Learning Begs for the New Information Environment

Yesterday was the first day of the Inspire & Innovate conference, here at the Sydney Olympic Park, home for the 2000 Summer Olympics. It’s an interesting place that the city is trying to re-purpose for continued use. There is a combination of athletic facilities (of course), but also a performance venue, stadiums, and some corporations have set up presences here. I hope to take a train into the city this evening, so I can say I’ve been there and take some pictures to prove it.

I did not present yesterday, but was witness to some great ones, starting with Stephen Heppell. I really like the way that he uses his Mac folders for presenting. I’ve tried it and with great success, except that I couldn’t find a convenient way to project my presentations for later access — online handouts. So I’ll use it with some workshops, but most shorter presentations I use slide deck software or Prezi. It was a fantastic presentation though. He’s a master story teller and knows about so many of the greatest innovations going on in education.

I think that the highlight for me was a video played during the opening by folks with the ed department. It was a series of interview with a variety of area students, asking them the standard questions about how they use technology, how it’s used in the classroom, what would you change — and there were no real surprises. What impressed me was the quality of the video — much better than I usually see coming from a single department of education.

Now I am one who knows what kids are capable of — what they can produce with their knack for technology, the time that they have to tinker, and their perspectives on digital media. But I have to say that I was surprised when it was announced that the video had been produced by a student, and they invited him up on the stage. The students who were interviewed were also present and available for us to talk to after the opening keynote and introductions.

The first fellow that I encountered seemed to be playing a first-person shooter game on the computer he sat at, but when I asked, he explained that the building he (his avatar) was wandering around in was of his creation. It was good, quality graphics, and very responsive — and it was online. He used Big Hammer to build the environment, and then imported it into Half-Life, a video game with an engine that enables people to modify the game, creating what’s called “mods.”

I asked what class he created the building for, and he said that it was a technology class. Then I asked if he could utilize the skills he’d learned in other subject areas. He looked a bit confused, so I asked if he took History. “No!” came an emphatic response. “History teachers aren’t going to use technology in their lessons.” He said (my paraphrasing). Then I asked if he was taking literature, and he said, “Yes.”

“So could you build virtual environments for books or plays you’ve read in that class.” I returned.

Then his eyes popped open, and he said, “Yes, I could do some stuff for Literature, but I want to go back to history. I could build a pyramid, stone age village, ….”

This got me to wondering. First he rejects working with history, I assume because of the way that history’s been taught to him. However, when confronted with questions about using the tech that he’s learned, he bounces back to history, where the applications are almost automatic.

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Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.