Entry# 10: Augmented or Virtual Reality

My experience with AR and VR is extremely limited.  The closest I’ve come to virtual reality would be Second Life.  But it’s probably considered more of an immersive world than virtual reality.  Aside from that, the extent of my virtual reality experience is getting a free Google Cardboard viewer with my New York Times subscription a few years ago and downloading the NYT VR app.  It’s cool, but not something I’ve used often.

As far as my experience with augmented reality goes, well, that limited to:

yelp_AR
Using Monocle on Yelp to see what’s nearby…

 

skymap_AR
Using Sky Map to see what constellations and planets are overhead in the night sky.

So initially, I thought this entry was going to be a challenge.  But in a quiet moment, I posed a question to myself.  “What if you were required to teach a lesson using VR or AR even with your current level of knowledge and experience?”  The answer came back and the instructional implications were clear:  “Let the kids teach you.”

This would be a great opportunity to swap roles with my students and let them become the experts in areas that interest them and then have them present and demonstrate individual apps with suggestions for possible uses in our studies.

In such a lesson I’d present students with a lists where they could explore several VR/AR apps like the ones below.

Of course, we need to set some parameters for exploration, as in the embedded outline.

I’d then basically get out of their way and let them find their way through an app, learning as they go; while I monitor and help with any questions or issues that arise.

Both the punted lesson outlined here as well as many possible uses of AR/VR would align well with what we’ve been exploring all term.  The lesson is both taught through and is about digital media as learning tools.  The lesson explicitly incorporates self-directed learning through formal structures and in digital contexts.  The lesson outlined here makes use of the 4C’s — communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creating.  Students’ own interests are leveraged as are their previous learnings/schema likely will influencing their choices. Finally, the teacher is a guide on the side, creating the room and conditions for students to explore while putting students in the constructivist driver seat.  They will build knowledge to answer the analytical and evaluative question, “Which of these apps would make the best tools for teaching and learning our class content?”

As a result of the quick exploration I did to write this log entry, questions arose concerning the feasibility of using true VR in the K-12 classroom.  Nearly all the apps I saw made use of devices such as Oculus Rift, Samsung Galaxy Gear VR, or Google Cardboard.  Given the costs involved, this would, at the moment, seem to put VR out of reach of most K-12 schools.  Even Google Cardboard, at $8-$10 a pair quickly adds up.  (And I can hear the complaints now about having to hold the device to their face during the lesson for those who go the DIY route!)  I suppose finding videos as desktop or tablet options is a possibility.  But they don’t seem to be as abundant as the apps for dedicated VR devices.  I also wonder about school bandwidth issues with so many students in one room using data heavy video apps simultaneously.

In the end, perhaps such challenges are all just more opportunities to press on into the 21st Century.  Bandwidth issues or device issues at school?  Well then, flip that classroom.  Explore the VR landscape at home instead of in school.  Not everyone has a high speed internet connection or devices at home?  Well then divide classroom activities accordingly.  Let those who don’t have resources at home use those in class.  Flip for those students who do have home resources.  Break those spacetime limitation of the classroom that digital technology now allow us all to do!

 

Entry #9: Collaborative Learning

These last two entries are now officially out of my experience when we’re talking about the ICT/digital domains.  So I’ll have to resort to some metacognition about collaborative learning and “maker” activities that are a bit more traditional.

While I was teaching, I had the good fortune of being a part of Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE).  In this program, community artists partner with classroom teachers to co-teach academic content through the artist’s particular medium.  Three things make this program lightyears ahead of the rest.  First, the art is not an “extra” or “add-on”.  The artform and its particular methods are used as ways of learning the content.  Second, the artist is not a mere guest who comes to visit once a week.  The artist is a co-teacher in the classroom of the artistic content and to a lesser extent, the academic content.  Third, the teacher and artist commit to establishing a long-term relationship — one meant to last years, not just for the length of a unit.  By the end of a CAPE unit, students understand the academic content more deeply from processing it through making the art, and they know how to “do” that artform.  The teacher knows new methods for incorporating different kinds of art to teach content, and the artist knows more about the academic content that was taught.  Over the years I learned how to create murals and create found-object installations by working with local muralist and painter, Bernard Williams, as well as how to produce shadow puppetry by working with two artists from Red Moon Theater.  

