[Technology 1082] Re: A new vision for online learning - a plug for UDL

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Silver-Pacuilla, Heidi HSilver-Pacuilla at air.org
Sat Jun 16 20:32:41 EDT 2007

Hello all - I've been thinking about your post, too, David. While I'm
not a gamer, I, like Tina, live with one, my son. I think there is a
lot of education potential in virtual worlds such as Second Life -IF it
is intentionally designed.

Most of the video and online environments are designed with major
assumptions about what users bring to the experience and then the rest
of what you need to know in order to play is built in to the experience,
as you mentioned. For our lowest literacy students and new-to-English
students, however, the assumptions are largely incorrect. This is also
a problem for gamers with disabilities. There are pockets of dedicated
gamers with disabilities organizing themselves to create work-arounds in
many online environments because the games aren't always compatible with
their assistive technologies, but the numbers are quite small.

The environments need to be thoughtfully and universally designed.

I had the good fortune to listen to David Rose, Co Founder of CAST,
<http://www.cast.org/> give a talk about universal design for learning
and the GPS/mapping/OnStar system that he had experienced in rental
cars. This device is universally designed for users with all kinds of
preferences for voices or sounds, types of map display, level of detail,
size of font and brightness of backlighting, volume of sound,..... You
name it, you could customize it. He went into great detail because
truly, this was a universally designed tool.

The catch for him was realizing that when he was done with his rental
car in Columbus OH, he knew no more about the city than when he had
arrived. The device - and using it for several days - had not led him
to learn anything.

It was not universally designed for LEARNING. Its intention was to help
you arrive at your meeting.

Unless islands in Second Life - for example - are started with an
intention that users could learn there, then simply playing the game
will probably not help many of our students learn the fundamental skills
that they have been working around for years.

This is all coming straight out of my perspective grounded in learning
disabilities research and teaching, you understand. My students did not
learn literacy and numeracy just by being immersed. They learned with
intentionally designed environments, activities, and materials. They
learned a lot of other life skills by being immersed and had lots of
other talents, don't get me wrong, but literacy, numeracy, and language
were real puzzles for them that required intense, intentional work.

I have not checked the GED island in Second Life, so I'll be curious
about that. Anyone visited it yet? And what about an island where you
could just stop by and practice English using Voice Over Internet?
These intentional designs and uses of the online environment have real
potential, I think, but as David points out, they don't have
to/shouldn't be like "school".



From: technology-bounces at nifl.gov [mailto:technology-bounces at nifl.gov]
On Behalf Of Tina_Luffman at yc.edu
Sent: Saturday, June 16, 2007 12:30 PM
To: The Technology and Literacy Discussion List
Subject: [Technology 1078] Re: A new vision for online learning

Hi David and all,

You are whetting my interest in the Second Life option for GED learners.
Jennifer Rafferty was talking with us about it after a Massachusetts
webcast training I was involved in with her program last week. This idea
takes me back to when I was studying for my MA in English at Northern
Arizona University. We were actually looking into the possibilities of
using virtual worlds for educational purposes as well as studying the
pedagogy and implications for doing so. On the positive side, these
alternate realities are leveling playing fields for the disabled, the
unattractive, for anyone who carries a sense of oppression or of being
judged by physical appearance, race, gender, and so on. On the negative
side, of course is the abuse by those who enter these realities as
lurkers seeking to do harm to the participants.

But looking at the positive side, I also found that the discussion board
in Blackboard had a similar effect on the students in my online English
classes I was teaching for the university. I had posed a few research
questions to the students, and the quiet ones said that in this
environment they had the opportunity to choose their words and
participate in "classroom" discussions. The more verbal students also
noticed that they did not say as much percentage wise as they normally
do in a face-to-face class. These verbal students felt somewhat less
represented than normal, but did realize the value of hearing voices of
the other. Learning to listen can also be a good tool for students to
develop. . . and I am including myself here.

As for me, personally, I have felt more empowered in the online
community. I feel that people can hear my ideas without judging them
through the physical. For the unimpressive looking person, their ideas
will receive more attention. Even for a person who is impressive
looking, I feel that these people feel that their ideas are valued for
the idea itself rather than feeling that they have to sell themselves
through their persona . . . what a concept in our current era.

Concerning your other point about virtual reality classrooms, yes,
getting students engaged in a place where there is a continual evolution
of learning higher level skills, and receiving rewards for success are
also valid. My daughter and her boyfriend can spend days on end playing
the latest video game, and there is something definitely addicting, my
only other hold out, about this type of environment. And yet both of
them find following a classroom lecture or reading a book to be
difficult at best.

Perhaps this is, in a lesser sense, the value of software like Skills
Tutor or MHC Online where students become so engaged. They get immediate
feedback from the pretest telling them what to study next. They also get
feedback for each lesson telling them which questions they got
right--reward--and which ones they missed--motivating them to review
that lesson. The students see themselves progressing through the lessons
and can actually feel themselves making accomplishments.

