Last week I went to my first NECC, the giant National Educational Computing Conference, this year in sticky, toasty San Antonio. We heard at the keynote (appropriately given by James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds) that some 18,000, mostly tech educators, were there. I was there to speak on a panel about online safety presented by the California Technology Assistance Project, which had Larry Magid and me speak about our book, MySpace Unraveled, a couple of years ago (more about CTAP in a moment) and to steep myself in tech education for a few days.
NECC was both inspiring and overwhelming. But overwhelming was good because, instead of trying to figure out what on earth to sample of the hundreds of workshops and presentations, I decided to go deep. I went to everything I could find about virtual worlds Second Life and Teen Second Life (besides my online-safety meetings). I'd long wanted to learn more about SL and virtual worlds in general, and what better way?
Which takes me to the inspiring part: what tech educators are doing in Teen Second Life (parents, you've got to see this stuff!). I attended presentations by two rockstars of the ed tech world….
* Peggy Sheehy of Suffern Middle School in the New York area and creator of Ramapo Islands, I believe the very first real-life school in Teen SL (here's a video intro to what's happening at Ramapo, including the students' views, in the blog of another genius tech educator and Second Life resident, Kevin Jarrett), and if you prefer text to video, here's a transcript in Sheehy's blog of a mock trial based on Of Mice and Men staged by Suffern students (or rather their avatars) in Teen Second Life. Ramapo is now six islands in Teen SL, used by 1,000 students and 35 teachers.
* Westley Field from Sydney, Australia, founder of the very international Skoolaborate.com and Skoolaborate Island in Teen SL (to see what's going on there, check out the first video on this page). So far this new project has 10 schools in 4 countries collaborating.
Just a few positives I witnessed and heard about in my NECC brushes with education in Second Life (watch this space for more on all this): a girl who never participated in class blossoming in virtual-world classes and then later in real life; the same for a boy whose mother wrote a profound thank you note to his teacher; students in multiple countries learning what species are endangered in others and together creating virtual spaces for them with the kind of environments in which they can thrive; students thinking critically together about body image and developing more healthy views of said by creating different avatars representing their evolving views; an entire class reading all of Of Mice and Men, not just the Cliff Notes, so they could play judges, DAs, prosecutors, witnesses, court reporters, jury members, etc. in the mock trial; students who don't want to miss any of it logging in from home when they're sick.
The amazing CTAP
I'm referring specifically to Region IV of a statewide project to help California's educators integrate technology into learning but also deal with students' extracurricular use of tech! I definitely have a bias because, through my friend, ed-tech eyes 'n' ears, and CTAP staffer Anne Bubnic, I have learned a great deal about both technology and education! You'll see at a glance on this CTAP4 page how much they're doing for California educators just in the area of cyber safety, which CTAP intelligently defines as "the safe and responsible use of the Internet and all information and communication technology devices, including mobile phones, digital cameras, and webcams."
This one region of a state project has a huge sphere of influence. Its funding is for assisting California schools, but the Web has a way of ignoring borders and the Web-wide, worldwide resources Anne has pulled together in Region 4's site are valuable to educators at least nationwide. In addition to the site it continuously updates, CTAP also trains teachers, administrators, school safety people, etc. in person and via videoconferencing. Obviously this second part of its work isn't as visible to all, so I'm going to zoom in on that training in a feature very soon.
Why all this about tech education in NetFamilyNews? Parents' certainly aren't the only shoulders on which society places responsibility for young people's constructive use of technology! Most of the negative stuff involving youth on the social Web is not criminal, so law enforcement (where people so often turn) usually can't help. Very often, then, the focus shifts to school policy and discipline. Yet, a lot of the imposter profiles, defaming blog posts, and general online or phone harassment that disrupts learning at school originates at home or somewhere else off school grounds. So it can really help parents to know what teachers and administrators are dealing with where student behavior's concerned, so the two parties can collaborate – with each other as well as the student(s) involved, hopefully – in solving tech-related problems that come up (see also "Why schools, parents need to fight cyberbullying together"). Problems involving the participatory Web require participatory solutions!
* Peggy Sheehy's Suffern Middle School in Second Life
* Westley Field's Skoolaborate
* Kevin Jarrett's The Story of My Second Life
* The official California Technology Assistance Project Web site's page about all the CTAP regions and their projects and Region 4's specifically (I'd like to know what other states have along the lines of CTAP – email me, people! – via firstname.lastname@example.org).