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Redesigning School from Inworld Out: Middlesbrough City Learning Center

by Honored Resident Claudia.Linden on ‎01-13-2010 02:54 PM

I met recently with Mark Mullis, Deputy Director at Middlesbrough City Learning Centre in Cleveland, United Kingdom. Middlesbrough City Learning Centre is one of 105 City Learning Centres in the UK. Middlesbrough is in the NE of England, close to Newcastle, edging towards Scotland. Mark says, "It's cold."

According to Mark Mullis aka Marc Nomura in SL, UK education is very focused on "learning spaces" and how to make flexible learning environments that replace the old "sage on the stage" model with spaces that support a wide variety of self-directed learning. Mark and his team are very involved in the Building Schools for the Future project, a UK initiative building new schools across the country. Mark's team is building new schools in Second Life, based on the real world design plans. They currently have developed six Second Life islands where they've constructed three schools, with two more in process.

Mark showed me the inworld version of a new school designed for students with special learning challenges. He explained how these students can have a tough time with big transitions - like a move to a new physical building. Mark's group is taking students into the new building on the teen grid of Second Life to help familiarize them with their new school in advance. For example, they're using Second Life to practice how they'll need to steer their wheel chairs in the new space.

Teachers exploring the Second Life model of the school noticed toilet doors were opening the wrong way in the plans and were able to correct this. They also spotted an issue with door size that could have created a significant traffic jam. Over discussion and interaction with the Second Life model, the teachers noticed an S curve and too small doors could not handle the flow of students that would need to move through the exit. The exit was redesigned with their input at a tremendous savings. Mark told me, "We created the project in SL at 0.01% of the cost of the RL buildings. We've saved twice as much as we've paid. We've already saved 50,000 pounds for two secondary schools."

The 3rd largest construction company in the UK is now talking about building all of their schools in Second Life - 35 are already built in real life with new ones coming.  They are discussing functionality - typically, caretakers (and teachers) get two tours training in the new facilities and then find themselves out on their own with new high tech boilers and other equipment to manage. They are looking at using Second Life now for training on the RL buildings.

What's ahead? MCLC is beginning a project for students with behavior challenges. Twice a week the students are using Second Life in an alternative curriculum on Smart Island, a private space in Teen Second Life. They're learning to do island management. Mark is also in discussion with an adolescent psychiatrist about using Second Life with "nervous non-attenders" - students who are too anxious to attend school.

We ended our tour in an area built to inspire teachers to "dream out of the box" and try new approaches to learning - both in their RL classrooms and in Second Life. Mark explained an environmental poetry project as we strolled through a magical woods with a Scottish cabin, and a large seaworthy ship. Students are using iPods, iTunes University and webbooks running Second Life. Inspired by Slow Poetry, students write poetry, borrowing and remixing from open sources and then hang their poems on trees inworld. You'll catch a glimpse of the woods towards the end of the video clip.

SL and RL hats off to this visionary team for leading the way in demonstrating how real life schools can benefit from incorporating Second Life in all aspects of operation - design, building, maintenance, special education, pedagogy and professional development.

by Advisor Jenni Darkwatch
on ‎01-13-2010 03:24 PM

That's actually one of the good uses of SL... teaching. As a volunteer/part time teacher (in SL and RL) myself... it's challenging for teachers, but opens up interesting possibilities.

by Honored Member Shockwave Yareach
on ‎01-14-2010 10:33 AM

So, should someone file an AR against all these students for being in the main grid while still underaged?  Or should an AR go against the teachers for being in the Teen Grid?

I really think you need to create a new continent in the Teen Grid called "Crossroads".  On this land, adults with the proper group tag may come and setup educational builds.  Have Adult Instructors who are on the teen grid and only on the teen grid, and you need not worry about certain items reaching the teen crowd since it's a Teen-only Alt.  This also makes asset easier to manage.  Have it so adults can come into teen grid ONLY on that continent and only for educational purposes, and you'll expand the potential of education in SL by leaps and bounds.  Meanwhile the teens are still safe and secure in their own section of the teen grid until it's time to go to "class".   You can even make it so parents can visit their children in the teen grid within that continent.  Right now though, it's very difficult to create anything for the kids, school or otherwise.  Make it so certain adults may "intrude" into the teen's area only on that one continent, and you'll simplify life for everyone (and without the threat of ARs).

by Honored Member Shockwave Yareach
on ‎01-14-2010 10:40 AM

One of the great ideas I have for SL in instruction is the simple fact that stuff can be animated and demonstrated.  Want to demonstrate Potential Energy to Kinetic Energy?  Watch the bouncing ball.  Press the stop button if you want and see what its speed and height are - can you calculate the PE and KE?  Touch the cube for the answer.  If I had a sim, that's what I would devote half to - explanation that math and science are NOT hard, if you are only shown how to look at it.

by Honored Resident Claudia.Linden
on ‎01-14-2010 10:49 AM

Thanks for the Crossroads suggestion, Shockwave. The Middlesbrough students are on a private island in the educators region of Teen Second Life.  Many schools are currently running successful projects with students and teachers on private islands in TSL. Some very innovative work is being done. I'll try to feature more education projects in TSL in the year ahead.

by Honored Member Ciaran Laval
on ‎01-14-2010 10:55 AM

I mentioned to a Linden a while back that there's an issue for UK education as UK colleges are aimed largely at the 16-18 pre-university market but many colleges have students who are much older than 18. It would be encouraging if there were some sort of crossover setting to cater for such setups.

It's also a shame you can't name the building contractor, it will be interesting to see if they do design buildings in Second Life and having experienced a recent building upgrade at a UK educational insitution that actually has had issues with traffic management since the rebuild, it's interesting to see that such a scenario was spotted via this model of design before it was actually built.

by Advisor Jenni Darkwatch
on ‎01-14-2010 11:05 AM

@Schockwave: True. It means for me as a teacher I have to spend A LOT more time preparing, but it makes for much more intuitive teaching too. And it can be applied not only to science... explaining architecture, designs, heck even language. The school I teach at (VHS, a german RL school which decided to open a separate RL branch - about equivalent to a community college in the US) offers classes ranging from languages, to SL topics like scripting, building etc.pp. as well as travel guides, games and so on and so forth. Quite diverse, and they're always trying to innovate with new ways to learn. And they've been at it for a few years now.

My partner teaches for a school in China (YIYA language school). How's that for telecommuting? Both schools cater to adult students, as they are on the adult grid. Both schools use different concepts. The VHS doesn't pay enough to make it a full time job. YIYA does, my partner lives off that income.

And both schools are quite successful. I've noticed a few community colleges having presences in SL, though i never checked how they use SL.

by Member Arielyn Docherty
on ‎01-14-2010 11:26 AM

When I first came to SL, it was via a graduate class designed to help educators learn to utilize the resources of SL.   I was so excited to take this back to the district in which I teach!   It was then, however, that I encountered the true logistics.  First, my students range in age from 15-18.  That means that most would qualify for the Teen Grid, but a few would be too old.  The next obstacle was the hardware needed to run SL smoothly. Our computers were recently updated, but the graphics card was not a concern when that happened.  Finally, I was astounded at the "flack" I received when I even broached the subject!  Public sentiment about SL in general, at least in my neck of the woods, needs a serious overhaul.

I am anxious to contact Mark inworld and ask some pointed questions about his project.  Great blog!!

by Recognized Resident Jimmie Veeper
on ‎02-25-2010 05:04 AM

Here here! LL needs to address the content deprived TG. As an educator on Sparta Island, it is taxing to create content alone, not relying on other educators in a collaborative nature.

by New Resident Education Ocello
on ‎03-18-2010 06:45 AM

I am also in the UK and a teacher myself and just seen Second Life.  There appears to be many benefits for Second Life with all the schools being builit and redeveloped in the UK.  Schools gain a virtual view of the developemt and building process and how the school would look when completed.  Students and parents would like the virtual concept, even with a characher of themselves in the virtual world.  Another use for the technologhy could be as a resources for learning at all ages and as part of subjects learning.  I will look to see how I will add the idea and and write a bit about Secdond Life in my own website Education Tay that promotes teaching, Education UK and learning.

by Member Sandra Frascati
on ‎03-18-2010 06:54 AM

Very encouraging stuff but you will get flamed for saying Middlesbrough is "near Newcastle". It is, sort of, but the two cities are not fond of each other.

by Honored Resident Claudia.Linden
on ‎03-18-2010 05:05 PM

Thanks for the comments, Education Ocello!

by Honored Resident Claudia.Linden
on ‎03-18-2010 05:07 PM

Hello, Sandra. Well, I think that's a direct quote from Mark in Middlesbrough so maybe he's starting a new trend in warmer relations with Newcastle.