For any CAPE partnership, the process is the same.  When beginning, the teacher meets with CAPE staff and discusses the content they’re interested in teaching and through which medium.  CAPE then sets up an appropriate partnership with a local artist.  The artist partner and teacher attend a certain number of professional learning sessions about how CAPE works, why it works, and the organization’s expectations for the partnership.  Then there is protected time for the teacher and artist to meet and start planning.  After these professional learning sessions, it is up to the artist and teacher to set regular planning times to develop the co-instructional unit and individual lessons.  The first few “CAPE days” (which usually become “Bernard days” or “Sarah  days”), the artist comes to teach the some of the necessary artistic concepts and skills students will need.  After that the artistic application moves rendering the academic content artistically.  Finally, an installation or performance is also required to take the learning and art public — beyond the classroom itself. CAPE staff continue to support both artist and teacher throughout the process.

My CAPE experiences were, hands-down, some of the most powerful teaching and learning experiences I’ve ever had.  And the most memorable.  To start with, the relationships I forged with the artists I taught with and learned from were foundational to the units we taught together.  All the art we created — murals, installations, shadow puppetry — all seemed overwhelmingly difficult to me when we started.  But my confidence grew as  my relationship with the artists deepened over time.  Mutual respect developed between us as we came to know the depth of each others’ expertise.  Trust developed.  Friendships formed.  Plans were made.  Over the course of that process, I can confidently say, that while I would prefer to work with an artist co-teacher, if I can’t, I could incorporate any of these kinds of artistic projects into my curriculum and execute them successfully on my own.

CAPE artists are working artists, not educators.  So starting with a new artist was like having a student teacher in the classroom for a while until they got the flow of unit & lesson planning, structuring the classroom for the lesson at hand and managing the kiddies when they’re up to their eyeballs in paint and cardboard and canvas.  Or shifting them from the “fun” of making a puppet to the “work” of writing a script for the show.  At the same time, it was fulfilling to see my partner artist develop as educators teaching the techniques and theories of their art.  So too with their developing their own understanding of the academic content the art was meant to evoke.  As a teacher who relies heavily on formative assessment, it was fascinating to watch and listen for the levels of understanding develop in both the students and the artists as we worked.  The same was true for me to learn the art right alongside our students.  It’s difficult to describe how exciting it was to hear kids discussing and debating the content as they manipulated the artistic media; and as they manipulated the media, their manipulation of their understanding of the academic content.  It’s equally difficult to find prouder moments as a teacher as when my students performed, installed or presented their artwork and then took questions from the audience about the content the art represented.  What could leave a stronger imprint on them than not only for others to see them as the experts in the room, but for them to see themselves that way too?

I’m certain I was aware of it at the time, but it bears articulating here.  As I look back at these experiences, everyone in the classroom inhabited all roles at various points of time over the course of the unit:  teacher, learner, novice, practitioner, expert.  We were all in it together.  Each and every one of us was learning something new.  That made for a more equitable distribution among all members of the power dynamics that develop in a classroom.  To a very real extent, we were all learners learning together, supporting one another in a spirit of discovery and aiming towards a common goal.  No one wanted to leave class on a “CAPE day”.  

Including the teachers.

(While I’ve been out of the classroom for a number of years, Bernard has continued to do amazing work with other Chicago schools.  You can see more of his work here.)

Entry #8: Digital Learning — Immersive Experiences and Tech-Enhanced Experiences

This is going to be a difficult log entry since I don’t spend much time playing video games or in immersive worlds.  This is because I become too immersed and exhibit just a few addictive behaviors.  I knew I had to start being very careful one Christmas when I was staying with my parents for the holiday.  I had just purchased a Star Trek (of course!) starship builder game that allowed players to build custom or canon starships and then fly them on various missions.  One night, my parents and I sat in the den, them watching television, me building and flying starships.  I recall my mother giving me a kiss and going to bed.  I remember my father doing the same sometime later.  My next memory is my father coming back to the den, looking at me sitting in the exact same position he left me and saying, “Have you been playing all night?!”  I had indeed.

