one developed at MIT in 1965”. We are emerging into a new realm where instead of going to the computer, we will be wearing the computer, the information will be coming to us. From an informal learning perspective, this becomes extremely empowering, because we now have the opportunity to let the world be our Museum.

The last development that layers into this, is the recent release of augmented reality software for the iPhone. This is a paradigm shift in information technology, from my perspective. Much like the device developed at MIT, this kind of software gives a learner the ability to view the world through a lens of tailored information at any point that they choose. There is a video here of the first release of this kind of software, which allows a visitor to Paris to hold up to your iPhone, and get an augmented view, based on their direction you’re facing in their location (utilizing both compass, and GPS data):

Think of the implications of this from a learning perspective. If it is true, and I believe it is, that mobile devices are going to become more ubiquitous, the developers will seize on this to geocode rich data into a great deal of the world’s spaces, then one of the first places that this will become viable and rich are museums and other informal learning spaces, because they already have a dedicated audience, and content worth generating virtual information about. With the development of the semantic Web (Web 3.0), it will become more and more the experience for any user that the information will come to them, tailored to their history, their interests, and their capabilities. We’ve talked a lot in this class about the importance in museum design to take into account the learner experience. Augmented reality, whne it comes of age fully, will come along way to aid in this quest.

It’s significant to note, in my mind, that augmented reality as a technology, has been long awaiting full adoption — its “killer app”. The Gartner Group and their Hype Cycle has long held augmented reality in its early phases as a technology trigger. Whereas some technologies have moved quickly off of this early phase and into adoption, augmented reality has languished at the beginning of the curve for a decade.
Screen shot 2009-09-19 at 7.43.41 AM

Have we reached a turning point? I believe we have. We are currently in the baby steps of a new type of technological overlay in our world. It is already possible in most of the developed world to take out a pocket-sized device, connect to the global information network, and receive information almost instantly. We are only a few short steps away from the device knowing us, where we are, and what we want to know. In thinking about how this will influence informal learning environments, and even formal learning environments, which is where I spent my professional life, I can’t help but be excited at the opportunity to empower learners to fully take advantage of this.
I know some people will think this is the end of institutions of learning because the seat of power will shift from the experts (teachers) to the learners. I rather think it will create a new kind of learning environment where adult mentors (facilitators) will become masters of process and information utilization, and support learners (apprentices), to fully develop their interests and potential. Moreover, it will increae the importance of informal learning environments. Like all technologies, this will not come to all equally or at the same time. But it will be scalable in a way that may make adoption across socioeconomic and cultural differences much broader.
The future is so bright, I gotta wear shades (but they better have an interactive overlay built into them…)

Learning as Play

Week 2 entry: Learning as play

The context of this post is the readings from our ETEC 697 “Educational Technology in Informal Learning Environments” class.

The bibliography for this week:

Csikzentmihalyi, M., & Hermanson, K. (1995). Intrinsic motivation in museums: What makes visitors want to learn? Museum news, 74(3), 35-37 and 59-62.

Falk, J., & Dierking, L. (1992). The Museum Experience. Washington, D.C.: Whalesback Books.

McLellan, H. (2000). Experience design. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 3(1), 59-69.

Pine, J., & Gilmore, J. (1998). Welcome to the experience economy. Harvard Business Review, 76(4), 97-105.

With this topic I’m interested in exploring within these readings is the notion of formal and informal environments, distinguishing characteristics, and how schools manage to beat the life out of learning. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a teacher for 27 years, and I think there are times when we truly engage students by the process we take them through a traditional schools, but truthfully, this is more the exception than the rule, and certainly not the purpose of education as we know it. Think about what we’ve learned in the readings that we have. One of the primary tenets of Csikzentmihalyi is that real powerful learning stems from intrinsically driven behaviors. Even in the article, he makes the case that if a learner starts any activity with the intent of needing to do it for some external factor (a grade, a requirement, a non-optional activity) it immediately changes their motivation, their attention and their ownership of the learning.

What distinguishes intrinsic learning, and the design that must occur around it, is that the learner comes to us because they have an interest, and at least believe, even if it’s not true, that they are driving the experience. Here is where the potential overlap with formal and informal learning environments have something to learn from each other. The significance of design implies that although the learner may believe that they are in charge of the experience, that truthfully behind the scene and instructional designer has thought through purposefully how to engage, and take into account the perspective of the learner, so that they feel as though the experience was initiated and driven by them.

