Information, Communication and Technology for Emergence (ICT4E)– An Immersive Learning Community Blended with Virtual Worlds and Web 2.0

There is an urgent need to transform our educational ecosystems and address the rapid transformations occurring in our world, especially the crisis confronting our survival. Are these needs linked and can we address them together? Educators around the globe are discovering and embracing virtual worlds, such as Second Life, for immersing their students and reinvigorating their pedagogy with 21st Century Literacy’s and Learning Skills–But how do we make our classrooms immersive? What will it look like to shift our pedagogy from one based on teaching and specialties to one based on student centered learning– pluralistic, hyper-individual, eclectic, diverse, and emergent? ICT4 Emergence and the International Telecenter movement offers an opportunity to leverage this transformation.
I’d like to suggest a scenario for transforming our classrooms and learning institutions. We can achieve this by creating a learning community that blends the engaging and transformative power of virtual worlds, with immersion in practical hands-on experiential learning for sustainability and prosperity. Participating in a massively multiple on-line virtual world such as Second Life, or creating your own community specific virtual world through the open source community of Open Sim–educators are provided with an evolutionary step unparalleled in media ecology. Using social networking tools like Facebook, Twitter and nings–free, open source platforms–global interaction and collaboration tools are available to every classroom, spurring innovation and emergence.
What I am suggesting is moving into a blended learning methodology that leverages the emergent technological platforms of the immersive internet–virtual worlds, web 2.0 and serious gaming–while addressing the urgent needs facing us as humans and as educators. Estimates are that world wide we will need to build a major university every day for the next 3 decades to accommodate the growing population and learning needs of our young. In that time span much, if not all, of the polar ice will have melted. Virtual worlds offer a 24/7/365 synchronous and asynchronous model of learning without the need for bricks and mortar. As for the bricks and mortar, these energy consumptive, water wasting, and unsustainable facilities offer the ideal laboratory to transform our learning applications into concrete, practical and life giving learning communities.
How then, do we transform our schools? Consider that the community is the curriculum: the whole systems which sustain the local biome– food, water, waste, energy, culture, government, the environment, the economy–are the topics we address, investigate and may redesign for a sustainable future. Apply systems thinking and ecological, synergistic practices to our curriculum. This is the vision of a design science formulated by Buckminster Fuller that sees nurturing our innate creative and design prowess as the answer to solving our dilemmas. By applying these techniques to the systems which sustain life, students are empowered with the tools and opportunities to transform their communities. In the process they develop the 21st Century Literacy’s so essential to their success and offer solutions to our most pressing global challenges.

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Design, Build, Operate (Experience), Innovate

This is a ‘Blended Learning’ strategy appropriate for many skill levels and ages. In a collaborative atmosphere this strategy can lead to emergence.  I’ll try and just quickly outline this to get it out there.  This is also a completely immersive kind of model that allows you to engage students.  Choosing which point to introduce or utilize computers would depend on your resources. My bias is that time in a classroom should not be spent in front of a computer except for key lessons and introductions.  Let the students work on their computers at home or in their study labs. We speak about project based learning.  And we can expand that concept into a  ‘productivity centered’ model that is holistic and inclusive of the larger systems we find ourselves within.   In keeping with this pedagogy, we turn our attention on to the sustainability of the ecology of the systems around us: biological, cultural, civic, etc. 

    Design.   Beginning with design is exciting because it immediately puts the creative process into action.  Doodling, sketching, drawing, coloring–let your imagination run wild.  This is empowering.  It says your creativity matters, show us what you are imagining.  The design team can kick the ideas back and forth, sharing drawings, collaborating on the outcome desired.  One cool example might be to work with SketchUp and insert your school into Google’s virtual gallery.  From there you can start creating many companion design projects.

 

    Build.  Virtual building is really the best alternative for many ideas.  The environmental award of the decade should go to creators of virtual worlds, especially Secondlife.  In these applications many levels of competency and challenges exist–all the way up to AutoCAD.  Discovering textures, or going out and photographing to create textures for the project is important for creating the sense of immersion.  Learning to apply textures has many applications in your virtual build.  If you have a budget and are engaged in something like bio-remediation, or the production of algae for methane production–there are many micro builds that get your hands dirty.Oceanarks.org   has many awesome productivity centered projects to create the ‘ecological campus.’ 
    Operate and Experience.  Perhaps you designed and built a go-cart, a car. You designed a ‘composter’ or a grey water system. Better yet a micro-solar renewable energy system for a computer lab–if your build was virtual there are more challenges at this operational stage.  Unless you are in an immersive environment like Secondlife.  In a repertory dance plot where there are a number of designers involved the limitations of the actualized design quickly become apparent to the operator/designer.  This would imply changes in the ‘build’ –the location, instrument choices, color and kinesthetic application of the design.  Immersion is present in every step through engagement, challenge, collaboration and most of all–arousing the creative juices. So ‘operation’ might be another way of ‘living’ within the constructed design. If the design was culturally or civic based it may involve doing a survey, vlog or podcast, for example.  A electronic newsletter could be printed and distributed for feed back.  A public policy exercise or proposal for the community is certainly designed, written, and applied.
    Innovate.  In the process I’m trying to describe, properly documented, each step of the way are the chapters of a digital story.  I try to have screen shots of my work taken at least at the end of each session–any number of tools such as video, blogs, cameras, iPods could assist in the reflective process. In reflecting upon the process, the outcomes–and the experience of the ‘operation’ of the design, students have prepared the ground for innovation and–perhaps–emergence.  New insights will pop up, changes, suggestions–all kinds of improvements.  Is this creating the environment for innovation or emergence?  That’s what I’m working on.  Give it a go, let me know!