I’m going to break from virtual worlds with this post, and instead just close out the week with comments from the third and final day of the 2008 Annual CUE Conference.
I just got back from a trip to Joshua Tree this afternoon. Being down here in Palm Springs, so close to this amazing National Park, was just too much of a draw for me to resist. You can have shopping in downtown Palm Springs, give me a good pair of hiking boots, some water, and a camera and I am ready to roll. I stayed in the park all the way through to sunset, which gave me some time to reflect on the conference.
Yes, that’s the moon setting with the Sun
“Next Vista works to make learning more engaging, with a focus on helping students start strong with any topic they study. Its central project is a free, online library of teacher-and student-made short videos for learners everywhere. Next Vista believes a strong four-minute video could save students days or weeks of frustration by providing a variety of presentations on the topics that give them trouble.”
It’s a great idea (especially when you look at the wild success of services like YouTube), one that really fits with the open source and social networking trends that are really building up steam of late. Rushton gave a great presentation today, in addition to being a trailblazer in education with this new venture, he’s also an engaging presenter with a sense of humor (who happens to teach Japanese). Even with the presentation being at 8:00am on the last day of the conference, he packed in a pretty full theater. I know teachers are very busy people, but after seeing this presentation I truly hope that at least a small percentage of those in attendance take some time to contribute to this effort (and get their students involved). A single 4-minute video has the potential to help so many students.
Last week at the Sun Worldwide Education and Research Conference I was introduced to Curriki. This is another resource that is driven by its members. Rushton included Curriki in his presentation this morning. What exactly is Curriki?
“Curriki is where all of us — our community of educators, parents and students — can work together to develop interesting, creative and effective educational materials that the global educational community can use for free.
Our goal is to:
- Develop curriculum through community contributors
- Deliver the curriculum globally
- Determine the impact by project and by individual
The initial focus is on K-12 curricula in the areas of mathematics, science, technology, reading and language arts, and languages”
Now that most people have accepted the concept of social networks and wiki’s, projects like Next Vista and Curriki have a fair chance of succeeding. All that it’s going to take is people who are willing to put in just a little more work than they are doing now (as opposed to a few putting in HUGE amounts). For very little effort on everyone’s part, these services could quickly grow into useful resources for all of our students. And isn’t that why most of us are in education, to help our students?
I learned yesterday about getting into hands on sessions, and I was parked in line for the Maya 2008 and Video Game Production presentation this afternoon a half hour early. I actually got a computer ticket today, instead of the observer ticket I had yesterday. It may have only been because it was the last time slot of the day, but I was happy. We used Maya to create a very simple four walled house and then imported it into the Unity game engine. After having used the in-world tools of Second Life for the past five years, it was not horribly difficult to do some really basic stuff in Maya. I imagine that I barely scratched the surface, but content creators from Second Life should not fear Maya.
The Maya presentations were given by instructors from the Digital Media Academy group. They conduct several certification workshops over the summer (for teachers and teens) in a variety of specialties (and locations). I wish I had a month off during the summer to attend and get certified in Maya. Being a Technology Director, the summer is one of our busiest times. So I will have to do what I’ve always done, get the software, buy a few books, and teach myself in the evenings. Learning Maya, Blender and other 3D applications for content creation will be a challenge, but I think it will be well worth it in the long run to be able to create content that is portable between virtual worlds that will use these standard 3D file formats (like Sun’s Wonderland/Darkstar).
Nothing that is rewarding in life is easy. If you are going to be a leader, if you are going to help define new technologies, and if you are going to try to keep on the bleeding edge you’re going to have to get dirty.
I could have stayed in town and gone and seen a movie this afternoon, or gone shopping downtown after my last session. Instead, I came back and pulled on my hiking boots, filled my water bottles, and grabbed my camera and drove over an hour to get to Joshua Tree National Park. What do I have to show for it? I have a bunch of pictures of the wildflowers, rocky landscapes and a beautiful sunset. I’ve got a few blisters on my feet, and had to wash off all the pollen from my hiking through the desert. And my pictures of the sunset tonight don’t match the memory of standing on a rocky outcropping with the wind blowing and the temperature dropping with the sun, but they are close enough to share that moment with others who were not there.
I hope that everyone who attended the conference this week goes home and acts on something that they learned down here in Palm Springs. Join a social network, contribute to projects like Curriki and Next Vista. Skip watching a few mindless TV shows and instead create and contribute something to these communities. Take the initiative and act on the investment your district made by sending you down here this week. Being an advocate for change, or simply helping to make the change happen, will benefit everyone in the long run. And with all the budget cuts hitting our state this year, we need to be creative in how we are going to engage our students with dwindling budgets. And that’s a cause that I think most everyone can invest a little time in. By leveraging these Internet resources, your impact will be magnified exponentially.
It doesn’t take much for good new ideas to take root. A critical mass of people contributing to a new idea can bloom into entirely new ways of doing things. So plant some seeds, nurture them along, and throw down some new roots in these new education technologies today (don’t wait for tomorrow).