By the way, does anyone have experience with AZTEC software? I am
interested in it as well for the workforce development value.

Have a nice weekend.


Tina Luffman
Coordinator, Developmental Education
Verde Valley Campus
tina_luffman at yc.edu

Tina Luffman
Coordinator, Developmental Education
Verde Valley Campus
tina_luffman at yc.edu

-----technology-bounces at nifl.gov wrote: -----

To: The Technology and Literacy Discussion List <technology at nifl.gov>
From: "David J. Rosen" <djrosen at comcast.net>
Sent by: technology-bounces at nifl.gov
Date: 06/16/2007 04:40AM
Subject: [Technology 1076] A new vision for online learning

Hello Nancy, Heidi, and others,

I have previously mentioned on this discussion list the book by James
Gee, _What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and
Literacy_. Gee invites us to look at what we can learn from the most
successful, and brilliantly designed, computer games about how to
create classroom learning experiences. I would like us to look at
what video games have to teach us about _online_ learning for adults.

[Caution: this message contains vision.]

1. When you begin to play a video game you know it will be
challenging, but it always begins at the easiest level and gradually,
level by level, gets more difficult. Is this always true of online
learning for adults?

2. Video games (Gee points out) usually have no written instruction
manuals. You are expected to learn how they work from playing them.
They are designed that way. You _can_ learn how they work from
playing them. Can students learn how an online course works just from
taking it?

3. In a video game you can take as little or as much time as you
need to go through any level. You can replay a level any time you
want -- to strengthen your skills for the difficult challenges that
you know lie ahead, or for fun. In an online course, even an
asynchronous one, you usually have to complete the assignment within
the week.

4. In a video game you are rewarded each time you learn something,
and at the end of each level.

Although Gee lists more principles I think you get the idea. Gee
learned these principles from studying video games. He describes them
in detail throughout the book and conveniently lists them in the
appendix. Examining typical classroom activities in light of these
learning design principles, you realize that many students are
disengaged with K-12 classes and drop out because the classes are so
poorly designed as learning environments, whereas video games engage
them. Most classes just cannot compete with video games, or many
other engaging life learning experiences. As Mark Twain put it, "My
whole life was an education, except of course for my years in school".

Of course, this kind of thinking may lead us back to the drawing
board, to reconsider whether we should be offering online "classes"
at all. The answer to the National Institute of Literacy's question
about how much literacy is needed for online learning might be "only
very basic literacy skills" or even "no literacy skills are required"
to participate in online learning if reading and writing could be
learned entirely through playing an online video game.

Some of you are chuckling at the very notion. Consider however Second
Life, the online environment where those with low-level reading
skills can even now learn how to do many things without reading.
Suppose users could have Second Life signs, notices, billboards,
letters, e-mail and other written documents -- or parts of these --
read out loud if they wished, for example when they got stuck on a
word. Suppose they could attend completely asynchronous reading
improvement groups when and if they wanted to in an online learning
center, reading groups which took advantage of computerized
assessment features. In a large-scale, online reading group
environment, people could be assigned to a reading group with those
who had their interests, and same reading level. There could, of
course, be scheduled real-time discussions for those who wanted them.

I learned recently that some people with physical disabilities (who
describe themselves as "differently abled") are active in Second
Life. Like everyone else there, they can choose who they want to be,
can pick or design their own avatar (a mobile, animated icon that is
"who you are" in Second Life) but also -- for the first time -- they
can walk, run, even fly. One physically disabled user said that this
mobility is liberating. Could Second Life be "liberating" for low-
literate adults?

Where am I going with this vision?

The National Institute for Literacy, and/or other public and private
funders should invest in creating an online environment -- perhaps
build a learning center island on Second Life -- where adults,
including young adults, -- can improve their reading, writing and
numeracy skills in an interactive, online environment. This would be
a bold step. There is nothing like this now -- although I understand
a new GED center has just opened on Second Life and there is a
massive center being built there for post-secondary education.

Suppose participants learned to improve their reading, writing and
numeracy skills as they were doing other things, and that the
"scaffolding" was there to support literacy improvement. Perhaps the
U.S. and Canada could co-invest in a Second Life adult learning
environment where adults could go to pursue some compelling learning
goals, and could -- at the same time -- get the assists they needed
to improve their reading, writing and numeracy skills, not
necessarily through online classes, but as they learned construction
skills, learned to maintain a computer, improved their bowling
skills, learned to fully use the features of a new mobile phone, or
some other personal goal or objective.

Such an environment, originally designed for English users or English
language learners, might be adapted for learning other languages as
well. It might become a world literacy learning environment.

David J. Rosen
djrosen at comcast.net

National Institute for Literacy
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