nGenera insight

Accenture Cisco Dell Manpower Sas

  Blog Archives  
Anthony D. Williams

Levelling the Educational Playing Field

For those who have not yet heard, Don and I are working on a sequel to Wikinomics that will lift the lid on a wide range of topics that we did not really get to in wikinomics 1.0. So, for example, we’ll be examining how mass collaboration is changing education, health care, science, government, democracy, international advocacy and national security.

Based on our early conversations, I’m already convinced that we’ll surface a whole new set of meaty themes that shed new light on the emerging wiki world. But If the experience is anything like writing the last book, those themes will probably not be apparent until we’re more than 50% through the writing process! So that’s where you, and the broader the wikinomics community, come in.

Over the next 9 months or so, I’ll be using be using this blog to share some nuggets of insight and intrigue from our ongoing research. Your job is to flood us with comments pointing to related research, people and examples, as well as your thoughts on nascent themes.

I’ll kick things off this week with a tid-bit from Peggy Sheehy, a library media specialist and instructional technology facilitator in Ramapo Central School District at Suffern Middle School. With the help of her colleagues and a “visionary” school administration, Peggy is leading Suffern Middle School into the future of education with a virtual learning space called Ramapo Islands on the Teen Grid in Second Life.

Peggy is just one of a growing community of teachers who believe that immersive virtual environments could provide the foundation for a powerful new pedagogy–a form of learning where, as Educause CEO Diane Oblinger put it, “students participate in and experience the ways a particular discipline thinks about and solves problems—as a scientist, an architect, an artist, an entrepreneur, an engineer, and so on.”

Peggy had a lot of interesting things to share when we spoke (as did all of the other educators we have spoken to recently), but one observation really caught my attention. It seems that when students enter the virtual environment of Second Life they drop many of the inhibitions that might have otherwise have prevented them from participating fully in a real world classroom. Teachers and students engage in a deeper level of discourse while many of the social and economic divides that often isolate students are set aside, at least for a brief interval. Here’s how Peggy describes it.

“Every single teacher that has participated with his or her class in Second Life, bar none, have reported back to me that the number one thing they noticed is that all their students are now participating. . .

Students say to us, “We like participating in Second Life because we don’t feel like if we say something kids are going to make fun of us later, or you know get that look from somebody across the room . . .

[And] teachers are getting to know their students because of this deeper level of discourse in ways and in levels that they just don’t usually have, they’re seeing whole other sides of their students. . .

When the discussions begin, when collaboration begins, when they’re starting to work on projects, you’ll notice half of the time that the “reluctant participant” is engaged and is participating to the fullest. What the kids say to us is that in Second Life we don’t know who the rich kids are, who the smart kids are, who the football team is, who the kid with the Hollister clothing is …everybody is kind of starting out on equal footing.”

You can see a machinima video documenting their experiences and the ramapo island blog is a good way to keep up with the latest developments. For a nice example, see this post describing how two teachers at Suffern used a virtual flea market in SL to help teach students about budgets and managing their money. The students were given 100 Linden dollars and a list of items they needed to purchase while staying within their budget.

We’d love to hear about any experiences you have had (as an educator, parent, student or administrator) with Second Life or other collaboration tools in an educational setting. Can virtual worlds and other digital communication tools help level the educational playfield by giving students a heightened sense of freedom of expression? Can teachers use these tools to better accommodate a diversity of personalities and learning styles? What new challenges and divides might these technologies raise?

Tags: School/College


® All rights reserved.