Last Saturday, the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) conference wrapped up, with attendees taking away new inspiration, fresh ideas and a sense of excitement about changes in education trends and the role of virtual worlds. This year’s theme was “Be brave, be creative, be EPIC!” Indeed, volunteers and educators alike were seen wearing their most heroic and unique looks.
The free conference opened with a Dragon Parade on Social Island. Dragon avatars were distributed freely to anyone who wanted to join in. It was fun, if executed a little differently. A typical parade consists of a march along a designated route; a confetti-strewn path showed marchers the way. Dragons can fly, however, so many used the shortest route between Point A, the start of the parade, and Point B, the dance floor up on the mountain, to fly back and forth, laughing, teasing and enjoying themselves immensely.
Presenters talked about a broad range of topics. Many centered around furthering the use of various types of virtual environments and tools in education. Very exciting new developments were shared, like the use of Minecraft or World of Warcraft gaming in the classroom, and taking virtual worlds beyond the classroom on mobile devices – indeed, there were spirited discussions of the pros and cons of “gamification” of education.
In the weeks prior to the conference, iSkye volunteered her mentoring skills and was assigned two presenters to assist in preparing their presentations. One presenter was an English gentleman working in Japan; the other a Spanish-speaking linguist from Valencia, Spain. She was pleased to observe that both presentations were well received. She assisted others in various ways throughout the three-day event and attended a good number of the presentations.
Leon went to a workshop at the conference. Virtual world notables were in attendance throughout the conference, from Pathfinder (John) Lester of ReactionGrid to Pooky Amsterdam to Secondlie (in his usual sharp-tongued satirical form).
Cooper Macbeth and Ute Frenberg introduced a revolutionary, 3D approach to learning mathematics that lets the brain “see” complex concepts within minutes; it was tested on students as young as five with impressive results. Conference-goers were treated to a “sushi bar” demonstration over a series of four workshops during the conference. More than a few gasps of “Oh, wow, this is FANTASTIC!” were heard, to the presenters’ great satisfaction.
Educators submitted into contests the interactive posters and machinima they had created with their students; attendees were encouraged to visit the posters and view the machinima selections, then vote on their favourites.
There was much talk of engaging students as active participants in learning, with teachers as stewards – even “Lorekeepers” – essentially getting out of the students’ way. There can be no more “one size fits all” approaches to teaching, or learning. A tool is worthless if a person cannot use it, and so there was emphasis on ensuring that virtual worlds and online learning are accessible to all learners through the application of Universal Design concepts and other methods.
Bubbling over with enthusiasm at the close of the conference, people expressed a desire to compare notes on their progress after they’d returned home, and a few online discussion forums cropped up. There is even an online “course” to expand on the ideas shared at the conference. Frequent exclamations of “See you online!” were interspersed with farewells at the close of the event. As they went their different ways back to the physical world, it was a delight to see inspired education professionals exhorting each other to: