Peter Wootten, Senior Visual Arts teacher from Dulwich High School of Visual Arts and Design writes about how 3D Virtual Worlds can be integrated in all Key Learning Areas (KLAs) and the impact this has made on his Year 10 class.

I have written in past blogs about the WHEN2050 project in respect to how my year 10 visual arts students engaged with the ramifications of using digital technology, designing in a 3-D space/virtual world and documenting the process in a text format within Edmodo. So, I can appreciate that teachers/educators across Key Learning Areas and working with students of different competencies may wonder how can the work of this project benefit their teaching practice when it is clearly a visual arts activity. I will address this, but first let’s look at the big picture and put this into context. Welcome to the 21st century! Short and sweet, this is what the WHEN2050 project is fundamentally about. There has been much talk and some action taken to address the needs of education in the 21st century.

Unfortunately the visionary is often undermined by the economic and while the economics (the cost of investing in technology) is a reality, so to is the reality of a rapidly changing world and not falling behind. In generations past, huge amounts of money have been spent on producing textbooks, notebooks etc. to support a child’s education. That has required millions of trees to produce paper, to print information on…. that in these days becomes quickly outdated. It also provides a limited educational experience essentially bound to what is between the covers of the book! NEWSFLASH: The textbook has gone digital Today a computer, laptop or ipad can connect with information from all over the world instantly, have it produced in colour, provide video presentations and visual/ audio media and have the information constantly up-dated. Students no longer read about but can also visit places, engage with people…..and this is just the beginning!

This is the present and very much the future of education and it is here that educators and governments need to overcome their procrastination and avoidance of embracing the biggest revolution in education since the industrial revolution and begin to invest in the resources and programs to deliver. The technology is the tool, a powerful tool that provides for unparalleled opportunities for learning within the classroom or at home, as an individual or class. Those students that are highly motivated, there are few restrictions to how they may extend themselves, while those who grapple with traditional ways of learning can be engaged with basic skills, which develop their self, esteem and promote learning. To meet societies requirements as an advanced, highly educated nation that can quickly respond to the needs of an ever changing global world and can compete confidently and successfully with other nations, the challenge is clearly there. Governments, private corporations, bureaucrats, educators, teachers from kindergarten to university graduates must not shirk away, but take decisive action in whatever capacity available to them to move our student’s education and our nation’s welfare into the digital age.

To be a luddite is to put our future in peril, to say “not now- another time” is avoidant and negligent in using current opportunities and tantamount in not investing in our student’s future as a country of opportunity. To meet these challenges money and resources are required. We talk of the digital education revolution representing the biggest change to education since the industrial revolution but approach it as if it were a passing fad. All stakeholders should be involved in committing to a comprehensive delivery to the educational needs and societal needs of the 21st century. WHEN2050 means NOW So, I come back to address how the WHEN2050 project has significance for all Key Learning Areas. Everyday we are faced with problems to solve, be they of a personal nature or implicit within the work we do. The ability to solve problems is about making solutions. Solutions allow things to work better and are therefore beneficial to individuals and society. It is our ability to solve problems that give us confidence, self-esteem and importantly a sense of empowerment, being in control. Conversely, when we feel limited in our ability to solve problems we feel insecure, dependent and unempowered.

The key is building in all our students a belief in Self- to solve problems, to access whatever resources or information they need to move them forward. When2050 is all about creative solution making. On the surface it may read as a visual art tool, but in fact it applies to everything. The technology involved in WHEN2050 empowered all my students, confident and less confident to have the digital tools to solve their problem. The task that they had to solve, a building for the year 2050 had many problems, large and small for them to solve. The technology streamlined that process delivery quick answers, confirmation of success or a problem still be resolved or tweaked. I am very proud of the amazing solutions the students produced and in fact how they are close to what is currently being produced in university architecture courses! As their teacher I am more gratified by observing how these students used the technology as a tool to further their ideas, test their ideas, make mistakes, explore, imagine, appropriate….and create! Edmodo proved a fantastic vehicle to record the whole ride from student’s perspective and concurrently had them involved in a writing, reading, reflecting activity everyday. All KLAs involve providing information.

Successful learning and successful students accrues when students take control of their learning and engage in the process of solution making. That could be not just writing an essay, but creatively embedding a video file within the document or a series of links that illustrate their extended research. Student responses are enhanced through visual learning where seeing something beyond only text engages with them providing insight, understanding, affecting interpretation….opening up the learning experience. There are enormous opportunities in all KLAs and across all age groups and abilities to use digital technology as a powerful tool to engage students in learning. Our current student population are already savvy to the technology and the strong focus on visuals, audio and communication. If teachers utilised these more within their teaching practice they would find a significant connectivity with their students in learning and improved outcomes. Teachers need to be supported in pursuing these approaches as part of their skills for addressing education in the 21st century.

I recommended that teachers read Jason’s blog entry on how he thinks virtual world technology could embellish learning in KLAs. Jason is a Year 10 student in the WHEN2050 project. Back to the Big Picture The WHEN2050 project didn’t just happen. It took a lot of planning and organisation, long before my school came onboard. I have discussed how we are in the midst of a new age in learning and delivery of education. Pioneering this work are the highly dedicated members of Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre and specifically Project Manager – Katy Lumkin, Researcher – Andrew Cram, Project Officer – Jan Eade, Technology Wiz – Roger Buck and Visionary Guide, Deborah Evans – Centre Director of MacICT. This team are based on the Macquarie University campus in Sydney and are a NSW Department of Education and Training organisation that are involved in several projects with schools from K-12 exploring how technology can be incorporated into children’s learning experience that quantifiably extends and embellishes student education. The research is shared with Macquarie University.

Katy Lumkin is representative of the MacICT team who works extremely long hours in pursuit of the latest advances around the world in technology in education and how these may be incorporated into delivering professionally designed projects that are rigorous in development and support to teachers and schools. The work of MacICT and the amazing results that they are achieving should never be restricted to a one off project, but where the benefits to students in engaging them in technology are clearly demonstrated, making that accessible to the student population. In essence, where these projects and research vindicate, the use of technology in promoting student learning and creative solution making should be made possible and not mothballed because of lack of funds or short sightedness by administrators. Re: my earlier comments of taking responsibility now for investing in the future. These are of course my personal thoughts. They have grown out of my experience as a teacher working with students as they were introduced to this technology and the joy that comes from observing them “blossom” in their creative problem solving skills to produce impressive results. What could be better than to witness a group of young people all grow in self-esteem, confidence and collegiality?