Virtual schooling for young learners

One of my favourite network bloggers Paul Hamilton often reflects what an exciting time it is to be an educator. I couldn’t agree more. Paul was referring to the vast array of tools accessible to engage all learners such as the UDL tech tool kit which has a great selection of digital tools.

This morning I was really excited to read an article about ‘Virtual’ schooling: education outside school.  Technology has definitely broadened options for pupils unwilling or unable to attend a standard school environment.  For a variety of reasons, there are at any time, a large number of children who may not suit the school system.  The successes achieved by students in the article is inspiring.

For example, Billie, opted out of school due to bullying.  She enrolled as a student of Vision2Learn (UK) and it changed her life.  ‘ I could choose my own hours because I had work I could get on with and didn’t have to wait for the next “class”.  I wasn’t alone either – my online tutor provided support along the way. And I am currently enjoying the Wizard on the Web course.’ She is now setting her sights on becoming an IT tutor.  Vision2Learn has over 60,000 learners.  Vision2learn currently offers 22 different courses in subjects such as computer skills, work skills, personal development, health, fitness and coaching and key skills.  Courses are also avaiable for students in school.

I agree with the article’s author, Sal McKeown, ‘In the  past, being educated out of school was seen as second best. It conjured up images of home tutors, part-time provision, a diet of basic skills and a restricted curriculum. Pupils would find themselves steered away from science or languages because of the need for equipment or specialist staff. These days it can be a very different story and for some pupils, education in virtual classrooms is better suited to their needs than “normal” schooling’.

The final paragraph by the school’s principal, Tony Ryan, sums it up perfectly: ‘The world of work has changed beyond all recognition in the UK. Factories are largely a thing of the past and many people will be home workers or freelancers who will need to be ‘self starters’ with first-rate computer and web skills and the ability to work independently. If this is to be the pattern for many of tomorrow’s workers, then the virtual classroom is an excellent grounding and could be of great benefit to all learners’.

Students can enrol in Vision2Learn courses (which lead to national qualifications) if they are 16+ and live in England.

Closer to home, I know that TAFE colleges here in Australia offer online courses to students, some of which can be accessed by high school students. Victoria TAFE TAFE Queensland, TAFE open learning QLD, Tasmania TAFE online learning, Open Training and Education Network NSW.  A virtual high school?  I think this is definitely something that would fulfil a need for students who don’t do well in a standard school environment.  Distance education schools are available although the dominant mode of delivery has  generally been correspondence-style.  With advances in technology, more opportune options for delivery to suit all learners and opportunities to meet all learners’ needs is necessary in our fast-changing world.

Game making tools

I have read quite a bit about the benefits of using game making programs in education, and the higher-order thinking skills that they develop. Not being a gamer, I decided to take a look at what programs are available with a view to teaching.  For a complete novice, here is my run-down of some of the tools:

Pivot stickfigure animation: Freeware, easy to use for the complete novice.  Just by moving sections of the figure it is easy to create a chain of animated frames. Fun and easy to use.

Anim8or: For a complete novice, I couldn’t get anywhere with this 3D  modelling and character animation tool. I read through the manual, but found it hard to apply to the interface. I tried watching tutorials on youtube (via the site link) but couldn’t see what was going on clearly enough to replicate it. I am sure there will be users who think it is great, and I’d love some direction on how to get going on this.

Google Sketchup: This 3D modelling software is superb. The tutorials are terrific and guide the user along introducing tools step by step.  The only thing lacking is my artistic ability.  Great for design work as well as other uses.  All you need to do is have a google account to start using the software.

Stagecast: I’m working through the tutorials on Stagecast and so far have been extremely impressed with the guided learning experience.  This software offers an evaluation and tutorial download for a generous 120 days and costs around $50 after that.  The step-by-step lessons clearly explain each progression and of course it is possible to repeat until the steps are mastered.  The ‘programming’ or making of the game stages is visual, so it is easy (for a novice) to understand. You can see how easy the learning menu is from this screencast.

