Second Life Best Practices in Education

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The schome community was invited to do a presentation at the Second Life Best Practices in Education Conference on the 25th May 2007.

PeterT represented the community - and 'talked' (you know he likes to) about schome, why we were using Second Life, and how the design of schome relates to the eSIR Reference Statement. The full transcript of his talk is below (minus the interruptions - there was an interesting moment with a couple of cows ...).

For more pictures of the event see ademoor's blog.

Thanks for posting those Aldo PeterT 06:32, 26 May 2007 (BST)
A great turnout - it was 7am SL time - and not a cow in sight ...

Using Teen Second Life to explore visions of schome

Slide 1

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Thank you for coming along at what for some of you must be an odd time of the day to be at a conference session.

My name is Peter Twining (Schomer Simpson in the Main Grid and TheSchome Ranger in the Teen Grid).

I'd like to straight away acknowledge all the folk who have contributed to the work that I am sharing with you today - the team at the OU (including Woop Superior who did most of the 'official builds' on Schome Park originally), contributors from the National Physical Laboratory, and Liverpool and Warwick universities, the students who are working with us on the Teen Grid, and our funders - NAGTY (The National Association of Gifted and Talented Youth), The Innovation Unit (which works closely with the education department in England), and Becta (The British Educational Communications Technology Agency).

This session is divided into an initial 20 minute presentation, which will be followed by about 30 minutes for discussion and questions (assuming all goes to plan).

During the presentation I will give you a quick overview of what schome is and some of the work we had been doing before we started working with Second Life. I will then explain why we decided to use Second Life and how we are using it (which is informed by work that I led on the evaluation of the implementation of the DfES (Department for Education and Skills) e-strategy in 2005/2006).

Slide 2

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Ok - so what is schome (and how is it different to other 'future education' efforts)?

There are lots of folk working on the future of education - but they all start from our current system (usually schools) and try to identify how they should be improved.

We think that this is a fundamentally flawed approach.

If you start from school you immediately constrain your thinking - words like teacher and classroom bring with them all sorts of assumptions, which may be exactly the features of our current education system that hinder learning (eg 1 adult 'teaching' 25 children; 50 minute lessons; single age groupings; etc).

We believe that we need to start from first principles - What do we need from an education system in the 21st Century? (Stage 1 - identify the purpose(s) of education).

We then need to identify the optimum system to enable us to meet those needs - given what we know about how people learn, social demographics, the technologies we have available to us, etc.. (Stage 2 - develop the vision for what the optimum system - schome - should be like).

We then need to work out how to get from where we are now to where our vision says we need to be. (Stage 3 - implementation strategy).

And then of course we have to implement the strategy (Stage 4 - implement schome).

So schome is ... not school - not home - schome - the education system for the information age.

Schome is going to be an education system that spans cradle to grave - genuinely life long.

It is NOT going to be a virtual system - there will be physical as well as virtual spaces.

This is because we need to be grounded in the sense that we need to be meeting the real needs of society and individuals.

One of the purposes of education - for some of the people some of the time - is to care for/supervise learners so that their parents can go out to work.

There is also a need for people to meet face to face (RW) for social reasons, to share expensive resources, to engage in team sports, etc..

So schome will be a hybrid system that uses the best mix of physical and virtual spaces to meet the real needs/purposes that an education system in the 21st century must meet.

However, it will be creative, in the sense that it will not be pre-constrained by assumptions about 'how education currently is'.

Slide 3

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We started working on schome in 2005 - initially documenting information about different education systems in different countries (on the schome community wiki).

We then started running focus groups asking a diverse range of people for their visions of what schome should be like.

This led to a NESTA funded project called the Aspire Pilot during which we worked with students in schools on developing 'provocations' to stimulate other people to think in a creative yet grounded way about visions for schome.

We have also run workshops for home educators during which we explored visions for schome.

And we encouraged folk via the schome community wiki and then the schome community forum to share their visions for schome.

Slide 4

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But at the end of the day all the visions that folk came up with were 'like now only better' - and tended to focus on what the physical spaces would be like whilst ignoring what happens inside them (e.g. the curriculum, modes of support for learning (pedagogy), and assessment).

Understandably, folk found it incredibly hard to free themselves from their preconceptions of education, which were often based on 10 or more years within our existing education systems.

Slide 5

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In mid-2006 one of my colleagues - Kieron Sheehy - had the brilliant idea of using Second Life to enable us to try out radically different ideas for what schome might be like in order to help people break free of their preconceptions.

Second Life provides a vehicle for giving people 'lived experiences' of radically different approaches to learning.

Slide 6

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Second Life encourages you to break conventions - whether that be having green hair and a fluffy tail, or two female members of the OU team kissing under the mistletoe, or walking in and out during meetings, or having individual discussions during meetings ...

Slide 7

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And of course Second Life also allows us to explore new forms of representation - it provides a new medium for supporting learning in its own right.

In this image you can see the Scho-Op - our freebee store. When we started building the Scho-Op we put in shelves to display the objects - and then we realised that of course this wasn't necessary. So now we just have images that you can click on which then provide you with a list of items that you can buy (for L$0). So clicking on the face might allow you to buy clothes, clicking on a picture of a house might allow you to buy lots of different designs of houses, and so forth.

All in all it seemed to us that Second Life provided the potential to support people in thinking more creatively about visions for schome in a way that would be too expensive, to difficult or simply impossible in the real world.

So we set up Schome Park - our island in the Teen Grid - where we have been working with 150 students from NAGTY (The National Association of Gifted and Talented Youth).

