Teachers urged to go virtual

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Teachers urged to go virtual

Web 2.0 technologies such as blogging, wikis and virtual worlds are disrupting traditional ways of teaching, education experts claim.

According to technology and education consultant Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, educators have yet to adopt ‘not-quite-now’ technologies that their students already embrace.

Speaking at the Expanding Learning Horizons 2008 conference in Lorne this week, Nussbaum-Beach described a future that would take place in ‘immersive worlds that haven’t been invented yet’.

She explained that although parents and teachers have traditionally snubbed virtual worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft, these worlds could be platforms for learning skills such as networking, entrepreneurialism, and problem solving.

Nussbaum-Beach’s claims echo those of Gartner, which last year predicted that 80 percent of all Fortune 500 companies will be using virtual worlds by the year 2011.

“Immersive worlds are where our students are spending their time; we [educators] need to be there too,” she said. “The more options we make available to students, the better it [their education] is.”

But virtual worlds are only a small part of what is expected to be an upwards trend in the value of social and intellectual capital.

Labelling social and intellectual capital as ‘the new economic values’ in the global economy, Nussbaum-Beach highlighted the importance of leveraging collective knowledge through social networking and relationship building.

Blogs and microblogging sites such as Twitter and Plurk were mentioned as Web 2.0 technologies that could help students build networks of contacts -- as were the popular social networking sites, Facebook and MySpace.

Addressing concerns of frivolity, Nussbaum-Beach described MySpace as a ‘Lord of the Flies’ scenario in which unchaperoned children’s online personas had been ‘distorted by what kids perceive to be pop culture’.

She expects issues of privacy, safety and ethics to be lessened with digital education programs that teach students rules of etiquette, literacy, and street smarts that apply online.

“Between Facebook and MySpace, MySpace is considered the ghetto of the two – so MySpace is where we [educators] need to be,” she said.

“If you don’t know how to use these tools online, you won’t be able to give it [that knowledge] away to your students.”

“Nobody’s indoctrinating kids to be good digital citizens online,” she said. “No one is teaching these kids that their future employers are going to be Googling them, and this is what they will see.”

To groom students as critical thinkers, Nussbaum-Beach suggests that educators develop a holistic network of learning in which school is merely one node.

Informal education, performance, games, mentors, communities, and self-learning were mentioned as other avenues through which students can grow.

“I think that we’re seeing a change in the educational landscape,” she said. “We are the first generation of teachers who are preparing kids for jobs that haven’t even been invented yet.”

“The truth is, computers will never replace teachers, but teachers who are able to use technology to learn, build, [and] create are going to replace those who are not,” she said.
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