Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Immersive Education Summit on the campus of Boston College, in Newton, MA. I admit to being somewhat skeptical of the conference before attending– a lot of the presentations archived from previous years seemed to focus on tech-heavy projects with scant emphasis on pedagogy. I was very pleasantly surprised at the content and enthusiasm for teaching and learning that went into all the presentations this year. Since some of the presentations were updates on earlier projects, it seems likely that the archived presentations I saw didn’t tell the whole story about the work this initiative is pursuing. Many of these projects have direct applications in our online (and face to face) classes here at Granite State College.
“Immersive Education” is a catch-phrase for a variety of different educational environments, from a portable “Discovery Dome” with a virtual forest, to online 3D worlds, to creative uses of existing social media to foster online debates and role-playing. The intent is to provide a “sense of place” for students who are not able to travel to a forest, or to ancient India, or to a physics laboratory, and opportunities for inclusion in communities that may be physically distant or culturally inaccessible.
There were too many terrific presentations to cover all of them here, but I thought I should report back on a few that I thought were especially relevant to our work and mission. Many of the presentations have been archived on the Immersive Education channel on YouTube.
Diane Jass Ketelhut, University of Maryland, USA
Dr. Ketelhut and colleagues have become concerned (as many of us have) with the growing emphasis on standardized exams and their limited ability to test higher-order thinking. In the SAVE Science project, they have developed a number of simulations aimed at assessing scientific method and procedures among middle-school students. Students appear in the virtual world as an “avatar,” with which they can move around, talk to other inhabitants of the world, and collect data related to problems the other characters in the world describe. For example, one scenario presented describes a problem with a new flock of sheep that don’t seem to be as healthy as the farmer’s previous flock. By conducting a variety of measurements of the sheep and their environment, and combining that information with that gained by asking questions of the farmer, students can determine environmental factors preventing the new flock from thriving, to the considerable relief of the farmer.
Assessments like these test a student’s ability to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information and to choose the right data analysis methods to use on the information, unlike written problems which tend to focus the student directly on the information and procedure. However, students who do well on these assessments do not always do well on paper and pencil tests, which presents a challenge to researchers hoping to replace standardized written tests with these simulations. As Dr. Ketelhut put it, these assessments don’t equate easily to standardized tests– nor would we want them to!
For more information, see the SAVE Science website.
Charles Hughes, Daniel Mapes, Synthetic Reality Laboratory, University of Central Florida
Dr. Hughes provided a demo of the TeachLivE service his laboratory provides to teacher preparation programs, simulating student activity for the purpose of teacher training. The inherent paradox of teacher training is that teachers need to learn from interacting with students, but it isn’t entirely fair to students for them to have to depend on an inexperienced teacher for their learning. This is an especially critical issue with children, but is of concern in any teaching and learning environment. By providing a virtual classroom in which the behaviors of the students are controlled by experienced “puppeteers,” prospective teachers have the opportunity to practice handling typical (or atypical) classroom situations without impacting the learning of young students. The puppeteers are expert improvisational actors who have studied the behaviors of children, including children with special needs, such as autism. Their reproductions of these behaviors through the computerized avatars is sometimes unsettlingly realistic.
The TeachLivE presentation is not yet available online, but the above video provided by the local NBC affiliate describes the project. For more information, see the TeachLivE website.
Chris Dede, Harvard Graduate School of Education, USA
In the EcoMUVE project, middle-school students explore “Scheele Pond,” a virtual ecosystem based on Black’s Nook in Cambridge, MA. They can visit the pond on multiple days throughout the year using a calendar feature, to see changes over time, and can gather detailed information about ecological activity in and around the pond. Students are then presented with a mystery to solve: all the fish in the pond have died overnight. What could have caused this? All the clues are in the simulation, but students need to look for them, including interviewing several computer-operated human characters.
Following the virtual world activity, a new project creates “augmented reality” at the real-life model for the virtual pond, Black’s Nook. Students are equipped with mobile wifi devices and portable testing equipment, and as they explore different parts of the area, they come within range of multiple wifi “hot spots” that provide information about the wildlife and ecology surrounding them. They can also use the testing equipment to sample pond water and other environmental variables, and feed the results into the mobiles to learn more about the health of the ecosystem. These activities emphasizes observational science; students are not able to change variables in the ecosystem, e.g. by making policy decisions about the nearby housing development and the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Future projects are planned to incorporate these kinds of elements.
More information is available at the EcoMUVE website.
Again, there were many outstanding projects presented at the conference. More information is available at the conference website.