Slide 8

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The design of Schome Park was informed by the eSIR Reference Statement - which was developed as part of an evaluation of the Education Department's e-strategy in 2005/2006. The eSIR Reference Statement is an explicit vision statement - extrapolated from the e-strategy and from 125 questionnaire responses and 60 in-depth interviews with senior staff responsible for strategy within local authorities (education districts), colleges, schools, 'educational ICT suppliers' and a number of voluntary education organisations.

The eSIR Reference Statement is built around five key dimensions - which are shown here.

I'm going to explain very briefly how each of these relates to our design of Schome Park.

Slide 9

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Our aim is to empower learners to learn (and to take responsibility for their own learning) within a context where the only thing we can be pretty certain about is that there will be continuous change (so life long learning is important - as are skills such as 'learning to learn', communication and 'real problem solving').

As we are also learners we are all learning together.

Slide 10

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The environment refers to where and when learning happens - and the eSIR Reference Statement assumes a move towards 'anywhere anytime learning'.

Within schome - and indeed the Schome Park project - we use a range of different media (face to face - though for purely pragmatic reasons we have not met face to face with students on Schome Park yet); skype; flashmeeting; youtube; the schome community wiki, the schome community forum, Schome Park, etc ...

We have slurls in the wiki and forum. We have hot links from the wiki to the forum and visa versa. We have hot links from noticeboards in world to pages in the wiki.

We have developed an in-world blogging tool called the SLog - when you type in the appropriate channel in-world your message is posted on your SLogbook on the website - and you can take snapshots in-world which are also posted in your SLogbook.

The key is using the appropriate media to meet your needs (both educational and practical). So integrating different media (e.g. the wiki, forum and Schome Park) is critical.

Slide 11

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The eSIR Reference Statement identifies an increase in the range of actors involved in education (teachers, para-professionals, parents, employers, learners, etc) and much greater collaboration between those different actors.

An important element is that learners should have more choice, responsibility and control for their own learning.

Within Schome Park we have a range of actors, which has included: academics, PhD students, staff from the National Physical Laboratory, a small holder who does on-line tutoring part time, a consultant, and of course the students themselves.

We have attempted to bring in 'guest experts' but so far the mechanisms and regulations relating to this have proved prohibitive.

Slide 12

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The eSIR Reference Statement identifies that the curriculum will become broader and more focussed on skills (though it recognises that these have to be developed within a context ? you cannot have skills without content).

Again the emphasis is on greater learner choice.

Within Schome Park we provide a core curriculum - in the form of strands such as ethics and philosophy (hence the Zen garden),

Slide 13

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physics (you can see a couple of views of the physics area on Schome Park in this slide),

and archaeology (which is not illustrated here)

Slide 14

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However, we also put a great deal of effort into supporting the students in developing their own projects.

These have included setting up an AI group (we ran an initial session on Chatbots), a series of regatta's; a murder mystery evening; a wedding; creating games (such as chess), developing building complexes (with apartments for rent, social spaces, and educational facilities).

The list is almost endless ...

One of the most interesting activities has been the setting up of the governance structure for the island.

We encouraged the students to take responsibility for this - they debated alternative models (dictatorship through to communism) - they decided on the governance structures that they wanted (e.g. building/planning group; events group; general affairs; education group; overall coordination group), ran elections, etc..

And they are currently discussing how the island should be redesigned ...

You can see the writer's area which the students requested on the bottom left of this slide - with its own nuclear power station - empowering the learners perhaps?

Slide 15

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The eSIR Reference Statement identifies that the range of types of support open to learners should increase and that learners should have more choice about how they are supported (and where/by whom).

Within Schome Park we provide support in a range of different ways - the design of the environment aims to support specific aspects of learning - in this slide you can see a section of Hadrian's wall which was used in the archaeology sessions to help the students envisage what it was really like (running your avatar over the wall gives a very different experience to just looking at a cross section of it in a text book).

Slide 16

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Staff and students also provided support for each other individually and in group sessions.

Needless to say the member of staff in the picture on the left of this slide is the one with the fluffy tail.

Slide 17

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The students - off their own bat - developed a whole complex full of learning pods, each of which provided instructions on how to do something in Second Life.

Slide 18

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A critical element of support is that it should be 'just in time'.

We developed mechanisms that allowed students to get help (from other students or from staff) when they needed it.

For example when a button is pushed on this help console, which was developed by Woop Superior, it either sends an IM to a member of staff in-world or if there are no staff in-world it sends an email to a generic help email account that tells staff that someone needs help (the avatar's name is included in the email).

Slide 19

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You will be please to hear that we are getting to the end of my input!

The initial schome-NAGTY Teen Second Life Pilot has now come to an end - and we are currently in the process of totally redesigning Schome Park so as to reflect the lessons we have learnt from the pilot.

Perhaps most importantly - the design of Schome Park II (or SPii which I'm told is pronounced spee) is largely in the hands of the students themselves.

We are providing a basic infrastructure around which they have total control of what is needed and then are responsible for implementing it (with support where necessary).

The next few months should be interesting!

Slide 20

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Over to you to ask questions - and I do hope that if you are interested in our work you will join the schome community - there are all sorts of possibilities for collaboration ...

Schome Stand at Best Practices Conference

Schome Exhibition Stand
Virtual exhibitions - much like real life ones!
Schome Exhibition Stand detail
Schome Exhibition Stand detail

In addition to Peter's excellent presentation Schome had a stand in the educators exhibition space, put together by Dan/Woop.