My most cherished learning experience occurred in my mid-twenties. I had taken a break from work to raise a family and decided I would return to a formal learning environment and obtain some new technology qualifications before re-entering the work force.
I reflect often on what it was that made this particular period of learning so memorable. My teacher had only been teaching for two years, was in her late forties/early fifties and had no prior work experience. She had raised her family and had been a stay-at-home mum until her children had grown and left home. Amazingly, in that whole time she’d not used a computer, not even turned one on. She decided to return to study and learn how to use one; working through the qualification levels until she’d obtained her Diploma in Information Technology. It was at this stage she was offered a job teaching, and two years later became my teacher.
Her experience as an adult learner made her a great teacher; she motivated and encouraged our whole class. She had a light hearted approach, was cheerful, warm and put those around her at ease. Her knowledge was fresh. Through narrative and storytelling a wonderful community of learning was formed in that classroom. A gifted listener that conveyed genuine empathy, she could relate to our struggles… at times she learnt with us, sitting beside us and discovering how to complete the tasks at hand. She became my mentor.
So what was it that made that particular period of learning so memorable? It was the way in which our learning was situated in social activity. It was the safety of the environment provided in which to experience growth without fear. It was the trust and mutual respect extended as we celebrated each small achievement. It was how beautifully we were shown what it is to learn.
There were eleven of us in that computer class, we all obtained our qualification, four of us went on to occupations that involved teaching or education (odd for an Information Technology class).
For some thirteen years now I have been teaching alongside this person whom I still see as my mentor rather than my colleague.
Well here we are in 2012, and I find myself wondering if the chance to use Second Life has now well and truly passed. Can virtual worlds help to engage students? Can they add another dimension to online learning or do they distract students??? Major issues involve adequate bandwidth and the rather steep learning curve for many students. In 2011 I had a bit of a play around with Second Life again… wondering if the NBN would be the catalyst for great things to come for the regional learning experience. The students that participated loved it, but we had to do it of an evening in our own time as the Polytechnic network was just way to slow and NBN didn't come as promised!
If only we had support for it earlier! In 2008, I first became acquainted with Second Life, looking at ways I could integrate it into my teaching practice. I also began teaching Project Management , which I’m still thoroughly enjoying. I’m hoping to use Second Life as a meeting space for some of our class discussions. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have stumbled upon a group in SL that have offered us a RL project to complete as a group in SL – this will be a bit of an experiment to start with, but I’m keen to give it a shot. Our team experimented with OpenSim in 2009… which was pretty exciting stuff. I would love to have seen this integrated into our current LMS… and looking closer at the educational value that virtual worlds can bring to online learning environments. Is it a waste of time?
My Avatar in Second Life: Nohj Sideways
As a teacher I derive a lot of joy out of immersing myself in learning. Creating new content for courses is as much a learning journey as it is preparation for teaching. It also gets me back into the shoes of a learner, having a crack at new things, failing miserably, having a cuppa, and then taking another stab at it. To love what I do creates genuine enthusiasm for what I teach, allowing me to convey genuinely and honestly a love of growth through learning. For me satisfaction comes when I see a shift in a person’s willingness to explore and discover, when I see people realise that failure and mistakes are natural parts of learning… to fail is to grow, because you realise you have something to learn, and you also learn what doesn't work! Just as important as learning what does work, if not more so. I don’t want to teach people how to pass an assessment. I want to teach them how to bounce when they fail!