Abroad

People, places and spaces…

1 November

Unfortunately I had booked with Qantas but I was extremely lucky to get a ticket to London Heathrow with Singapore Airlines last Saturday night but I had to contend with 9 hours stopover in Singapore. Changi Airport is very efficient and so was the Transit Hotel in Terminal 3. Just to stretch out and sleep was a bonus. Free wifi only in the airport but not in the room… I was too tired to check any emails. Flight to London leaving in less than 90 minutes. Next leg will be 14 hours, arriving around 3:20pm UK time. Then it will be a train from London Euston National Rail to Coventry.

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Getting through customs at the UK border was relatively smooth. It only took about an hour, considering the crowds that surged into arrivals. I must say that the transport system, especially the trains are fantastic. Sitting on the train to Coventry in first class with my table and wifi (thanks Pam). ETA 8:02pm. I will be visiting Cathy Tombs tomorrow at Coventry University.

2 November

I walked from my hotel to the Techno Centre, Coventry University after breakfast this morning. It is slightly overcast and peak hour traffic has begun to pick up. The Techno Centre building is about a 10 minute walk from the railway station. This modern building appears quite incongruous against a backdrop of 1970s apartment blocks. Cathy Tombs is the organizer of the Innovative Research in Virtual Worlds Conference. After a short meeting with Cathy to discuss about my presentation on 4 November and proceedings for conference, I set about exploring the town centre. Some of Coventry’s highlights included the statue of Lady Godiva, the famous Coventry Cathedral and Herbert Art Gallery.

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3-4 November

I had the opportunity to present our work at Coventry University: ‘Learning by Designing in Virtual Worlds’. This was a two day conference was held at the Techno Centre at Coventry University. This conference on Innovative Research in Virtual Worlds brought together a range of people from around the world and included sessions that were both research-based and reflections and challenges of implementation. Professor Mike Sharples, Dr Gary Priestnall and Professor Judith Molka-Danielsen brought diverse and challenging perspectives to the debates about virtual world learning. The conference presentations included those from the practical and creative areas of theatre studies and health as well as virtual worlds in schools. There were presentations examining issues of identity, transition, frameworks and design as well as discussions about the complexities of doing research with and in virtual worlds.

Professor Mike Sharples, Open University and Dr Gary Priestnall, University of Nottingham gave a fascinating keynote presentation.Virtual Worlds from lab to field: learning about landscape through high fidelity virtual worlds. Applications included use of Google Earth, SL, semi-immersive virtual reality, in-field virtual reality with head mounted display, in-field interaction with virtual models via mobile device and a projection-augmented physical model. The Target group were first year Geography university students. This was an interesting set of applications especially the last one, where they are creating a white 3D model made from 3D printer then projecting visual data from top down onto surface. Students were then able to make relationships between the virtual and real. An extension of mobile learning devices, virtual worlds and AR. The research objective was to examine the technical and educational affordances of a range of techniques which involve high fidelity virtual models for teaching and learning about landscapes.

Professor Judith Molka-Danielsen spoke about the various innovative pedagogic approaches for learning through the application of virtual worlds. She has been working in this field since 2006. Her presentation highlighted the pedagogical opportunities and described what other educators have done in virtual worlds and suggested research directions.

Dinner at St. Mary’s Guildhall was a wonderful way to continue the conversations from day one of the conference. This was one of the unusual sculptures that was positioned near the entrance of this building. The conference also gave me the opportunity to meet people from around the world who are currently conducting innovative educational research in virtual worlds. I have made many new friends from this experience.

I took the one hour train back to London to see the Christmas lights at Harrods in Knightsbridge. As you can see, it was a spectacular image while walking along windy Brompton Road that evening.

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5-6 November

A 4.5 hours train journey from London Euston to Glasgow was on the agenda. However, due to rail work issues, the scheduled train was cancelled and it took 8 hours from London Kings Cross to Glasgow via Edinburgh. This was a scenic tour of Scotland only it starts to get dark after 4pm.
I finally arrived in Glasgow around 8pm. The temperature has dropped dramatically to around 3 degrees Celsius. Glasgow Central station has very ornate features but I got a better glimpse of the intricate designs the next day. I was very happy to see a taxi waiting in Gordon Street.

Glasgow looks totally different by day. The temperature was minus 2 degrees in the early hours of the morning as I took a walk down Hope Street on Sunday. I do miss the warmer temperatures of Sydney. The streets were bare save for rustling of leaves and newspapers left behind on the foot path. Charles Rennie Macintosh’s architectural designs included the Glasgow School of Arts, which was just a short stroll from my hotel. I spent the day visiting local attractions which included the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) which was originally a mansion prior to 1776 and then sold to the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1817 and later became a library.

7 November

I visited my first Scottish school today, Garnock Academy in Kilbirnie. This is a comprehensive high school with about 1100 students. A 45 minutes bus ride from Buchannan Bus Station to Garden City and a walk up the hill. As the bus swerved into the quiet town, the first thing I noticed was the picturesque houses and misty skies. The bus driver was very helpful and gave me directions to Garnock Academy, on School Road (not very original). Mr Matthew Reid is a young English teacher who has been developing an interesting course in Game Design for the past thre years to assist in literacy improvement in his school. He has achieved astounding results from this initiative. Derek Robertson, National Adviser for New and Emerging Technologies assisted Matthew’s goals with 20 laptops for his classroom. Wifi connectivity is the next stage in his plan. Students are currently examining what good game design is in Year 1 high school (12-13 years) and are working on a collaborative game design project with students from other years using a program called RPG Maker VX. The two boys in Year 2 (14 years), Callum and Andrew were teaching the class while the teacher facilitated. Students were highly engaged and switched on in the lesson.