Up all night building starships. Uh-oh…

I remember feeling exhausted, knowing I should go to bed and get some sleep.  My eyes hurt from staring at the screen for hours and hours.  Throughout the night I knew, with every ship lost I should close my laptop and go to sleep.  Yet each time I went back to the builder module and thought, “Just one more.”  Then it became, “Just build it, but don’t fly it.”  As my father stood there laughing at me, but I was starting to wonder if there might be a problem here.

Over the years I have spent endless hours in SimCity — another particular favorite.  I got lost in Star Trek and Star Wars RPGs.  On iPad there’s a game that has taken far too much of my time, Galaxy on Fire (1 and 2).  For all of them, I have to monitor and limit my time very carefully.  

All that said, I find Second Life far more manageable in regard to my time.  I was initially introduced to it by a dear friend in Australia who was getting a degree in medical informatics and discovered it when he was working on virtual meeting spaces for doctors to interact.  It came at a time when I had just finished reading several cyberpunk novels, and SL reminded me very much of the VR & AR worlds described in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.  Aside from meeting my friend there on occasion I was and still am a total nube.  I find it a somewhat intimidating space.  I’m not comfortable interacting with strangers online and this world of avatars and Linden$ and objects that can be given and received can be overwhelming.  Not to mention my fears of somehow getting hacked.  So I mainly stick to myself and wonder and window shop in the different continents and parcels that interest me.  

One place I spend a fair amount of time is Scilands — the science and technology continent.  And once NPR’s Science Friday started taking questions from Second Life, on occasion, I have listening from there.  Though I rarely interact with other individuals.  It’s fun from time to time.  However, I still find it a rather unnecessary additional layer for that particular listening experience.  So the media I watch or listen to in Second Life are things I happen upon in my wanderings, like NASA videos or information about colonizing Mars.

There is a lot of drek in Second Life and the interface is very cumbersome and rather unintuitive.  So those aspects definitely don’t “work” for me.  Although, I’m fascinated by the details of all the different worlds and seeing the things that others have clearly taken a lot of time to build.  That’s what keeps me coming back.  I think it’s interesting too that there are things that participants can buy that have value in the virtual context somewhat analogous to objects in the real world — clothes, real estate, private aircraft.  It’s enough that I actually think about purchasing Linden$ (especially when the exchange rate is favorable!).  It’s interesting too how it facilitates some sort of telepresence between people separated by long distances — as it did for my friend and me.  So it’s elements like these — analogues to the real world — that make it “work”.   

I’m less certain about Second Life or any other such VR platform functioning as a community of inquiry — at least not at a very high level.  Though it would be an interesting exercise to try setting up a formal class in SL for a while to see what evolves.  However, I see at least one major element that could potentially keep Second Life and any other such platforms from reaching the level of community of inquiry.  That is the use of avatars as they primary means of interacting with others in the virtual environment.  Avatars in particular strike at a critical part of the CoI model — that of social presence.  Avatars in and of themselves are veils, masks that hide the true person behind them.  There’s always a level of wondering about how closely the avatar represents the actual person.  Trust, then, on some level, becomes an issue.  Since learning is impossible without trust between student and teacher, the social and teaching presences are disadvantaged.  The climate is infused with a certain level of dissembling if not dishonesty.  This would in turn, have to impact, in some way, on supportive discourse, climate setting which in turn impact cognitive presence.  If all the other elements of a CoI are compromised, then it almost doesn’t matter what the content is as there may only be a certain level of depth participants are willing to risk in their discourse, reflection, and construction of meaning.  

Additionally, with our current level of VR technology, using it is less effective than using the technology we do have that make a virtual learning community/community of inquiry more cohesive, i.e: platforms such as D2L in combination with conferencing apps like Zoom, where participants can see and/or hear each other in real time.  The current platforms do better at lowering the obstacles of time, space, and distance for such educational endeavors as opposed to adding other layers that must be parsed in order to have meaningful interactions around the content.  Afterall, right now, it’s just easier to put Science Friday on the radio or stream the podcast than to sit at my computer, logon to a virtual platform, fly to the virtual studio in the virtual space, pipe the audio feed, and then send chat texts to digital avatars.

