Thursday, September 18, 2008

Quest Atlantis is Rich and Promising

I had my first Professional Development session with Bronwyn Stuckey last night, and I'm happy to have begun my work in Quest Atlantis. The impact on my family time is sort of substantial, as balancing work(s) and my personal life is increasingly challenging. Thank goodness my wife is supportive and my son understands that my work is not 8 to 3 only. There's lots going on in our family and I need to be mindful of it always.

That said, I'm extreeeeemely impressed with QA. There is a thick thread of social commitment in my own classroom, underlying all the technology skills and understanding aquisition that it is my charge to inculcate. As I progress through my own initiation into this very nicely composed 3Di world, I can clearly see that the creators of it share my own dedication to kindness, creativity, and sharing, and do so in ways that will support students' initiation into thoughtful, intentional exploration of those themes and more.

I don't believe that anyone but the most entrenched neo-luddite could find any fault at all in this program.

Last night, just prior to the scheduled time I logged into Quest Atlantis via the shortcut the downloaded program's installation had deposited on my desktop. I also fired up Skype, having already added Bronwyn to my Skype contacts. I skyped her, but she informed me that I'd missed a direction and needed to place a call to a different specific number, which I did. It placed me in a free conference call. As we continued along the call, more people joined, as many as 14 others, I believe; and I muted my mic for the most part, relying on the QA text chat interface for asking questions and making comments.

Several of the other attendees hadde, clearly evidenced by the contrast between my stock "n00bie" white shirt and shorts and their own colorful get-ups. One must progress through the introductory quest in the program in order to have one's "avatar machine" unlocked. When it is unlocked, it remains so for only 24 hours, during which time one can experiment with one's look, from skin color, hair style, to shoes and such.

Remember I'd missed the first session. Accordingly, I laid back and listened to the discussion, led by Bron and carried on by several other attendees via voice. Peggy showed up, late (I think she'd missed the same instruction I missed (great minds think alike) and was working on both a Mac and a PC, complicating her experience. The program is cross-platform, obviously, but the Active Worlds based interface is different from the Second Life one we both are so highly familiar with. I kept holding the alt key and the up arrow to try to look closer at things, for example. I'm sure the more I work with it the more comfortable I'll get.

Anyway, I was soon very comfortable with Bron's clear direction and her kind demeanor. The two hours passed quickly, then became three as Peggy and I stayed behind to chat with her. Peggy at one point told her, "All right, I'm bringing 1400 students into here tomorrow, are you ready?" Bron laughed and said "Of course," or words to that effect.

This morning I was up early. I'm going to have to use the early a.m. time to pursue my path here, although the program seems to work fine from my laptop at school. Today I'll test one of the lab machines to make sure it can function well in the lab, and I have to admit I'm a bit concerned about the network resources that will be used if I get all 18 students in a class onworld at the same time. I'll have to 'speriment with that too, with David, our network administrator, so that I don't put undue strain on our network (parks that question for the next training session next week).

I progressed through my first few assignments, seeking out avatar/bots with information and in the process getting more and more facile with the interface, as well as its convention of indicating the North, South, East, and West coordinates in the window's toolbar. I've met the libarian, located the coffeehouse, and at this point I'm meeting mermen underwater and learning about Quest Atlantis' designers' "Learning Engagement Theory," having just speed-read an article published in the June-July 2005 issue of "Education Technology," a professional journal. The article is entitled "Eat your Vegetables and Do Your Homework: A Design-Based Investigation of Enjoyment and Meaning in Learning," by Sasha Barab, Anne Arici, and Craig Jackson from Indiana University. Very interesting stuff, and though it's "preaching to the choir" for me, I'd like to share that article with you. If I can get permission to do so, I'll so do :)

Meanwhile, it's off into a day of teaching and learning with my students. That's the primary business! I do, increasingly, believe that their journey into Quest Atlantis will be a richly rewarding one!

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