Archive for November, 2008

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MUVEnation course: RET first blogpost

November 5, 2008

I am participating in the MUVEnation ‘Teaching and Learning with MUVEs’ course and this is my first assignment.

First up: what is MUVEnation : It’s a European project co-funded by the European Commission under the 2007 Lifelong Learning [I like that – K-Grey – RET] programme that “seeks to develop a European peer learning program for teacher training for the use of ‘Active learning with Multi-Users Virtual Environments [like Second Life – RET] to increase pupils’ motivation and participation in education'”. The fact that I and others from outside Europe, are involved is broadening their geographic limits.

The course I am taking, starting at the beginning of November 2008, is a one year distance-learning programme, for teachers of secondary and higher education who want to use innovative methods and tools to address learners’ motivation and participation issues. MUVEnation will help teachers acquire the necessary competencies to integrate massively multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) into their teaching practice

As our first assignment they have given us guidance to help us reflect on the ways in which we use technology, how we feel about it, what excites us about it, how we imagine the changes that are taking place and the possible futures that are opening up. I like their philosophical approach very much already. For example, this starts the guidelines: “Questionnaires are like sledgehammers, they smash as much as they reveal. Much of our experience is fragile, hidden between the facts . In this activity we would like you to imagine that you are sending postcards from within, we trying to access the things that motivate you and excite you about your work in this context. We are therefore going to engage in a playful narrative exercise. Telling stories about your life experience often reveals more and richer insights than direct questions, and anecdote is often more helpful in describing our activity than “objective” factual description. Please respond to the following three sections in whatever way you see fit. Be as playful as you like!”

The first prompt is: I am your friend. I don’t work in education. You are talking to me about the idea that we all learn from each other, in all kinds of contexts, and that this can often be richer than more formal classroom based learning. I am sceptical. Tell me about an informal learning experience you have had online in which collaboration was involved, show me a concrete example to help me to see what you mean:

Last November, on our island in Second Life – Okapi Island – we held an event called Remixing Çatalhöyük Day. This event was to publicly launch the island as a place to learn about archaeology, specifically the 9000-year old archaeological site – Çatalhöyük – on which it is based; and as a rendezvous place for the enormous research team of the Çatalhöyük project and others who may be interested in their activities. We introduced the various features of the island, a reconstruction of the Neolithic houses, an excavation under a shelter, a mirror of an existing videowalk, an open “sandbox”, and the bonfire round which the the real-world team parties every Thursday. We had events such as tours, a lecture, and a film festival and disk-jockeyed Turkish music. It was an amazing event to see all our visitors. We had announced it on Facebook and the World Archaeological Congress list and kept the day going to take in as many time-zones as possible.

Remixing Catal Day #17

Remixing Catal Day #17

Remixing Çatalhoyuk Day FilmFest

Remixing Çatalhoyuk Day FilmFest

For me, the highlight was to sit round the bonfire (even if it was not located in the correct “place”) with friends from UK, Australia and France – some of whom had never been to the real-world site, others who were members of the research team – and talk about archaeology in Second Life, its pros and cons, as well as gossip. It’s true that we could have had the discussion as a group Skype. But I believe that the audio-visual context of being at the virtual site with the fire burning and sitting on virtual logs quite changed our discussions and the ease with which we were learning from each other.

You can see a movie of that day, and may catch glimpses of us round the fire.

The second prompt: We all explore new technologies, some grab our attention more than others, some seem revolutionary, others simply bore us. Tell us about that new tool, or set of tools, you have just discovered that really excites you, talk about the potential it has to change your work. What do you want to do with it?

Last year (2007) I worked with Noah Wittman on a project called Remixing Çatalhöyük which guided users – teachers, archaeologists, students – to explore the media database of our archaeological excavation project at Çatalhöyük in Turkey (the same place that is mirrored in Okapi Island in Second Life) through a sampling organized into themed collections. We employed a professional web designer and the site is very beautiful. Last Wednesday, however, Noah who directs a program called Open Knowledge and the Public Interest (OKAPI) showed me a very exciting tool in which I could publish such themed collections myself on the web, incorporating the same tools of searching, downloading and display as Remixing Çatalhöyük – and much more -without having to employ an expensive professional web designer. I saw this tool as having huge potential for educators – who never have enough money or time -to incorporate their own research into learning environments for many different audiences; and for students and lifelong learners – who may not realise what contributions they have to make – to publish their projects.

The tool was created by Omeka.org. Noah has adapted the tool to the thematic collections display that is the hallmark of OKAPI. More details can be seen at their website.

pmeka-okapi

pmeka-okapi

The third prompt: Do you see yourself as a pioneer? Do you think you are more innovative than others in your organisation? Do you think your organisation is lagging behind? Tell us how you feel about this?

I’m a Mac person, and Mac people always think they are pioneers. I know that as far as the Information Tech people at my university are concerned they call me an “early adopter” (or is it “early adapter” – it’s hard to tell with American accents (I’m originally from London). I think I was probably early amongst archaeologists in using the audio-visual and hyperlinking capabilities of digital technology to create interpretive works about prehistory and encouraging students to do the same. Just as you have told us not to take ourselves too seriously, I also say that in my teaching. I have been rewarded for this pioneering status by access to funds, and some great student/collaborators, – and by being put on committees as the token faculty member who likes to use digital technology. I am just happy to be able to do all of these playful interpretive projects and share them with colleagues and students as legitimate learning and research enterprises. I have also made it a rule in this “pioneering” status to encourage people of all ages to take hold of the technology themselves, and to help each other (including me). It does not require any secret knowledge, but patience and logic and imagination. It can be quite inspiring to watch the sense of empowerment grow in people as their fear of technology drops away and their creative spirit takes over.

My next week’s blogpost will be written by my colleague on this blog – Colleen Morgan – since I will be out of Internet contact somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean until 19 November. She and I think in very similar ways about these topics, so I hope you will accept my temporary replacement.