Jokaydia Unconference May 2010

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I was fortunate enough to attend part of the jokaydia Unconference last weekend.  It was a little tricky as, like so many others, I had to carefully plan the weekend around a number of family commitments.  I could have quite easily attended EVERY session at the unconference as there were a variety of informative, innovative and exciting sessions on offer.  If you are unfamiliar with the term “unconference”, click here for a definition.

For my first session, I went on a ReactionGrid tour and was excited to return to the ImmersED sim created by Kerry Johnson (Pandora Kurrajong).  I had visited the sim on my own and seen Kerry talk about it briefly at ACEC2010.  However, visiting the sim surrounded by other eductaors and having the opportunity to discuss aspects of the sim was a valuable experience for me.

I had been looking forward to attending the Robotics session with the ReactionGrid team and, despite some early technical difficulties, Kyle Gomboy and Chris Hart took us through the exciting possibilities when you combine OpenSim with Robotics and, in particular, free software such as the Microsoft Robotics Studio.  I came into the session under the impression that this was going to be something similar to Scratch 4 OpenSim.  However, I was very wrong!  Microsoft Robotics Studio will even allow you to connect a web cam so that movement of a real life person can be then translated to an in-world avatar! Wow!  There are a number of excellent resources about this topic on the jokaydia Unconference Session Wiki page.  Scroll down to Session 2: ReactionGrid Robotics Studio.

I attended my first jokaydia Unconference in 2009 and decided that perhaps it was time to really push myself “outside my comfort zone” and share the journey so far of our school’s virtual worlds program.  A twitter colleague suggested that I run a session and, although I had given many face-to-face presentations and workshops at my school, I knew that presenting in-world was going to be a “completely different ball game”!  However, I was hoping that sharing our story might inspire other educators who would like to implement a virtual worlds program at their school, but were presented with the challenges that so many of us are faced with when trying to implement change.

I decided to focus on the theme of “Implementing a Virtual Worlds Program in a Traditional School Environment”.  I was hoping the session would be more than just me talking about our school’s project so I tried to keep my slideshow “short and sweet” to leave plenty of time for questions and discussion.  I also prepared some items for a display. Jokay had very kindly scheduled the session in the beautiful Jokaydia Meeting Hall so there was plenty of room for a “Key Words” display and looping slideshow screen featuring screenshots of our OpenSim Project.

Overall, it was a very positive experience and I felt so privileged to be able to share our story with educators from around the world, including many who have been mentors and an inspiration to me.  I’m also very grateful to Jokay, for organising this wonderful virtual worlds event and John Wilson at Onlinevents for recording a number of the unconference sessions.  Being able to watch a recording of my first in-world presentation and critically evaluate it, was a valuable experience for me.  (Note to self: No more “ums” and “you knows”!)  A full list of presentation resources can be found at http://delicious.com/lucybarrow/bgsvirtualworlds

Thank you to Jokay and everyone involved in another highly successful jokaydia Unconference!

2009 Reflections

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For me, the end of a year brings with it the opportunity to reflect on what has been achieved and, most importantly, lessons learnt.  Of course, by the time we reach the end of the school year, most of us are tired, run-down and looking forward to the holidays!  On the positive side, though, there are feelings of satisfaction in regard to the year’s achievements as well as excitement looking forward to the following year’s projects.  However, the end of 2009 didn’t have me looking forward with the usual excitement to the new year.  Why?  How on earth could my enthusiasm be dwindling?

During 2009, the main projects I worked on were:

Whilst all of these projects were/are interesting, exciting and challenging, I find myself feeling quite “flat” as I look to the future.  I think that part of this comes down to neglecting my personal life and being consumed in my work.  Much of what I do in my role is also a hobby for me.  It is, therefore, easy for the school/home line to become blurred.

A colleague once said to me,

“You plant the seeds, Lucy.  All around the school, you plant the seeds.  Some of these grow and flourish and others don’t.  And that is to be expected.”

Once upon a time, I was happy for just some of these seeds to grow and flourish.  However, now I find myself questioning if the heart and soul that you put into planting these seeds is really worthwhile.  At times, the pace of change is so slow that I fear we will just continue plodding along.  Is it acceptable to continue having a handful of staff who understand the importance and possibilities when using ICT in the curriculum?  Can we achieve a whole-school approach to this as others do, where it is clear that ICT is a priority?

Whilst I am not one for “New Year’s Resolutions”, I have decided that I need to devote more time to “getting back to basics” in terms of my own well-being and that of my family.  My hope is that in feeling better about myself I will be able to contribute with greater clarity to my school work and renew my sense of enthusiasm.

I will take great care in planting the seeds – but only where they will grow and flourish.

Our Virtual Worlds Project

At the end of 2008, we embarked on our virtual worlds journey with the introduction of Quest Atlantis in our Year 6 English program.  You can find more detailed information about this project on our My Quest Atlantis Blog.

As Quest Atlantis is designed especially for middle school students, we started to explore ways in which we could extend this type of virtual world experience for our students.

After exploring options such as OpenSimActive Worlds and a closed estate in Teen Second Life, I was amazed and excited at the possibilities.

I was aware of the wonderful work being done at Suffern Middle School in New York by Peggy Sheehy and, a little closer to home, at Northern Beaches Christian School by Steve Collis.  I think the real “light bulb moment” came to me when I read Steve’s blog post, Practical Examples of 3D Virtual Environments for Learning in High School.  As I watched the accompanying movie I was, to say the least, completely blown away!  You may wish to read more about Booralie and Ramapo Islands on their blogs.

I have been very impressed with the possibilities available to students and educators using a virtual world such as Second Life.  In particular, the opportunities for students to develop 3D design or “building” skills are enormous.  Their completed objects and buildings have a real purpose as they can then be featured in the virtual world and used by teachers and students as part of the curriculum.  I have loved “playing” in jokaydia’s building sandbox so I can only imagine how much the students would enjoy this type of activity!

At this stage, I have explored a number of different educational areas in Second Life’s main grid.  I am particularly grateful to Dean Groom for suggesting that I explore the islands of jokaydia.  It was the perfect place to start for a Second Life newbie like me!

We are now at the stage where we will soon be putting together a project proposal and I have been in discussions with different staff members to gauge the interest in this type of curriculum development.  Their reactions have been extremely positive and part of the purpose of this post is to provide a little more background information to interested staff.

For those who have never experienced a virtual world, it can be difficult to visualise based on the blurry descriptions of an over-excited ICT Trainer! 😉  I hope the links in this post and the slideshow below will give staff a little more insight into the exciting possibilities of this type of project.  If you are unable to view the slideshow below, you may wish to go directly to flickr and view the full set of images.