It seems like a lot more work!

Entry #7: Digital Contexts

Play in the Digital Context

informal_learningWhen I think about my own learning in digital contexts, the common theme in all three contexts is my need to “play” with the technology at hand.  I find that in every instance, at some point, I wind up exploring a new software tool or interface while a “more knowledgeable other” continues with a lecture.  Truth be told, I think my “playing” is even more efficient as in almost every case, I find that by the time I’ve tuned back into the MKO, I’ve figured out a task or workflow far ahead of its discrete instruction in the lesson.  If I don’t have the opportunity to work in this way or apply the technology to a specific need of mine, I then become super antsy.  I’m as bad as a teenager, cracking jokes with neighbors, passing notes, and leaving the session for bio breaks.  On more than one occasion, my principal would tell me who I could and could not sit next to so I “didn’t cause trouble” during the session.  And she was often included on the “not to” list!

Online Learning

In terms of the online context, here’s the thing:  I find videos boring to just sit and watch.  Bo-ring. I’d rather listen to them like a podcast while I do other things like cook dinner or cleaning or driving.  And let’s face it.  It’s not like there’s much video adds to most presentations since the presenter just reads something off a slide on the screen anyway.  Even TED Talks.  I love them.  But more often than not, one can get by by simply listening.  So in online and some blended/face-to-face contexts, extensive use of video is no good for this learner.  What is more powerful for me is when we participants can share our screens with the virtual class along with the MKO.  Now we have some skin in the game.  My heart rate is is up.  I need to explain, narrate, take questions, manipulate apps or docs on the screen.  I’m far more active and am thus working to build my understanding as a result.

If you’ll indulge a slight side trip for a larger point here.  We’ve all experienced that feel-good bump when we get a notification that someone liked an Instagram picture or replied to a tweet or left a comment on a Facebook post. That’s because these platforms are designed, as Nir Eyal explains in Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products, to keep us coming back by using four key elements: a trigger, an action, and unpredictable or variable reward, and investment.  Additionally, neuroeconomist, Paul Zak, has conducted experiments and MRI tests on subjects using Twitter and Facebook.  He discovered that the brain releases oxytocin during interactions on these platforms.  Oxytocin is the feel-good chemical released during nursing that causes mother-child bonding, or other life events that we feel good doing — falling in love, eating, making money, etc.  He also found that when we receive a “Like” the reward center of our brains, the nucleus accumbens, is activated.  As a result, our brains receive a hit of every teacher’s and student’s favorite neurotransmitter, dopamine, which provides feelings of satisfaction, allows us to identify successes, and take actions toward more successes.  In fact, researchers have found that interactions on the internet can provide more of a dopamine kick than eating chocolate or having sex.  With that in mind, I’m pretty stunned to find that in just one term in a formal online learning environment, I respond to interactions on the D2L platform in the same way that I respond to my favorite (and even my least favorite) social media platforms.  I receive texts alerting me to new discussion threads, or updated grades, or IM’s from fellow students (trigger).  I logon and look for the red notification bubble in the upper right toolbar and click on them (action).  I wonder, what’s going to be there?  Who commented?  What is my new grade?  Is there going to be helpful feedback? (unpredictable and variable rewards).  I obviously care about the work since I applied for and was accepted to the Learning Sciences program and I’m eager to learn new things (investment).  I can interact in multiple and meaningful ways with materials I can share with like-minded individuals who keep in regular touch with each other.  And since it’s all for my education, I can do all of this without feeling guilty about the time I’m spending because it’s not wasted.  Many (more) very tangible benefits result (compared to other social media interactions).   

I also find it far more engaging to be able to see all the fellow participants in online contexts.  Our Zoom sessions for this class are a perfect example.  Even though they’re considered optional, I feel like I have attended a traditional class.  We see each other, talk to each other, ask questions, see each others’ reactions, react to each others’ reactions, share screens, take notes.  It’s utterly engaging.  I believe too that this one course aspect — the weekly Zoom sessions — goes a long way toward creating a virtual learning community out of a mere virtual learning environment.

