[Technology 1083] Re: A new vision for online learning

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Marian Thacher mthacher at otan.us
Mon Jun 18 12:34:43 EDT 2007

Thanks for this vision, David. I appreciate the insights from video games,
because it's certainly true that many who find traditional basic skills
learning challenging can be whizzes at video games and other online
environments. One young man in a ASE class comes to mind who was
struggling with finishing his high school diploma, but ran a role-playing
game site with discussion boards and participation by 3,000 users per day.

The idea of building a learning center in Second Life is exciting. I've
been watching the developments there, and you're right, there's lots of
investment in post-secondary education. There are ways in which this might
be a really good fit for our learners. It would take a big investment of
time and money (and thought!) to build it, but I think in a few years the
interface will be a lot easier for the average person to use.

How do we envision what might take place in such a learning center?

Marian Thacher

The Technology and Literacy Discussion List <technology at nifl.gov> on
Saturday, June 16, 2007 at 4:40 AM -0800 wrote:

>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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