NZ’s first fully virtual school

NZVirtual school

A few posts ago I noted that Clutha will now be recognised as NZ’s first fully virtual school, after a consortium of southern secondary schools and polytechnics, led by Catlins Area School at Owaka, was one of five applicants chosen to open trades academies in 2011. I thought it worth another blog post to recognise the establishment of what is claimed to be Australasia’s first “complete” virtual school, New Zealand Virtual School, due open in 2011 and cater for Year 9 to 13 children and adults from across the country and around the world.

Today’s post on the Second Life Education New Zealand (SLENZ) blog provides useful background to this exciting new initiative which will almost certainly become something of a poster-child for developments in virtual schooling and for major initiatives like the KAREN network which will make participation in second life virtual worlds more tolerable.

One observation I have to make,  however, is the depiction of what this virtual classroom will look like in Second Life. While the concept of virtual education, with its promise of anywhere, any-time and any-device participation excites me greatly, I can’t help but be bemused by the fact that the ‘virtual classroom’ is depticted as looking like the same sort of classroom I sat in through school – chairs facing the front, desks in rows and shelves of text books in the background – and presumably teacher located at the front – all suggestive of the sort of didactic, teacher-centric pedagogy that we keep being told we should be moving away from.

Tell me I’m missing something here?

10 thoughts on “NZ’s first fully virtual school

  1. I’d never be so presumptions as to say that you’re “missing something”, but – the reason one might make it look like a traditional classroom is to make people feel more comfortable about the fact that they’re not in a traditional classroom. Most people are a bit intimidated by significant change, and this look might help to allay their anxiety. Sort of a visual trick to make them feel at home – when they’re not.

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  2. Re: Classroom layout, it was also my first thought BUT maybe we need to see what the speech bubbles say. I think the girl on the back row is saying “where the heck is the teacher?” and the girl on the row in front is saying “we’re in a virtual classroom you dummy there is no teacher standing at the front” and the girl with the big hair standing at the front is called Laura and is going to try and find the virtual principal before all hell breaks loose in the room.

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  3. I also note the computers at the back of the room which is a bit ironic. I always think this arrangement makes technology seem like an add on not an integral part of the learning culture (I know it has to be like this for the set up of most classrooms with ports at the walls and lack of space etc) but if I was designing my ideal classroom even based on the current classroom model I would be a lot more adventurous than this. This is a virtual classroom! Go all out! Have multitouch desks, have groups of children interacting not just one child one space, have multimedia screens and whiteboards and videos around the room for one touch learning…

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  4. Hi all,

    As somebody deeply involved in NZVS I would like to make on comment. Please do not believe everything you read on a blog. Other than that you will have to what and see.

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    1. Hi Jon – appreciate your comment here – I guess then we’ll just have to wait and see. I’ll be keen to see how the project develops.

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  5. Derek

    One of the major “missing something here” points is that the image of the virtual classroom you see in the SLENZ blog is not created in Second Life but in a Flash based virtual environment called SmallWorlds developed by New Zealand company Outsmart. This is a simplistic cartoonish 2D environment miles away from the real virtual world experience available in Second Life. I also feel it is a misnomer that they consider this school to be virtual. Rather from my readings it will be online distance education enhanced by the use of web based virtual tools. To consider this (quoting project manager Allan Asbjorn Jon) “to be at the forefront of the virtual movement in New Zealand.” is I believe a huge leap from what it actually is, or will be when up and running. If however one wanted to look at what is currently at the forefront of virtual education in New Zealand (and yes I will admit to a definite bias here) then I would suggest that readers have a good look at the accomplishments of the SLENZ Project, probably most succinctly described in the video publications available under Publications in the SLENZ blog.

    Regards
    Aaron
    Lead Developer for the SLENZ Project
    Director F/Xual Education Services

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    1. Hi Aaron
      thanks for your clarification – always good to have input “from the horses mouth” 🙂 I’ll look forward to seeing more of the SLENZ project as it develops, and the metaphors you develop to inform it.

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  6. Derek *smile – I am sure I went a little overboard with the simplistic cartoonish description kmowing first-hand the complexity that can be developed using the Flash platfom. The over emphasis in the comparison was however to really get clear what a gulf exists between the two platforms, SmallWorlds and Second Life, in terms of the ability to actualise immersion in the enviroment in any sense of the real.

    SmallWorlds will always have that sense of the cartoonish no matter how well it may perform as a socializing environment, limiting its ability to develop learning that approaches any true sense of the real world visually. Secomd Life on the other hand has the ability to immerse the student in such a way that simulations, tasks and actions performed occur as very real and are responded to as such, its modelling, texturing and programming capabilities allowing such near realistic development. The power to embed learning in such a immersive environment, is displayed for example in a comparison of Foundation Studies students in one of the Second Life pilots and their peers in real world classes. In interview assessments the cadre of Second Life students displayed more confidence, were better prepared and marked higher than their real world counterparts. To what degree the Second Life immersion supported this learning has not be quantified, the point however is that SmallWorlds cannot replicate such a real world event in any form that would visual resemble the real. It would always be cartoonish and would I believe, if used in the same project as mentioned above, greatly diminish its authenticity and power as a learning tool.

    That the New Zealand Virtual School has not announced any interest in such a rich environment as Seocnd Life, or for that matter OpenSim and the New Zealand Virtual World Grid, especially with the possibilities that such environments hold for learning in the Trades sector, is a little concerning.

    Aaron

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