Watch a bit of an ah-ha I had about D2L interactions:

Flipped Classrooms

flippedgraphic

 

Sadly, I have exactly zero experience with flipped classrooms either as a teacher or a student.  I’d love to experience them in both rolls.  As a teacher, I imagine the flip would provide far more enticing homework experiences for our Gen D learners.

 

Changing My Instructional Practices
SAMR

Flipping, BYOD, application of SAMR to most, if not all, of my lessons, and redesigning my lessons to include far more informal learning and play parameters would be the most significant changes I’d make to my instruction going forward.  A classroom characterized by students regularly creating their own learning goals in consultation with myself, discovery-based and just-in-time learning for students, more project-based learning that is digitally mediated to foster the 4C’s would all be my ICT ideal.  My digitally mediated utopia.

Entry #6: Informal learning professional learning contexts

I belong to several PLC’s at the different high schools with which I work.  The one I will reflect about is an instructional leadership team (ILT) responsible for changing practices to improve teaching and learning throughout the building.  Their overall success has been emergent over the course of the past couple years.  This has to do in large part  with the different skill-will levels among team members and the challenges the low will-low skill members present in particular.  But the more we work together, the more the team as a whole is deepening its understanding about the work.  One dynamic I wish I could change would be the team’s overall perception of me, along with the principal, as the leader of the PLC.  I’ve always preferred working in the PLC context as a group of equals.  The perception of one person as the leader tends to formalize the dynamic more than I think is necessary — or helpful — for such communities.

Our work this year has centered around extending the PLC structure from the ILT into departments in order to do some deep professional reading and learning around Leading for Literacy: A Reading Apprenticeship Approach.  The practices of this framework will become the research-based powerful practices teachers will use to teach the school’s targeted instructional area.  Each department meets twice a week biweekly to discuss and process each chapter.  Pairs of teachers lead the discussion either by using one or another Critical Friends text-based discussion protocols or by creating their own process to facilitate the team’s dive.  Now that the initial reading is finished, we are moving into the first formal application stage, infusing the framework strategies into teachers’ classroom practices.

In our last department-level PLC, I applied and extended my learning in this course by facilitating an application of concept mapping.  We attempted to create maps as a means of deepening our thinking about using students’ schemas for knowledge-building.  I spent a few minutes activating teachers’ own schemas, asking them to talk briefly about what they know about and how they have used mind maps & thinking webs in their classrooms.  Click here to see the 10-minute overview of concept mapping and the rest of the session activities.

The session was somewhat successful.  What I wanted to happen was for teachers to participate in a relaxed process of exploring the reading by making and sharing concept maps.  Both the learnings from the session and the maps would be steps along the path of changing practice by implementing Reading Apprenticeship strategies.  Each of three groups (roughly corresponding to a department) presented a map at a point along a continuum of understanding.  If I were assessing the maps with a rubric, I might describe them as Did Not Meet, Emerging, & Proficient.  Not surprisingly, each map corresponded to the level of will/amount of buy-in each department exhibits toward the PLC work in general.  That said, I was glad when the engaged members recognized the differences and noted that two of the groups did not produce concept maps and what they did produce were not helpful in deepening the team’s collective understanding about the work.  This made for a delightfully awkward moment for teachers who demonstrated their resistance by not engaging in the activity as suggested.  The group members who were invested in the professional learning rendered their resistant colleagues’ work inert by focusing solely on the map and ideas of the group that embraced the activity.  For a week after the session several teachers talked about how helpful the activity was as a means of expanding their understanding of the text and thus the kinds of instruction we need to spread throughout the building.

In all, I would say it met with limited success in that it showcased a novel method for meaning-making to which  teachers are not usually exposed.  It proved to me that concept mapping can be used as a professional learning tool to spark interest, deepen thinking, and facilitate rich conversations among teachers.  The session also extended the understanding of the text and practices we want to implement, at least among the teachers who were willing to participate.  I would like to try this again, this time more actively intervening with groups to be sure they create concept maps as opposed to the webs with which they are already so used to working.