I am only just now getting a chance to come on and blog about how it went at the CoSN K12 International Symposium yesterday with my presentation of the PacRimX project.
I’ve always viewed virtual worlds as being in their infancy when related to education. The attendees that I met at the symposium yesterday indicate to me that this topic has moved out of the “nerdy” shadows of academia, and that virtual worlds and educational gaming are now drawing some serious attention and research from some of the most recognizable individuals and institutions in education.
Mark Prensky gave a great morning keynote. He recently published the book “Don’t Bother Me Mom – I’m Learning“. I picked up a copy of the book at the conference, so after I read it I will have to post some comments. His keynote was very informative, and drew a lot from his books. He made the case for how computer games are not going to end the world, or cause your child to drop out of school, but instead will very likely improve many of the skills and abilities that students need for entering the 21st Century workforce. Mark also got into the “digital natives” vs. “digital immigrant” debate. He is a very engaging speaker, and has a great sense of humor.
I was on the first panel after Mark’s Keynote. Lilla Voss, Chief Advisor, Department of Primary, Lower Secondary and General Adult Education, Denmark Ministry of Education, moderated the panel. There were three of us showing videos of our “Innovative” projects. The video of the Pacific Rim Exchange project went over very well with the audience. I had pretty much talked myself out of running the version I posted on Monday with the sound track based on some of the feedback I received after posting to the listservs and blog.
One of the comments I received about the video on Monday stated:
“If the intent is to generate a cognitive dissonance, then I guess you were successful, but otherwise it seemed like there were two very different intended narratives that were hard to deal with simultaneously.”
At the last minute, I decided to stick with my original plan and use the video with the audio track (for those that did not download it, the sound track was a clip from the audiobook “Rapid Japanese” from Earworms Musical Brain Trainer). If you missed downloading it, you can email me and I will make it available. The version now linked to the blog has no soundtrack.
I introduced the video by referencing Mark’s Keynote. I explained that a group of students helped me to pull together the video on Sunday, and that if you were not able to keep up with the video and audio at the same time that you were most likely a “digital immigrant”. The response to the video was very positive by the audience, I answered many questions on the panel, during the breaks, and also after the event. Not so surprisingly, many of the attendees of this event are currently in the process of starting up islands in Second Life.
I was happy to see Bob Moore on the panel that was responding to the morning presentations. Included in their analysis were a video from the George Lucas Education Foundation on games in education, Marc’s keynote, and the three examples of innovative uses of games in education (PacRimX being one of them). I first saw Bob give a keynote down in Monterey this past November at the CETPA Annual Convention. I was disappointed that he did not have the time at this symposium to bring any of his slides from that presentation. Bob clearly stated when he took the podium that “I am a gamer“. However, he made some excellent points on how much change games will bring to the classroom, and also highlighted some appropriate uses of virtual worlds and games in education (he said that PacRimX was an example of a good use of these technologies).
Chris Dede, from Harvard, was generally pretty negative on the use of computer games in education, especially those commercial games that were not designed for the classroom, and he ended up anchoring that side of the argument during the discussion. Even with his negative view on games, I was fascinated by his example of an effective use of technology and gaming in education when he covered his augmented reality project (HARP) that is featured on the cover of eSchool News in the current edition.
‘Augmented reality’ helps kids learn
Project uses PDAs to teach math, literacy
There was some lively debate after lunch in small breakout groups. One group of tables worked on podcasts of a 2 minute elevator pitch for games in education, while the other group of tables discussed issues surrounding efforts to change the way we use these technologies in education, and what would be required to make changes to the way we do things now to get these new technologies into our schools and education system. We had a great discussion at my table about one-to-one computing, how to deliver free wireless to our students, and how to move textbooks online.
The closing keynote was presented by Lord David Puttnum, Education Advisor to the British Government. The description from the program does a good job of summing up his engaging keynote:
Creative Learning—Unlocking the Power of Games
Lord Puttnam will argue that young learners expect more engagement than can possibly be offered through textbooks alone. He will consider creative ways in which the educational sector can work with the games sector to create the kind of tools that, in a world offering information on tap 24/7, will still grip the imagination of learners of all ages. In addition, Lord Puttnam will provide an overview of the developments and thinking in the United Kingdom.
A panel of PhD’s closed out the day on a panel moderated by Timothy Magner, Director, Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education. This panel discussed the likelyhood of these games and technologies being in wide use in the next three years in education. Overall, I think only one of the panelists thought that these platforms might make serious inroads in that short of amount of time. Most agreed that the education system we have now is in dire need of change, and that these technologies might just be the ticket to those needed changes. But it was also recognized that you cannot alienate the players currently participating in education to radically alter the educational system.
During the breaks, and after the symposium, I got to meet the most amazing people from all around the world. They ranged from teachers all the way up to those mentioned above, and other educators from large educational institutions and governments. There are far too many of them to mention individually in this blog entry, and I look forward to futher contact with some of them in the not too distant future (lots of handshakes and business cards were exchanged).
Having been a gamer for the past 25 years, and having seen the potential long ago for these types of games to engage students in education, I was very pleased to see this many people (over 200) come to San Francisco to discuss this important topic. There has always been a stigma that has accompanied “gaming”. There now seems to be a crack in the walls of academia, and these types of educational platforms might actually stand a chance of entering our institutions in a pivitol way. Not a single person at the symposium thought that these technologies had not place in our schools. The range of opinions on when, where and how to deploy these technologies varied widely among participants.
The key to keeping our 21st Century students interested in school is engagement. Far too many students are bored and go unchallenged in our schools. I was one of those students back when I was in High School. I started attending Junior College at night school while a junior and senior, and that was 25 years ago. Mark Prensky quoted “Engage me, or Enrage me” as the mantra of todays students. These gaming and virtual world technologies could very well be the key to engaging our 21st Century students in their education. What is needed now is solid research on the benefits of these technologies, case studies and best practices so others do not have to reinvent the wheel, correlations to standards of games developed for the education community, and much more discussion with the key players and policy makers in the educational community.