In my physics class, we practiced a pedagogical approach called modeling. In it, I was always the shaper of the experience, always new the path we needed to take to have an experience that was worth doing, and yet, with good design and purposeful intent, my students felt more than not that they were driving experience. They felt that they made the decisions about their research, about the results, and what the meaning was. It often felt that though I was pulling the strings, it was an original experience for them, because they built it on their actions.

Csikzentmihalyi makes the case that a “flow” experience arises when we are so immersed in an experience that we reach a higher level of engagement, where we are immersed powerfully, sensory affected, in time slows down to enable the experience to unfold powerfully. In his latest book “The Element”, Sir Ken Robinson talks about Csikzentmihalyi’s flow as happening when a learner is engaged because they are in their environment. Traditional school is full of poor matches of students, adult mentors, and experiences that do not feel intrinsic, nor have any sense of flow whatsoever. One of the things that I’ve been impressed with recently is the power of homeschooling as an alternative model for schools to consider. Think of a learning environment that is always adjusting to our interests, abilities, schedule, strengths and weaknesses, so that we feel engaged, involved, connected.

So what does this have to do with the readings, how does that tie in? Well whether it’s Falk’s description of the interactive experience model that takes into account personal, social, and physical context or it is Pine and Gilmore’s matrix that plots out a “sweet spot” between immersion and absorption, passive and active participation,

ine and gilmore's matrix

ine and gilmore's matrix

or McClellan, who talks about these ideas applied into virtual interfaces, the goal and understanding of human experiences the same. We learn best when we have activated motivation, when we have taken into account the abilities and interests of the learner, and when we unfold an experience that tells a story and creates a sense of ownership in the experience.
This is where traditional school fails us horribly. This is not to say that some schools have found new and exciting ways to accomplish this, but the traditional structures on school: textbooks that are nothing more than unengaging tomes full of uninteresting factoids, schedules that separate out learning into small periods of time that are domain & topic specific, and activities that are at best poor seconds of the real learning that could happen.
To close, maybe the best thing to do would be to reconsider how we treat learning. Our new principal for the high school at Mid-Pacific Institute once taught at the Museum School in New York City. In that school, the learning was based around visits and experiences of the many multifaceted museums that exist in New York. Certainly there were still problems within that school — probably more than anything the inherent tension between the public’s expectation of what schools should be like, and what motivated and drove students to do higher, more authentic, quality work. But any model that takes us closer to learning as play gets us a little closer to the way our brains are wired, and real learning can happen.
Shouldn’t we do this for the sake of our children?

Future of Education and Disrupting Class

A post I recently added to our ETEC Ning on the topic of Christensen/Horn’s “Disrupting Class” and our upcoming book club on it:

As some of you know, I have been working the past year and a half with a grant through the Hawaii community foundation titled “schools of the future”. As a part of that, we have been sharing books that we felt were provocative and discussing the need for education to transform. The foundational book for us was Tony Wagner’s “the global achievement gap). Shortly after reading that, we found disrupting class and found a great source for explaining how and why incremental change for schools was not going to be enough. Since then, I’ve had a chance to both hear and talk a bit with Michael Horn about the book, seen him in a public forum on the debate about bricks and mortar at this year’s NECC and seeing the ideas percolate through at least some of the conversations in forums like the future of education.
Scott McLeod (Dangerously Irrelevant) gave a great updated view of this at NECC here

so where do I sit on this? I have come to believe that Christensen is really correct about the forces that are going to shape the relevance of education. For those of you that are not familiar with what has happened with Florida virtual school’s, with the national movement from K12.org, and others, they are providing a new model for education that is beginning to be felt by schools. Locally, Hawaii technology Academy (HTA) is showing this disruptive potential already. I really believe schools aren’t ready and struggle with students who wish to be in a different environment than traditional school.
One of the goals we set for the schools of the future grant (kudos Elizabeth Park, Mike Travis, Lisa Waters for leading their schools to successful grant proposals) was for schools that were looking at substantive change, not just dressing up traditional school. The big debate at NECC this year was whether the bricks and mortar of schools were still viable, or needed a complete reworking.
Day 2 had a public forum debate — was provocative, passionate and showed some insight into the promise and peril schools face (Michael Horn was on the panel as was Gary Stager and Cheryl Lemke). Tape video archive here.
So I do believe traditional K-12 education is in peril — both because of its inability to adapt to a new world, and because there are forces in learning that it has not been able to address. I believe to survive school must become a learning environment that utilizes what we know about learning and technology. Homeschoolers have known this for a long time — if you start by understanding the child, build rich powerful learning around their interests, use the community, mentors and experts to support their learning goals, then you end up with a powerful experience. For most of our students today, school is still just “one thing after another” 5, 6 or seven classes a day of disconnected information with little opportunity for students to explore their own interests, or event input. Recent study of classroom interaction in schools showed that in a typical day student has rare few minutes of opportunity to express their own thinking — how can that still be happening with what we know about how the brain works, and how knowledge is constructed?
so what will education be like, or more to the point what should it be like? Using the best that technology can offer to individualize and diversified learning, in using the bricks and mortar as a learning center where learners of all ages come together to work in a community under the guidance of learning experts has promise and has already been implemented in charter reform efforts with great success.
Caveat — if you didn’t see the recent article about the Microsoft school of the future failure, it is worth looking at as an example of putting the wrong things in place in the wrong order. ESchool news had an article on this recently here.

