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« Eating the elephant in 23 bites | Main | Predicting Large Scale Adoption of Technology »
Wednesday
May092007

Virtual Tinkertoys

In response to yesterday's post on criteria that might impact large scale technology adoption by teachers, Generation YES's Sylvia Martinez commented:

I'm wondering if there is another criteria - something like "extensibility". The old idea of "no floor, no ceiling." I hate learning something new and then finding that there is no way to extend it, add options, go under the hood, etc. Not that everyone wants that, but in an educational setting, havingtinkertoys2.gif tools that you only have to learn once yet can accommodate different learners and different styles seems like important criteria. Maybe there's a better word for it?

My response: 

I think I understand the concept. But could you give me a couple of examples? Maybe of technologies that are and aren't extensible? I've personally always liked what I call "Tinkertoy" software that lets me build instead of just use things that are already built. And a lot of kids do too. Not so sure about adults!

 And Sylvia replies:

Tinkertoy software is a great name for it! (and you know I'm always up for sneaking constructivist-like thinking in here somewhere!) I'm thinking that for example, Hypercard and HyperStudio were better than PowerPoint - because you could build more than just slideshows, you could actually program objects and actions. With PowerPoint, you can only make slideshows, and if that's all you wanted, you could make slideshows with those other applications.
tinkertoys.gifIt's too bad they are gone! But there are still things around today.
For a slightly higher initial investment in effort, you could use Flash or MicroWorlds. Both can make slideshows - but you have so much more under the hood for the future. For some kids, these tools will give them more range than they ever thought possible, it will unlock hidden potential and give them wings. I guarantee you PowerPoint won't do that.
For kids, neither one of those applications is hard to learn, or hard to use. But adults have this horrible reaction to them.
Or - Why not teach kids HTML instead of making them learn some "easy" editor. I know, I know I can hear the groans from teachers everywhere.
We talk about differentiated instruction, but that concept shouldn't stop at the instructional door. Everything we put in kids hands should have the ability to offer differentiated and leveled experiences for kids who are ready, willing, and able (and they are).
I really feel that a lot of the problems with teaching technology reflect adult fears, not student ability or needs.
Great, now I've got enough for a blog ;-) (And here is her blog posting!)

This set me to thinking about a couple things.

First, it was a good reminder that teachers' resistance to technology is less about technology itself but more about unfamiliar ways of teaching.  Learning HyperStudio is not an issue; adopting a new teaching philosophy in which students learn by creating instead of absorbing is an issue.

And happily, between reading Sylvia's comments, reading David Warlick's recent post, and thinking about a conversation I had with Mike Eisenberg back in January when I visited with him in Seattle, I am beginning to see some true educational possibilities for Second Life. 

I have to admit that Second Life does not strike me as a great teaching medium if you insist on doing stand-and-deliver. (Or as Ian Jukes puts it, full frontal presentation.) Chat is not how one delivers a lecture or even holds a decent guided discussion if you ask me.

BUT, Second Life is the ultimate tinker toy set. Mike E. envisions that the outcome of a student history research assignment be a virtual museum exhibit - a room in which are gathered photos, documents, analysis, etc. If a display is considered worthy, it would become a permanent exhibit in this virtual museum. How cool would that be?

But with the tools in Second Life, one need not be limited to a single room. Why not let a class build the whole museum? Or recreated Peter the Great's Hermitage? Or recreate the massacre at Wounded Knee? Or build Rosa Park's bus and populate it with avatars that reflect the points of view of the era? Design eco-systems in science? Build Huck Finn's raft or Well's Time Machine? Think of the physics simulations! (I was in Second Life's Transylvania recently, but it seemed more inspired by Ann Rice than Bram Stoker.)

I am sure I am day late and dollar short in my thinking on this. And remember that this comes from somebody who has created but a single object in Second Life and have relied on the charity of others even for simple furniture. 

Is Second Life the ultimate Tinker toy application? Are the examples from education that now exist and I just don't know about?  myprim.jpg

At right, my avatar admiring his sole creation -  a picture  for his wall.

 


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Reader Comments (7)

I have to admit, I'm a skeptic about Second Life too. I'm HOPING that people see it as a tinker toy for student use, and not a new way to deliver pre-packaged information.
May 9, 2007 | Unregistered Commentersylvia martinez
Doug,
Using physics to build bridges, math to control a lava flow...the possibilities for 2L are endless. I'm a believer. Thanks for putting it's value in a different light..tinkertoy, extendability. I like that, a lot.
pete
May 9, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterpete reilly
SL is a poor consumer environment but it has definite possibilities as a creative space. If we just use it to recreate traditional learning spaces it will be a failure.

See what Intellagirl http://home.intellagirl.com/ has been doing with her English class in SL

One problem I see with SL is that its not "low floor" and there are other creative tools that win on extensibility as defined by Sylvia
May 9, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTony Forster
Doug! This is cosmic! Pondering SL yesterday before my conference presentation about it, the concept/construct of SL as a "tinkertoy" application literally hit me as well. The exact word, "tinkertoy," and I had a five minute conversation with myself about it like I was explaining it to a fellow teacher. How weird is that? (No, not the part about having a conversation with myself for five minutes.)

I think SL will become a tinkertoy application when gooey drag-and-drop tools like Google Sketchup are mashed into it. The UI has to be drop dead simple. It's not right now. Better yet, we need an audible control interface, like the computer on Star Trek.

So instead of:

"Computer: Tea, Earl Grey. Hot."

It will be:

"Computer: Virtual classroom. Radius seating, 700 meters elevation, 30 participants. Video lectern. Hand raise chairs. Chat logging."

And the technology will "make it so."

Ah, maybe someday!

Kevin Jarrett
Walden University
Kevin,
Here's the rub - making the controls simpler diminishes some of the learning opportunities that now exist in SL.So is easier always better?
May 10, 2007 | Unregistered Commentersylvia martinez
"making the controls simpler diminishes some of the learning opportunities that now exist in SL"

No, a "low floor" can still go with a "high ceiling", extensibility as you have said is the key. The learning curve has to match the learner, most importantly at the entry end.

Anyway, the strength of SL as a tinkertoy is in its possibilities for creativity, that would be undiminished by easier authoring tools.

SL has definite possibilities, it has relevance, authenticity, top end extensibility and affordability, it just needs to get the bottom end of extensibility right with good authoring tools.
May 10, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTony Forster
Hi Tony,

Thanks for the comment. I tend to agree that there is no such thing as too low a floor for computer apps!

All the best,

Doug
May 11, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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