Whyville is an educational site that is a little like controlled 2D Second Life with a focus on education. Young users make their own avatars and then explore the island of Whyville, playing educational games and interacting (through chat) with learners from all over the world. The website states that “inside Whyville, citizens learn about art history, science, journalism, civics, economics, and really so, so much more. Whyville works directly with the Getty, NASA, the School Nutrition Association, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (to name just a few) to bring incredible educational content to kids in an incredibly engaging manner. Today, there are countless learning games and activities on Whyville…which is probably one of the reasons Education Daily states that Whyville is one of ‘edu-gaming’s biggest successes’.” Registering as a teacher in Whyville allows you to bring your students on and manage their accounts. Interesting content and a controlled, secure environment for young learners with a little proficiency.
There is a Second Life-like site that I recently came across. It looks more like a wholesome version of the Sims, with buggy or jet ski races, fashion shows, scavenger hunts and other such activities and events. It might be a good alternative to Second Life, especially for younger learners. I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks like it could work well. Sign up is free for now.
Saturday, March 29th I made the trip to Nagoya for the 2nd Wireless Ready conference, brilliantly organized again by Michael Thomas. First, as I mentioned earlier in a post on Second Life and Moodle, the conference had both a live and a Second Life version running simultaneously again this year. Last year all of three people showed up in Second Life, but this year, there were fifty (live in Nagoya there were officially 75 people registered). I think that shows that this technology is advancing nicely.
At least in certain areas. You see, when I spoke to Steve McCarty, the presenter who introduced Second Life at last year’s conference, he said that he wasn’t able to use it with his students because the computers available on campus were not powerful enough. And that, it seems became a dominant undercurrent to this conference on Web 2.0 technologies: they are wonderful, but we’re having trouble getting students to use them. Witness:
Michael Coghlan in his inspiring presentation admitting that his success rate in using these technologies with his (teacher) learners is limited; and commenting how an Australian primary school teacher had his blog project shut down by the school board when (invited) outsiders posted comments on student blogs.
Thomas Robb, Judy Noguchi and Masako Terui reporting on a study where they offered students weekly vocabulary quizzes on Moodle via cell phone or PC. Students loved the idea of e-learning but didn’t really make use of it!
Patrick Foss an Kurtis McDonald reporting on a project they organized to see if students were ready to do international e-mail exchanges: they weren’t.
Again and again, the barriers of technology, the barriers of learning culture, and the seemingly universal lack of administrative support came up and made me think that I was in a building with a bunch of dedicated and well-intentioned educators who were on to something good–really good–but were having real difficulty doing anything about it. It was the same finding I found difficult to admit in my presentation last year at the same conference, where I reported on the lack of student downloads of our class podcasts, and it reminded me of when I was 19 and my friends and I had such a hard time convincing anyone (but particularly girlfriends) of the greatness that was Joy Division and Wire (You can still achieve enlightenment here or here). Anyway, what I am trying to say is that it’s still going to take a lot of work to get students learning better with Web 2.0 tools and activities. There are still administrations to convince, fellow teachers to bring on board, learning styles and learning cultures to change, and examination washback effects to overcome. The future looks bright, but it isn’t here yet.
Now that I got a new computer, one of the first things I intend to do is explore Second Life. I joined more than a year ago, but my 5-yr-old computer crashes within two or three minutes every single time. This has been frustrating because the possibilities with Second Life just keep getting better. Last year I attended a Wireless Ready conference in Nagoya which featured a Second Life demonstration and a virtual presentation. Those of us in Nagoya watched our beefcake virtual presenter and only three virtual participants jerk about, clap, fly, and sort of interact in a somewhat empty world. This year, the Wireless Ready conference will again feature a Second Life virtual conference (SLURL: http://slurl.com/secondlife/EduNation%20III/52/49/21/) and I am very curious to compare it to last year. I think the changes will be astounding. A recent video on YouTube highlighted the educational possibilities of Second Life very well and showed how rich SL is becoming. One really interesting development mentioned in the video and also on the Language Lab Unleashed blog, is Sloodle, an open-source application that combines Second Life with Moodle. For those of us who are using Moodle for language teaching, this is mouthwatering stuff indeed.