Week 6 Second Life Ruminations

week 6 reflection

This week was the start of school at MPI. As a result, I spend a lot of my time helping teachers that struggle with technology to their basics set up — online syllabi, electronic grade books, network and Internet accounts, e-mail problems, etc.
I also spend time with the early adopters trying new things: social groups in nings, use of Moodle to support instruction (forums, Voicethread’s, podcasts, etc.)
In working with one of our weaker technology users today, it struck me about a quote from Heisenberg or Bohr back in the 1920’s or so (regarding understanding concepts in science):
“when we don’t understand the problem, it is impossible; when we understand it, it becomes trivial”
In so many ways, this last six weeks in our Second Life class has been an example of that. It seems that almost every class one of us will find themselves in a awkward position where our lack of understanding shows that we don’t know how to do something basic: sitting down, wearing an object, changing the texture, etc. Now, six weeks in, most things seem simple: trivial. There are still things that I don’t know and think would be valuable to understand. The magic of the Linden scripting language, and what it implies for designing is a huge topic that we did not cover in the class, other than to change values in scripts to cause hovering text, or color of text, or images that were referenced. Clearly, without a complete understanding of scripting, the real design experience of Second Life is going to be a weak effort at best — copying or adapting ideas from other people.
As an example, in our project the value of the communication board became obvious to me. I looked around to find tutorials on how to build some kind of note board that allowed posting of people’s comments. Eventually, I just purchased one from XLstreet for $1.30. At that price, it was hard to justify spending 5 to 10 hours of my time designing something that already been invented. Yet, I feel I cheated by not designing it myself. An uneasy tension between creation and adoption.

If I have time, I will try and post one more time to put some final thoughts down about this class. It has been a lot of fun and challenging and more than anything I appreciat how the structure has both tackled research AND hands-on construction. A job well done to Dr Peter Leong (SL Ikaika Miles) and his able Assistant Rebecca Meeder (SL Porfessor Swartz)

Second Life Ruminations Week 5

week 5 reflection

summary thoughts
article on leatchers leaving profession

current and future potential

So as we were in the last two weeks of the class, I keep coming back to how virtual worlds and in particular Second Life can be forces to support and improve education. I still am convinced, as I have been for many years, math the best parts of Second Life offer opportunities for education that may yet prove to be powerful and pervasive In the next five years.
and it’s happening, perhaps, at a moment not too soon. I read this past weekend and article from the Washington Post written by a teacher who after less than five years was leaving the profession. Her story of lack of recognition, problems with the system, evaluation that rewarded playing it safe instead of taking risks alliance with many of the stories I hear from teachers long in the profession and just at the beginning of their careers. Her story is here:
at the same time, Robert Witt, who is the head of Hawaii Independent schools, spoke to our faculty on Friday and encouraged us to find ways to reinvent our institution, for the children, and for the sake of trying to keep education from sliding into an irrelevant institution. He shared a video from the national commission on teaching and America’s future that explored the issue of teachers leaving the profession. The video is here:

So what does this have to do with Second Life? In some ways, Second Life is not yet ready for prime time, at least not in secondary education, and yet it offers an opportunity to reinvigorate and challenge the status quo for students and teachers. Whether it is taking advantage of adolescence and support of accepting nature of social media and online virtual realities, or possibility that virtual worlds opened up in time, space, connectedness, simulation the time needs to be right pretty soon if it is to have any impact in helping education from sliding further into decline.
The opportunity for students in Second Life to link up with peers and mentors, which is part of the new paradigm of 21st-century learning opens its potential and paints a possible future where we honor more of adolescents’ native abilities, energies and potential than we do right now. I’ve been teaching for 27 years and seen the potential and sometimes the fulfillment of the promise of technologies in education. With 15 to 20 more years education in front of me, I will be there and hopefully leading the charge to see tools like Second Life support dramatically different models of school transformation.

