Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Trans-institutional education.

Yesterday's Emerge conference social event was more than just jolly tower building fun for me. A number of vague ideas that have been bouncing around my head since we finished the first art & design pilot were suddenly brought into focus. Earlier yesterday, whilst giving StevenW a hand preparing for the event, I got the chance to chat very briefly to Margarita about the initial evaluation of the pilot. One issue that has emerged is the restrictive nature of dealing with noobs. Another is the limitations of restricting learning to a three week block. The pilot made great use of OpenSim standalone to show how induction of new students could be made more effective, and we are already planning to base SL inductions in other parts of LeedsMet on our findings, but the Open Habitat project is primarily about collaboration. This proved elusive in the 3 week noob-fest that was our first pilot. Last night, Cubist and Paz tried to collaborate to build a tower. We were time-bound, and had little 'scaffolding' to support our constructionist learning excercise. Our tower kept falling over and wasn't very tall, but the struggle to work directly together helped to confirm what we suspected from the pilot, that collaboration is a broad and complex thing. It is much more than having permission to edit each other's objects.

Communities and collaborative relationships develop over time, but the hierarchical, time-bound structure of a conventional course seem to get in the way of this. The rhizomes keep getting dug up by over zealous educational traditionalists with the spade of summative assessment.

My thoughts are also being stirred up by reading 'Wikinomics' by Don Tapscott and Antony D. Williams. The focus of this book (so far. I'm only on page 30) is the way that commerce is being transformed by the application of the values of openness, peering, sharing and acting globally. I'm imagining how these principals apply to 'taught' education (they kind of already apply to academic research, I think). I know that I am guilty of trying to fit the educational potential of virtual worlds into a traditional framework, albeit a very open and appropriate art school model. But I am still hung up on:

Enclosing the learning within the course walls.
The hierarchy of levels of study and staff authority.
The difficulties inherent in assessing collaborative work.
Acting too locally - (Just art and design students. Just my art & design students.)

The real challenge for me and for others is how to embrace openness, sharing, peering and acting globally in a meaningful and useful way.

The other significant thing that happened yesterday was a chat I had with the mighty guru, her royal highness, AngryBeth Shortbread (she of the Whiteboard). She has just taken over the management of 'The Port' sim, which is my all time favourite art island. It's been around since 2005, and the work there still impresses me two years since I first saw it. AngryBeth is planning to do a bit of a revamp of The Port, and has created a Ning site to revive and support the community.

Anyway, whilst Cubist was dancing on the catwalk on Emerge island, I had an idea. What if The Port were to create an academy? The following raw thoughts then spilled out of my head:

Phase 2 ideas

The Port Academy

Trans-institutional education

Dedicated sim for the development of artwork by invited 'students', with the theme of The Port as the guide.

Real artists that exhibit on the Port are the 'Masters'. (link with master apprentice/atelier model).

Some of the masters are real tutors with real students, but maybe they forget whose students are whose when in world.

The Port is used as a study aid, with the Masters contributing understanding through their work and, if appropriate, through interactions with the students.

Each apprentice has to be invited by a Master. They must be competent and willing to learn. They may be studying in real life, or may just consider themselves to be a student.

Collaboration will not be forced, but encouraged and enabled by the environment of The Port Academy sim. Rhizomes are the order of the day.

The avatars are the students.

Use a Ning based tool, Flickr/blogger or a bespoke tool to support global collaboration via the web.

It is the responsibility of the students to integrate their work into their real life studies if they want to.

We follow the Wikinomics principals:
Openness, peering, sharing, acting globally.

Open Habitat operates within this academy as masters, coordinators, facilitators. We evaluate the learning that is taking place in this alternative educational set-up through virtual means.

Should the Open Habitat sim become the collaborative art studio for The Port academy, with individual studio spaces provided by participating institutions/individual students? (e.g. Practice on your own on LeedsMet, work together with others in The Port Academy on Open Habitat?)

This is about immersion, not augmentation. It is about embracing the new possibilities by suspending the need to directly integrate this form of learning into traditional institutional structures.

In the same way that commerce is wary of losing its control and obvious revenue streams by opening up and sharing, so traditional education is wary of losing its module based, assignment led, fees financed model. Can the model of wikinomics be applied to learning, yielding something between formal and informal education? Something more powerful? What about revenue? Costs are low, so can fees be replaced by something else?

Can Universities provide validation and awards for this 'new' approach to learning? What would that mechanism be? Like a PhD by submitted papers? Can students choose which institution they want to be validated by when the time is right?

Philosophy students and masters are invited to participate in the same way. The Port is used as a basis for discussion and analysis, bringing the benefits of heavy duty read/write/discuss theoretical rigour into the mix.

What about other disciplines? How can they get involved in this collective learning endeavour?

How do we avoid anarchy? What scaffolding do we provide?

Can a system for formative feedback and assessment glue everything together?

Mmmmm. /me thinks.

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