Saturday, 26 January 2008

Constructivism and Noobs

Linden Labs SL orientation island is not always the best thing to start with (It does the job, but is too much, too soon for many).
Even though it is interactive, LL orientation island represents the instructivist approach to learning - i.e. you need to be taught stuff first before you can do anything (am I right? It's probably not instructivist.). We take a predominantly constructivist (?) approach to learning on our art & Design courses at Leeds Met. For our students, almost the very first thing we want them to do is to make something. If we used a competency matrix type thing, building would be in stage one. Identity and social side of things are hugely important aspects of the Second Life learning experience, but these overwhelm A&D noobs. Money and buying stuff, and even communications (IMs etc) can come later. Creating stuff and showing it off is the primary motivator (Positive sense of identity, shaped by social forces - situated learning?) for an A&D student. We shape this learning by putting structures in place (scaffold?), like negotiated learning plans and problems to solve in the form of project briefs (PBL?).

Here is an example of what I mean. If I want my student to learn about kinetic typography, I don't deliver a lecture, or tell them they have to look at Saul Bass's title sequences, or read up on Lambie-Nairn. I set them the following project:

BA(Hons) Graphic Arts and Design
Level 2 Module GAD 2.2 Studio Practice
150 Learning Hours
Kinetic typography project brief
The student shared folder contains a folder called “GAD2-2”. In this folder are some audio clips. The clip with your name on it (e.g. Jimmy_McScraggins.aif) is your clip. The words spoken on your clip are the words that you need to type-set. You must re-set all of the spoken words that are in your clip, plus your name, in the form of a moving type sequence. Your sequence must last for exactly the same amount of time as your audio clip. The final submission must not contain the original audio clip, or any of the original words in spoken form. A computer in H809 will be used to assemble all of the clips. You are expected to update your section on this computer on a daily basis, from the 7th January until the final deadline of 18th January. You must not use images. You must not make images out of letterforms. You may only use black, white and shades of gray. No other colours are allowed.

Learning outcomes
By the end of this project, we would expect you to show that you can identify, plan and discuss a specific project, make appropriate use of processes, techniques and materials, and start to work out ways to apply your personal approach to specific situations.

I start with a lab based workshop to kick things off and clarify the brief, and ask the students to Google 'Kinetic Typography' and see where it leads them (Mayes & Fowler - Conceptualisation stage? Referring to other people's concepts?), then encourage a discussion around what people have found (Laurillard? Discussing, debating. Communicative Media form?) There is no Final Cut Pro instruction or Flash induction. The student start with what they know and develop new knowledge in order to solve the problem (Mayes & Fowler - Construction stage?). By applying restriction, such as not being able to use or make pictures, specific fundamental aspects of the discipline (in this case typography) are forced into focus and the student has to learn how to deal with this. This forces them to seek help from tutors and peers, and a meaningful dialogue, relevant to exactly where the student is on the path of learning, is the outcome. (M & F, Application stage?)

So, we don't believe in 'teach them first what we think they should all know. Then, and only then, will they be able to do something'. We believe in 'Make them do something themselves first, and then help them to make sense of it. Rinse and repeat, several times until the learning is clear'.

Linden Lab's orientation island is very much about the former (Instructivist, maybe? Perhaps Conceptualisation), so we need to create something more like the latter (Constructivist) if we are going to get the best out of our pilot. How might we do this?
If my students' first taste of Second Life was actually OpenSim, we could strip away the stuff to do with identity, by either pre-registering avatars on our own OpenSim server, or by creating an avatar that is tied to a particular computer in a lab. This would be a quick-hit teaser, where students could create something immediately, and see their mates (who would be in the same room physically as well at the time) creating stuff. It would be easy, a laugh, and I think it would leave them wanting more. The activities could have a simple task structure to avoid anarchy. One suggested example would be to ask them to build a tower as tall as they could. (I'll elaborate on this later.) I could do a quick-hit OpenSim induction for 120 students, 20 at a time over a day or two. Then, when they are (hopefully) hooked, we offer the competition to anyone interested. The incentives to enter the competition are to have more fun with their friends, make more things, win prizes and produce work that is submit-able for assessment as part of a future self directed module. At this stage, I would have a band of committed individuals who would be ready for the Second Life experience. We could just do the LL sign-up and orientation at this stage and then structure some induction type activities, but we might start losing them if we do this. I think we need to look at creating a specific, tailored sign-in and our own, LeedsMet A&D student specific orientation experience. I found this NMC teacher's Buzz chat log that discusses this:

(One OpenSim worry is that we won't be able to support 20 simultaneous users. Need to test this soon.)

If we made a Noobie sign-up and orientation experience that was completely tailored to our needs, then had links to all the other Orientation experiences that everyone else has made around Second Life, then that could become a set of guidelines that we could write up and deliver to JISC as suggested way for other colleges to tackle the Noob/induction problem. We can do our own sign-up process via the Registration API, and this gives the option of plonking your Noobs in a specific location. This might be an important part of Phase 2, where we might want cross institution sign-ups to the big competition (complete with legal and ethical disclaimers) and re-direction to an orientation experience where we can lurk and gather evidence. Maybe. Phase two is too far off to be thinking about yet.

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