Second Life Ruminations week 4

Some things in my head this week regarding Second Life and what we’re learning both in class, and how the filtered lens that I use sees it.
Regarding class activities:
we spent one period this week looking specifically at sounds, and how they are both used as well as the skills of bringing them into Second Life. We visited a site — a garden called new Hope Sound garden
it was striking for what it brought to the sensory experience that is unique to audio. Birds chirping, bees buzzing, rain and wind these all have unique sensory experiences that give us a sense of mood and place. It strikes me that coming back from a recent trip to Kona Village resort, the thing I enjoy most about it is the sense of serenity — no motorized sounds: cars, air conditioners, radios, TVs — nothing. Permeating the resort is a sense of when, birds, and ocean — very serene.
So this experience in the garden was both powerful, and refreshing because it allowed the visitor to detach themselves, even if for just a minute, from the busyness around them.

Now tied in with that, I was reflecting on a research article that I find particularly powerful from a MacArthur foundation grant written by Mizuko Ito that is titled “living and learning with new media: summary of findings from the Digital youth Project”

this is a great read, that looks at the different ways that young learners in particular news new media. One of the profound ideas that they develop through their ethnographic study, is two ways that use use social media: friendship driven and interest driven. Although I have not read all of the article, yet, it is clear that this developed idea is important in learning institution. Essentially, learners use social media through friendships to build relationships, and may use interest driven connections to help them build new knowledge. How to Second Life into this framework?
Although many of the experiences in Second Life lineup with friendship driven activities — social events, explorations with friends, communication, It is clear that if we are going to look at Second Life as a learning platform, we need to take advantage of the interest driven nature of social networks for adolescents.

article finishes with this quote:
“Kids’ participation in networked publics suggests some new ways of thinking about the role
of public education. Rather than thinking of public education as a burden that schools must
shoulder on their own, what would it mean to think of public education as a responsibility of a
more distributed network of people and institutions? And rather than assuming that education
is primarily about preparing for jobs and careers, what would it mean to think of education as
a process of guiding kids’ participation in public life more generally, a public life that includes
social, recreational, and civic engagement? And finally, what would it mean to enlist help in this
endeavor from an engaged and diverse set of publics that are broader than what we tradition-
ally think of as educational and civic institutions? In addition to publics that are dominated by
adult interests, these publics should include those that are relevant and accessible to kids now,
where they can find role models, recognition, friends, and collaborators who are co-participants
in the journey of growing up in a digital age. We hope that our research has stimulated discus-
sion of these questions.”
so sometimes we are thinking of Second Life as a venue that we will build old schools new. another avenue that this article suggests is thinking of these new learning environments as extensions of learning experiences that we haven’t yet fully utilized. Not sure where we go with that, but it’s a provocative thought all the same.
The article in full can be found at this address:

or shortened:


