Thursday, April 3, 2008

Welcome to the 21st Century Classroom

Like the inventions of Thomas Edison, it starts with a touch of genius...

Does a child have to sit in a desk in a classroom in order to learn? For that matter, does the child even need to be in the same room with the teacher?Visionaries and futurists will tell you that in the digital age, the idea of learning anytime and anywhere is not only feasible but for some students might even provide a superior learning environment.

Edison Elementary School recently completed Phase II of a grant application that is looking to create a model 21st century school within the state of Arizona. Not only does Edison already hold the distinction of being the first and currently only SMART Showcase School, but the staff is dedicated to using the most current technology available to strengthen their instruction and enhance student engagement. On the path to that goal, I have been able to help a small group of tech savvy staff explore the idea of a virtual classroom alternative using the program Second Life.
Why would we do that? Aside from the natural student interest in gaming, many universities now have learning spaces on the Second Life grid (virtual world). Even congress has had meetings in Second Life. If we are truly going to be a 21st century school, then we need to start thinking about the types of higher learning to which our students will be exposed. People are already getting degrees online. Many of our students will never go to a traditional school after high school and will need technology skills to succeed in a world never imagined. Along with this, we move students to the top of Bloom's revised taxonomy. When students are creating and using higher level thinking skills, they have a much better chance of remembering. We all know the old 'teach a man to fish' saying. We are just teaching them to fish virtually!

The group of Edison teachers will learn how to create objects and function in a virtual world. If the school receives the grant, they will create a safe private teaching island in Teen Second Life into which they can bring 6th-8th graders and set them on the most exciting learning adventure they can provide. I will be helping to guide them safely through this alternative to the traditional classroom. Even if the grant isn't given, Edison will use whatever means it has available to incorporate avatars and a visually stunning world into the curriculum.

Imagine student avatars, all wearing their virtual red Edison T-shirts, teleporting to the private Edison Learning Island. Instead of sitting at a desk filling in spaces on a worksheet in science class, they might be collaborating in small groups to create their own 3D models of cell mitosis. Their proud teachers facilitate from various locations on campus while they privately instant message each other saying, 'This is absolutely amazing! Julio and Francisco are working together like a well-oiled machine and last year they didn't get along at all.'

Doing things as an avatar helps students learn how to interact and cooperate. It helps give them the freedom to express ideas and opinions they might be too shy to do in a traditional setting. Thomas Edison brought the world together with his improvements on the telegraph, wireless radio, phonograph, copying machine, and moving pictures. From those early inventions we now have a digital world. The creator of many of the world's greatest communication inventions, would have loved Second Life!

See the Edison Sandbox in Second Life!