Monday, January 6, 2014

Re-Shaping Online Education: The Evolving Role of Online Educators: Part II

In the last post I suggested that a more effective and innovative approach was needed for the design of virtual curriculum that would meet the needs of all students. I also suggested that students had an important question to ask us as educators:

Although some may dismiss the above question as a point of humour, it does pose an interesting question that we should consider in designing new online curriculum. In the next three posts, including this one, I am going to describe to you some specific ideas requiring that you have an open mind to consider the potential of what I am suggesting to enhance the virtual education experience for our students.
The first topic in World History, specifically the Napoleonic War. Normally in past teaching on this topic , educators have relied upon textbooks, diary accounts, battle records, videos, full length movies such as "Master and Commander" and to some degree collaborative work and debate. How would the teaching of this topic using an online environment change? Consider this: a student registered in World History online follows the online curriculum until he is faced with these set of circumstances:
  • Embedded within the curriculum is the entrance to a virtual world set in the temporal context of the Napoleonic War. Before he enters this world, he must assume a historical character and take on that character's avatar. The teacher takes on the role of an event moderator whose main role is to manipulate the variables that have an impact on this virtual world. For example, the teacher would make sure that the virtual world of the Napoleonic war would be faithfully maintained according to the facts governing the time period. In other words, a character could not use something such as a machine gun in battles since they didn't exist in that time period. The teacher could also set the scenarios where the student, in character, is forced to make decisions that will have an impact on the outcomes of the event.
  • Besides taking on the role of a character, the student is responsible for keeping a digital diary in which he or she must record daily(meaning within the time sequence being played out in this immersive environment) the decisions that he or she has made and the effects that he or she see occurring as a result of his or her decisions. Also the student would be asked at certain times to make predictions as to sequence of cause and effects that will play out in the future as it unfolds within the event.
  • The student can call up an avatar who represents the character Sun Tzu who could be asked advice based upon his famous book: "The Art of War". This avatar would not interact with the virtual environment and could only be seen by the student. This avatar could only be accessed within a decision making sequence but prior to a decision being made in a critical situation.
  • The virtual world event would have a time limit for the student to complete the event. If the student goes over this time limit then he or she is immediately exited from the event and evaluation based upon what was completed in the digital diary. This would eliminate the "gamer" tendency that some have of playing on without regard to time. Whether or not a student could do a "retry" would be up to the teacher in charge of the simulation.
  • Upon completion of the event, students would compare their digital observations with the decisions and consequences actually made during that historical time period. This becomes a jumping off point for further teaching. The historical concept of "Cause and Effect" takes on a much deeper understanding in the mind of the student and also teaches him or her how far reaching decisions that are made in critical situations can be.
These ideas stem partly from the idea that we learn a great deal from gaming theory that can be used in an educational environment. Consider the video game series, "The Assassin's Creed" and how this series has taken on a more historical context. Some of the ideas we can draw from such a game are:
  1. Such games can be used to promote "thoughtful engagement" for students when used within a virtual education setting.
  2. Research into the use of such virtual world simulations stress the importance of flow within the simulation in order to enhance thoughtful engagement.
One of the changes that would be needed in order to make such a scenario work is to include another group of professionals into the curriculum design team, that being, the game designing community.

Next posting will consider the subject of Law and give some ideas on the possibility of a Virtual Courtroom in which real judges and lawyers interact with students.................

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