Second Life Ruminations Week 3

Okay so this is my third week blog post and reflection on things that are in my head about our class, virtual worlds, and Second Life in particular. To start off, I have a funny story (okay, at least I think it’s funny).
So we’re in this highly technologic class, and meeting twice a week in a virtual environment, and on Thursday morning after Wednesday night’s class I fly to the big Island for a four-day vacation at Kona Village resort, which is the antithesis of technology. No TVs, no radios, no telephones, no air conditioning, No room service, no locks on the doors, all of the Hale (units) are individual, separated by considerable distance, with dirt pathways leading to the main beach and eating area. the entire resort is enveloped in serene silence — the sound of the ocean, birds in the trees, nothing else. Info here They do have free Internet access only in the business office available 24 hours a day, so I would go over late at night with my laptop and work on my assignments from there. To say the difference is stark between our Wednesday class, and this little slice of heaven on earth with no technology (how many times have you gone four days without carrying your cell phone or laptop with you?) Is putting it mildly. So one of the humorous things that happened, was me walking by the pool one day then glancing over it and seeing the heads of people in their lounge chairs and bobbing in the pool and waiting for the picture to rez better so I could see their name and title above their heads… I am not making this up it actually went through my head for a couple of seconds! I wonder if anyone else in our class has had the experience in real world.
Producers vs Consumers
So anyhow, my thinking on class this week, is on producers versus consumers. One of the goals that I’ve had for my staff as we have adopted a broad range of technologies on our campus, has been to evolve teacher thinking from assuming premade content and activities with technology to developing activities with their student’s that make them producers. For example, it is one thing to have students view a lesson in a science class or concept being taught through a video or YouTube. It is an entirely different thing to have students create instructional videos that they can use to teach others. From a standpoint of cognitive hierarchy, is an entirely different thing to teach a lesson, design the scope, storyboard the concept, shoot, arranged talent, edit, and manage the resource than it is to be just a consumer of someone else’s. It’s very reminiscent for me that early in my modeling physics training at Arizona State University in 1995, that when the complaint came that students doing physics — really doing physics as a community of scientific researchers, was painfully slow and challenging. When the complaint was raised that we could cover the material faster by just telling the students about it, one of our mentors, Larry Dukerich, reminded us that the definition for “cover” was “to obscure from view”.
So where does this fit in with Second Life? The last two weeks in our class we are taking time each meeting to learn how to construct objects — a purse which contained objects, the media station, selecting and editing clothing, etc. None of these are particularly easy, certainly not intuitive to do. So it’s been bothering me, that if I were going to convince a teacher to use Second Life, they would almost certainly need to start and maybe stay, for that matter, as a consumer. By that I mean, they might go to sites that already have been made: a tour of a virtual gallery, flying inside the cell, sitting in and participating in a Socratic dialogue on algebra, you get the idea…
But my main stripe is to have teachers and students create things, not just consume them. Thus, the inherent tension for me, because the amount of time it takes to understand how to build objects in Second Life, makes this an almost impossibility for most students in classes.
Does that mean Second Life can’t be a powerful learning environment for teachers and students? I don’t think so, but I do need to rethink my approach to looking at it. I need to think of this as more of a social space than a laboratory space. Perhaps, at least for now, a powerful aspect of Second Life for me as a technology director, is its ability to be used as a social format. Teachers could meet here with students and teleport to interesting places together — to experience and learn as a community. Perhaps a teacher might take students to an MIT lecture, or arrange an expert to comment and demonstrates something to a class. Powerful? Surely. Best use of the environment? Not really, but until the tools or the students own prior knowledge allow easier construction we are still looking at Second Life as a consumer environment, not a producer environment.
And that’s the way it is… for now

Second Life Ruminations Week 2 addendum

My friend Dean who is also taking the class had a really interesting post that I wanted to ruminate on a little more… his post included the following paragraph

A couple of observations…co-presence or ambient awareness – the sense of being there and connected, is really evident when we’re in Second Life. I mean it literally seems we’re meeting face-to-face when we’re in class and meeting with our groups. I wonder if it’s because, subconsciously, we know that someone is controlling each avatar we see in class? It was funny when Mark, Cheryl and I met a few nights ago in Second Life. At the end of our meeting both Mark and I complemented Cheryl’s dress- her Second Life dress. It was a beautiful dress! The lines are getting blurred. Are we beginning to interact with avatars in Second Life or are they merely a window to the person behind the avatar? That would be an interesting study – to see who we begin to associate more with when we’re in a virtual world, avatars or the people who create and control them? In our minds, do we acknowledge a difference or are one in the same? Is Techtiki and Dean the same? Do people in class think that Techtiki and Dean are the same, think the same, act the same, etc.? I think the methods of communication impact our perceptions. I believe it’s easier to represent yourself differently if you only use local chat and IM. It’s harder to do so when you use audio. Not sure if I’m making sense, but I’d like to follow this train of thought throughout the class and see how I feel at the end. Stay tuned….

Link back to his blog here: http://abbahawaii.com/techtiki/

my response is below:

Hi Dean
I enjoyed reading what you wrote about the Blurred line in the virtual world and reality. I agree with you that there is a level of comfort and interaction that is happening now is that is surprising. I think you pose a particularly intriguing question about identity — in world and real world. It is one thing in Second Life when we are using this class with an instructor. In that case, we take an extension of our identity, but not really a new one.
I am quite certain that there is a large percentage of Second Life participants that “jump the fence” and take on a new identity — explore new ways of communicating, expressing, being. At one level I find this a little off putting, as interactions in Second Life ought to be the real thing. In this sense it is like going to a costume party, where people take on the identities of the characters they are dressed as. I guess I would think of this as a novelty, but I wouldn’t expect to come back to the party over and over again and interact with same fake identity each time. Maybe it’s the social nature in me, but I expect my interactions to be with the “real person”. But maybe that’s an indication of my age and my expectation or interaction.