Once inside the lessons the user is guided step-by-step and if you make a mistake, you are told what to do.

Scratch: This was one of the first programs I looked at and although it has an excellent set of tutorials I found myself getting a little lost.  Maybe I need to go back to this after Stagecast and give it another go.

Gamemaker: I completed a tutorial on this but ended up with an empty room at the end and after having spent an hour getting there, didn’t feel like going through all my steps to see what I had done wrong.  However, it looks pretty comprehensive and maybe I need to revisit and be prepared to spend more time learning about game making.

I’d love other educators’ feedback and what they use in the classroom and any tips they may have to offer.

Class blogging prep

How exciting!  We’re getting ready to start  class and student blogs!   We’ll be mirroring some of the activities that Anne Mirtschin’s class at ejourneys for technokids have done, so it’s great to have such a terrific lead to follow.  I’m really looking forward to exploring Web 2.0 tools via blogging and hopefully the students will be equally enthused.   I decided that it would be good to familiarise students with the blogosphere and a few other applications before we dived in, so for other teacher considering blogging, here is an outline of how we are starting:

Photo by Zappowbang

Lesson 1

1. introduce students to an internet portal. This can be an igoogle page, Pageflakes or Netvibes.  Students created a google account and  had fun adding a theme to their page and gadgets such as calendar, to-do list, quote of the day, news etc and I asked that they added a google reader.   They added games and fun things in another tab on their igoogle page.

2. I used the class blog I had created via global teacher to show them how to add a feed to their reader.  We looked at the page layout and widgets on the class blog: posts, comments, blogroll, clustr map, archives etc.  Students read the mission statement and code of conduct.  Thanks to Nancy Bosch for the use of a blog Mission Statement and Code of Conduct via her blog: A Really Different Place.  Parent permission letters are also being sent out as well as students signing a blogging guidelines agreement form.  (Thanks to Gail Casey from Geelong High School for Blogging Guidelines).

Lesson 2

1. Students are introduced to blogs via the links on the class blog.  They visisted The Next Generation of Bloggers, and student blogs at ejourneys for technokids, leaving a comment on at least two blogs.    Since we are awaiting parent permission forms to be returned, students will write a blog post in Word introducing themselves.  This will be added to their personal blogs when created.

Lesson 3

This lesson will be focused on internet safety awareness and I’ll be adding a wiki I’ve created  to the class blog for students to explore.

Lesson 4

This is the lesson we will be setting up blogs via global student. To do this, students students need an email address (which they have) and a username.  Students will add their class teacher as administrator.  To do this: students login and then go to ‘users’ on top right hand side of dashboard, ‘add user from community’, enter teacher email address, change role to ‘administrator’.  The teacher then goes to the class blog and open the ‘users’ link (top right hand side of dashboard), under ‘manage users’ a drop down menu will list the student blogs.

Once set up, students will spend the lesson adding a design to their blog, we’ll be looking at adding widgets and the dashboard in general.

Subsequent lessons

Once students are familiar with the basic blogging platform, we’ll be exploring Web 2.0 tools alongside blogging.

I would like to thank those educators who have mentored, guided and inspired me in what they are doing with their students and who have taught me so much.  Thanks to Sue Waters at The Edublogger, Mobile Technology at TAFE, for her patience in answering my inexperienced questions, John Pearce at Salty Solutions for his comprehensive coverage of my how-to-start-class-blogs questions, Elizabeth Davis at Classroom 2.0 for sharing her Computer Applications syllabus (which I have used as a basis for developing this Web 2.0 applications/blogging unit). And to Anne, who always kindly responds to my pleas and queries. To Vicki Davis who amazes me with her energy, wisdom, knowledge and ability to always be on the cutting edge of anything new!  What an amazing teacher!

Also thanks to all those who responded to my discussion on assessment criteria for blogs at Classroom 2.0. Thanks Nancy Bosch for sharing a blogging rubric.

Finally, to all those I may have omitted to mention.  I could stay up till midnight going through my blogroll listing everyone in this post. Please forgive me for not having the stamina to do so!