Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Virtual Teaching and Learning Starts with Quest Atlantis

I'm going to begin journaling my personal experiences with Quest Atlantis here in order that I might pull out perhaps publishable bits for print later on. So stay tuned here (and I may cross-post at Oh! Virtual Learning) for that. This is an exciting time for me and I hope to share it prodigiously.

It's been interesting this past year, learning about and experiencing the powerful way that immersion into a 3 dimensional internet experience (3Di) can lead to engaged learning. Most notably, I think of Peggy Sheehy's powerful presentation at the Second Life Educational Community Conference in Tampa, a gathering about which I've already blogged, and I'd also send you to Fleep Tuque's marvelous roundup at her blog, Fleep's Deep Thoughts. Funny, I use Second Life names and "rl" (real life) names interchangeably. Fleep is Chris Collins "irl" (in real life) and Peggy is Maggie Marat. I noticed in Tampa that folks tended to lean toward addressing one another using avatar names. There's a Masters thesis in there somewhere, ya'll--the whole issue of identity extension into digital realms. Thankfully, I don't have to write it here.

Peggy is THE pioneer in leading young students into immersive learning experiences via 3Di in the Second Life Teen Grid. This is a realm I have never visited, since I've as of yet failed to hook myself into a project, a required criteria for approval for adult entry into the TG. I hope to progress into the TG, and after listening to some of the success stories at the SLEDCC, I have every faith that I will. Meanwhile, I'm beginning my foray into VE with Quest Atlantis. The journey looks promising.

Quest Atlantis is a 3Di environment that has been working with students and teachers on a global scale since 2004. The extensive website that supports the teaching and learning states "Over the last four years, more than 10,000 children on five continents have participated in the project." I was introduced to it years ago and never got around to really digging in, that is until my relatively new friend Jeff Agamenoni, a teacher of special needs middle schoolers in Great Falls, Montana, needled me to investigate it.

Jeff's another story altogether. I met Jeff in Second Life, when he sought me out to add his new blog, "From Mr. A to Mr. Z" to the ISTE Island Blogger's Hut, a facility I maintain for the International Society for Technology in Education in Second Life. His avatar, Henny Zimer (that's "zymer," with a long "y," for those audial learners in the readership). We became friends. We Skype occasionally, twitter back and forth, and generally co-explore new technologies, especially social ones, together. We share a fascination with the new ways technologies are flattening the globe, and I respect his opinions, fresh as they are with the eyes of a newcomer to the field.

First Steps

I visited the QA website. I clicked on the "Educators" tab. I checked out the Professional Development (PD) schedule, and was appalled to see that qualifying for QA participation requires teachers to spend a month learning about the platform. PD sessions run weekly, about 2 hours a week, in the evening. I immediately set about trying to perform the equivalent of "testing out" of the training, sending an email to the website managers stating my prior experience with the 3Di, my various statuses as blogger (SL blog, contributor to the "official" Second Life Education blog), and my newly hatched LLC, MUVErs, dedicated to helping education and the 3Di "play well" together.

I received a prompt and polite response that I had to do the PD.

A little huffy, I thought to myself, well, I don't have time for that. My Google calendar, by the way, is pretty much a nightmare. My lovely wife, Lee Ann, and I have weekly meetings to make sure we're on the same page about our commitments, personal, familial, and professional; and it doesn't help that process much that I have two paying jobs--one as Lower School Technology Coordinator at University School of Nashville and one as "Teacher-in-residence" at the Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach--and a start-up company that's currently knee-deep into high stakes negotiations with a large Mid-west America university system to help provide 3Di simulations for online learning. "NO WAY," was my thought.

Then one day last week I was inspired by an online conversation with Jeff to go look at the schedule again. I spent a bit more time at the QA website and complained to him that I'd missed the first in the September training sessions. He encouraged me to register for the rest, saying that he'd missed the first of his sessions but since it was basically introduction to VE, he was sure I could do the same. Here comes the nail in the coffin (perhaps an analogy with undue negative connotations, but such a graphic one I can't help but resort to it). I twittered a question:

Who wants to partner with me in Quest Atlantis training? 2 hours each Wed. Oops, there goes my audience, LOL
I did not expect any reply.

I went about my work irl. In a few minutes, I checked my tweets. The usual suspects had posted random, often helpful and informative thoughts, including this one.

@scottmerrick I do I do I do!


mrsdurff said...

Have fun - I am on the "i don't have time for that" side.

Scott said...

lol @ mrsdurff--I'm always in that camp, but I'm really suspecting the time put into this will benefit my students in ways as yet unmeasured!