I attended the Teacher’s Buzz meeting last night on the NMC Island. It was well attended and quickly ran out of seats as the meeting started, leaving standing room only. Seating was on floating cushions arranged in a circle. I found it best to position my camera in the middle of the circle, then use the camera controls to swing around and face people who were typing. Yes, this meeting was “sans voice”. I am not sure if that was done so a transcript could be captured of the meeting, or what.
Discussion: Millennial students and Second Life
Location: Boracay http://tinyurl.com/yqj55o
The speaker was Jatt Writer (aka Jan Morrison, Washoe County School District, Reno, Nevada State and Federal Programs Dept. Project Director). The message posted to the SLED Listserv on this meeting was as follows:
“As teachers in SL are we optimizing the learning journey of our Millennial students? What relationship do the Millennial Generation’s skills and attributes have to education on a global scale? Join in on a discussion of how teaching in SL and the work of Peter Senge, concerning the creative and fundamentally different learning styles of the Millennial Generation, impacts education.”
The meeting centered on the current “Millennial” generation of students and how they are different from students in the past (and their teachers). Some of the random comments on the characteristics of these students were interesting:
- “Just in Time”
- “Closer to their parents”
- “24/7 world”
- “Right brained”
- “Zero tolerance for delays”
- “Very talented”
- “Networked with friends”
- “Collaborative and mobile”
- “Multi-taskers” (but a side discussion on how much they focus on each task)
- “Don’t like to use email” (comments that they only use email to talk to “old people”)
- “Digital literacy is spikey” (I really liked this comment)
- “Fun in important”
- “Reading for pleasure is minimal”
- “Learn by discovering” (as opposed to my Alma Matter “Learn by doing”)
- “They don’t like paper books, the world is online”
There were many other traits discussed (see the transcript for more). The real challenge lies in the fact that the majority of teachers not only can’t comprehend the students lifestyles, they don’t live them themselves (most don’t even dabble in using the same tools and services as these students online).
There were two documents directly referenced during the meeting:
- Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, Henry Jenkins, MIT
- Engaging Digital Natives, Jennifer Carrier Dorman
There was a lot of lively discussion about how we need to get these students involved with their education. One interesting discussion was about these students attention spans. We have found with the PacRimX Project that it is a rare student that can be turned loose in the virtual world of Second Life, without any direction or goals, and have them find something interesting to do that will keep their attention over time. I suspect the reason to be that these students have grown up playing video games. In video games there is always a goal or a mission to complete. The leveling grind of many MMO’s keeps adjusting these missions and quests to the player’s level, keeping the difficulty up and keeping the players engaged.
From my own observations, a platform like Second Life is a great development platform and an environment for creativity and discovery. However, and this is a big however, teachers need to take a very active role in providing their students with engaging activities when they are asked to interact in these virtual environments. These activities need to be accessible to a wide range of students with varying abilities. Not every student is going to be able to build things, and even fewer will be able to grasp scripting or other more complex issues. The uses of a platform like Second Life need to be tiered.
The first tier of students is the developers. These are those exceptional students that always want to do more, always want to fully immerse themselves in a project, and like to show their talents to their teachers and peers. These students can be enlisted to help with preparing objects and environments for use by other students. They will also likely become the students that are resources for the teachers as their skills grow beyond their teacher’s. Another tier of students are the creative and narrative students. While they may not be able to build 3D objects or write scripts for these objects, they may be very good at designing textures, writing content, and other activities that are vital to the development of these platforms. Then there are the programmers. These are the students that are taking computer classes that may benefit from the engagement of the platform in learning programming. LSL may be just the ticket to hook these students on programming. Once they get a good understanding of the scripting language, they also can become resources for the teachers. And the last tier are the rest of the students. This group by far outnumbers the other three groups. These are the students that will come in, do an activity, complete an assignment, take a quick look around and then promptly get bored with the whole experience.
We as educators need to take into account all of these different groups of students when bringing a platform like Second Life into our schools. Groom and engage those that show an interest in the platform and can help with developing content and experiences. They will also be your best resources for finding what clicks with the other students. Virtual world platforms should be used for specific tasks and activities in conjunction with classes and curriculum. Taking entire classes in for open free time with no specific tasks assigned is likely to lead to a rejection of the platform my many of the students, and a failure of the platform as an effective teaching platform in the long run.
It was very interesting listening to all the comments, descriptions and recommendations people had of working with these students. It was curious to see others also commenting on the boredom factor, and how to keep these students engaged while using a virtual world platform like Second Life. PacRimX was the fourth K12 project on the Teen Grid, and we are just coming up on our one year rez day celebration. So now that we all have about a year under our belts with students in these environments, these conversations are necessary so we can access where we’ve been, and decide how to move into the future with these students and platforms.
Now that I’ve veered completely off topic from the meeting, I will bring this full circle and direct you to the NMC Wiki for an archive of transcripts from these in-world meetings.
Transcripts from this and past meetings can be found in the Teachers Buzz Session area of the NMC Wiki.