Archive for August 2013
The new LEA project has reached its first critical juncture. Documents are there, pared, and shared; notecard invitations to group collaboration passed about liberally; tools for communicating on site have been deployed. Land is claimed, and
…a few rough sketches now dot the landscape or hang in mid-air, waiting for what comes next: the one question which must be answered before much else happens…
What is our objective?
At the beginning of each year as a science teacher I evaluated my classroom curriculum, rearranged topics and re-prioritized lessons; I shuffled the deck. Often a science department, district committee, or state board would hand down a new set of curriculum guidelines. This usually meant simply identifying what items in the new list I was already addressing.
Nothing to see here, folks; move along.
But then, every few years, the federal government, scientific and—let’s face it—corporate communities decide to crumple up the old list, toss it in a basket, and start from scratch. With the release of new science education standards in April, the National Academies of Science have endorsed a new deal.
They’ve called for a new deck.
I have typically been pleased to see the changes in focus, the new language for science learning that comes with new national standards or guidelines. This round is no exception.
It is worth mention that these new standards are not a mandate, are not supported by all states. Many states will never recognize their merit, and others will take years to implement through adoption and articulation. With science education curriculum guidelines, there actually is no such thing as a national standard. That is just what some of us call them, out of convenience.
I also know that where the rubber hits the road is in each teacher, department, or curriculum committee’s interpretation of such standards. Every lesson is one person’s spin on what was prescribed. This applies to content providers, too. Folks who make textbooks, for example, are jumping on these standards like they are putting out a fire. I have seen it. And, different users interpret standards differently.
This also applies to the design of The Virtual Cell. Where we go with this new compass we have been given is up to us. What we do with the full region granted for this demonstration follows from our own interpretation of those same standards.
The discussion has begun regarding how to address standards, how to provide support for classroom instruction that is targeted and effective yet still wide-ranging in its application. After all, “if it doesn’t address my state’s guidelines, I cannot use it”.
Yet, one size will never fit all. While chatting at a recent conference exhibit of an activity for new users, one educator observed that there should be more notecards (with instructions). I had heard this same comment once already, just before the event. Later, the next day, another visitor observed “there are too many notecards.” I just heard that very same comment again, for the very same design, yesterday.
They are all correct, of course. There are too many notecards, and…we need more notecards. It should be black; and, it really should be white. You just have to “remember who your audience is.”
To emphasize a point and begin making the case for a particular design approach, I must mangle a maxim:
You can please all of the people with some of the content.
You can please some of the people with all of the content.
But, you can never please all of the people with all of the content.
With three months to build an interactive, standards-based, highly engaging and interesting activity—with three months to make upwards of three to five hundred lesser decisions (best guess, conservatively)—with three months to organize a collaborative team willing to offer their work free of charge in the interest of helping to further demonstrate that virtual worlds really do have a place in the classroom…this issue needs to be resolved quickly.
A number of performance indicators in the new standards are obviously ripe for a virtual world experience teaching about the cell. And, it is just as obvious that one could quickly bite off more than one can chew, if you look at the list. With three months to build, the question becomes “What might we achieve?”
But, to digress for a moment, what we might achieve depends on who is pitching in…even if only offering 2¢. For this project to reach its potential, if the build even begins to approach what I try to imagine, any number of experienced—dare I say, expert—content creators will have played their hand.
- a wizard has conjured a vehicle,
- several members of one group of biologists have expressed an interest,
- a SecondLife™ entrepreneur has offered to make introductions to various said experts, and
- a fantastical feline has been purring about some pretty proper prims.
So, to table the “standards” conversation for a moment, I’ll ask an even more practical question. It looks like it’s my deal…
Given how much time I spend building and scripting in virtual worlds, I also spend a considerable amount thinking ’bout where this technology is going. I do not intend to indulge that obscure topic here, today. Instead, I want to mention the finely wrought underpinnings—the granularity, if you will—of what lies behind and beneath this virtual platform which has become a thoroughly engaging activity, by way of announcing a new project.
What is a virtual world? Ultimately it exists as the particular electromagnetic configuration assigned to a few gadjillion magnetic grains arranged in the surface material coating a small space of a magnetic drive.
Precisely arranged magnetic grains define the distinct magnetic regions in the surface materials of hard disks. The grains separate one magnetic zone from the others.
(Click image to open Wikipedia entry for Hard Disk Drive)
TransitionNeel image courtesy of Wikipedia
Whatever surface area on a hard disk drive platter that is needed to store what I have sketched with my “build tools”, whatever incredibly large number of magnetic grains it takes to store the binary code for the (up to) 15,000 prims, scripts, sounds and assorted textures that will make up the new virtual world region that I will “buy” today for Zero Lindens (talk about virtual); not to mention the larger patch of cobalt-based hard disk drive alloy needed to house the simulator, the incredible software engine served up and driven by design; whatever puny patch of ‘puter platter percolates with my particular predilections for prims; that can all soon be linked and located, fetched and transmitted, parsed, interpreted and rendered finally as a newly crafted, interactive, educationally motivated virtual space, one by which other netizens and reZidents might also be engaged.
In short, I am told that the “purchase” of an entire SecondLife™ region will occur today. This new project will reside in a full “sim” (or simulator); it will occupy an entire server. It seems appropriate, then, to give this project its own page in this blog…yep, there it is in the NavBar: “The Virtual Cell”.
I have been logging time for over half of a century. Hard disk drive technology is older than me. Still, considering what we are already doing this technology, imagining might come next takes a lot of my magnetic grains, too.
Among the many comments and questions, criticisms and suggestions received at the recent conference exhibit, the most striking were those occurring in complete opposition to others. An example is one user’s suggestion that more instructional notecards would be useful, where another user had observed just the day before that there were too many notecards.
Other conflicting comments (not just from the conference) have included that the activity should—and should not—address flight, media, and communicating via IM/chat.
There is also a fine line between providing sufficient directions and totally overwhelming the user with a tedious series of walk-and-stop-to-read, walk-and-read, walk-and-stop-to-read stations. Assembling a demo version of the activity for the conference provided an opportunity to experiment with this issue. Several modules were chosen for the event due to their level of completion. They happened to all have notecard or floating text giving instruction, primarily; so, a quick fix was needed to balance the forms of delivery.
A couple of new info-graphics were created just for the demo; this helped to spread instructional information across the various modes (notecards, public chat, dialog prompts and floating text, as well as infographics).
These two issues (different needs of end-users, varying the form of instructional text delivery) point to a challenge in trying to create a single tool that meets the needs of a large number of use cases. This was never part of the plan with the BSG prototype. Rather, a demonstration of the concept was pursued with a range of user interface features being addressed. The entire system is presented in a modular system that can be deployed in a variety of configurations and with any number of thematic “skins” applied.
Any out-of-the-box design would have to be compromised in too many ways for this user to find it useful. As an open source project, we are already employing many least common denominators…across the build.
I would be interested in reading your comments on this.