Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"Innovator" Reflections, Part 4

Thanks for tuning in, and in advance (as well as in retrospect), my apologies for long posts. Prose has always been my downfall.

So in connection with my being chosen as "Education Innovator of the month at THE Journal, a leading educational technology publication, I'm writing here another little reflection on something I have done over the almost two decades during which I have defined myself as a teacher, something innovative that I can reasonably claim to have "innovated." A bit more evidence of my "innovativicity" (there, I just innovated that term, though I'm not really happy with it) than I'll cover in either my upcoming edutalkradio show or my EdWeb webinar next week. Here are dates and times:

Education Talk Radio (will be linked there Thursday, June 19, and live at 11:00am CDT).
Starting and Maintaining a Virtual School, Thursday, June 26, at 3pm CDT. You can register now!

I struggled a bit for today, thinking I might share something called "SLedupotential," a 3 hour "9 educators from 9 states" event that shared some groundbreaking work in virtual environments, back at NECC in 2008. But I'll save that one and get to another virtual worlds experience, my work with 4th graders in Indiana University funded "Quest Atlantis." Quest Atlantis, re-imagined as Atlantis Remixed, now resides at Arizona University, along with its creator, Dr. Sasha Barab.

My dear friend Bron Stuckey (whom I first met in Second Life, btw) was then Quest Atlantis's international face, coming to NECCs and trotting around the globe sharing its successes and challenges; its student-centered, social responsibilities-focused, plain and simple fun; and its educational validity with anyone who would listen. In 2009, I brought my first 4th graders into Quest Atlantis, after training as a teacher online within the platform (my teacher was none other than Bron) and performing the detailed permissions-getting/registering and account creation requirement to include my students in the Questers. Here's part of a blog post from my computer lab:
 USN Lower School Technology blog at
This morning (Tuesday, January 27th) marked the first 4th graders' (Ms. Hunt's class) entrance into Quest Atlantis. My goal this week is just to hand out the usernames and passwords I've set up for the kids and to have them log in and begin to become comfortable with the user interface. Though the initial distribution process (handing out slips of paper to the kids with the information printed from a spreadsheet) was a bit clunky, we got in, and we didn't crash the internet connection! Yay! I did meet our network administrator in the hallway afterward and he said there was some slowing down, and we'll be testing over this week to see if I need to perhaps stagger the logins during that period more than I did today.
4th graders in Quest Atlantis!
The kids did GREAT! I asked them to find me at the clocktower and they did, then they moved about the OTAK island exploring and laughing. The excitement in our lab was palpable. This is looking good, very good, and look for ongoing communication about the process. Here's a picture of some of our virtual citizens in their "n00bie" shorts and teeshirts.
Over the rest of the school year, and into the following one, my students quested, explored,  leveled up, and learned. One of the most compelling reasons to take your students into Quest Atlantis is its foundational commitment to what they call the seven critical dimensions. Each element of every quest is designed to reinforce understanding of one or more of these. Here's a graphic screengrabbed from a portion of their Mission Statement:

If you can argue against 4th graders spending time immersed in those concepts and soaking them up into their core value systems, you're a better (and potentially vastly more evil) rationalizer than am I. 

So this Quest Atlantis experience is not something I made up, but making the effort and taking the time to bring it all into our K-4 computer lab, I would argue, qualifies as innovation. It resulted in many moments of epiphany and beauty in that learning and teaching experience, and I'll share one on my way out today. Louie and Gabe, one the son of a highly prominent rock-and-roll songwriter performer, the other the son of a schoolteacher, had risen in skills to the level at which they could modify their avatars. Take a good look at the picture and its insert, rasta hair and all, they made themselves twins. In the physical world they never could have done this, but in the virtual one, surrounded by meaningful positive experiences that they themselves have chosen from among the many available, they are twins. Life(s) is good...

Thanks for reading. More later!

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