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8 November

Today was a train ride to Old Kilpatrick from Glasgow Queen Street Station. The 8:53 am train left promptly from platform 8. Gillian Penny, Head Teacher (Principal) of Gavinburn Primary School and ADE (Apple Dedicated Educator) picked me up from Kilpatrick. Not many people get off this stop in th morning. Gillian Penny has been working with her staff and students in projects such as ‘Band in a Box’ and game design with Microsoft Kodu. More recently she has been writing teaching packages for teachers on a newly developed game called Dr Who. The game is free in the UK but can be downloaded for a fee for countries outside of UK – http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/dw/theadventuregames

Gillian spoke about how she has embedded game based learning in her school with particular emphasis on the planning stage. What impressed me the most about the school was the inviting learning spaces created by staff and students. Gillian’s enthusiasm, passion and inspiring leadership has obviously made an indelible mark on her staff and now on me. I hope to work with Gillian on our 3D Virtual Worlds Project in the future. Gillian is also keen to collaborate.

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9 November

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I left Glasgow in the late afternoon to travel to Aberdeen. Aberdeen is Scotland’s third most popular city. Known as the granite city because many of the buildings were constructed from this material. I told to expect cooler temperatures but I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived. It was windy but not as cold as I expected. The next morning, I met Rosaleen Rentoul who collected me from my hotel. Rosaleen is the Principal Officer (Learning Resources) for Aberdeen City. I travelled with Ros to Marischal College. Marischal College is a building and former university in the centre of the city of Aberdeen in north-east Scotland. The building is owned by the University of Aberdeen and headquarters of Aberdeen city council. This historic building could only be best described as a medieval castle. The feeling of grandeur as the glass doors opened into the reception area. Unexpectedly, I was given a window of opportunity to give a quick presentation of our project. Ros and I then travelled to Loirston Primary School and Kincorth Academy. The interesting thing about these two schools was the innovative teaching practices and the fact that they were attempting to bridge the gap between primary and high school. Today was the first time I had seen children using GLOW, Education Scotland’s comprehensive intranet for staff and students. Students were using WordPress blogs to critically reflect their learning,uploading photographs and videos to their individual blogs. An e-portfolio is initiated in primary school and continued into high school, which will document the learning journey of students in Scotland. Graduating students also had an opportunity export their e-portfolio at the end of their studies. This is an excellent concept and most schools were attempting to following in the similar footsteps as Loirston PS and Kincorth. Education Scotland is currently working on updating broadband for schools to 100mb (some schools are still trying to operate on 10). What I was impressed with the most was the level of commitment and creativity that I had witnessed in the last few days that has made an huge impact on my own approaches to teaching.

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10-13 November
By now I have acquainted myself with procedures for catching trains, dragging luggage (luckily, getting lighter) and working out destinations. I have just arrived in Dundee in the evening and looking forward to finally meeting Derek Robertson (National Adviser for New and Emerging Technologies in Scotland) who had arranged all the school visits for me in Scotland. I will be spending 4 nights in Dundee and catching up on a few things such as sleep. In the afternoon will be visiting Newburgh Primary School to meet with Karl Barrs. Newburgh took about 45 minutes by car from Dundee. My appointment with Karl was not until 2pm to see his class and after school groups. Karl has been working with developing games with his class using Scratch. Scratch is an open source software that teaches children programming with a drag and drop interface. Students can compile their own instructions in a syntax format. His class has created some brilliant pieces of work and the high level of engagement and motivation stood out. His students all enjoyed using Scratch and were able to competently explain the logic and application of their games. Karl is always thinking about how he can make his classes interesting. He has just devised a geocaching project that will include his students using a public blog with the bag of koala bears that I had given his class. How about that for CREATIVITY! Some interesting conversations on Twitter evolved from his new project.

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I spent 11 November with Derek Robertson and Alex Duff looking at 3D Virtual Worlds projects such as Linlithgow Palace and CANVAS. In 2009, while researching on OpenSim and art, I had come across this project. This had led to a couple of Skype sessions, emails and many conversations in Twitter with Derek over the last three years. This ambitious project which had included over 30 local authorities participating in an exhibition of student 2D artwork with an accompanying audio of each work proved to be a difficult task to get through the various ports. Both Linlithgow Palace and CANVAS are impressive virtual worlds for students to explore in GLOW.
Dinner at the Roberton household could only be described as lively with Derek’s two daughters, Amy and Lucy (8 and 9 years old respectively). I also met Derek’s partner, Fiona who invited me to dinner at their house in Dundee. I was made very welcomed through out this tour of Scotland and I have also had jopportunities to develop networks with passionate teachers, which has been fabulous! On 13 November, I caught the bus to visit the University town, St. Andrews about 30 minutes from Dundee – My last night in Scotland.

14 November

Sunday morning was a train to Newcastle to visit Academy 360 on Monday morning. I met Kevin Burden and Chris Bromfield at the Coventry conference earlier. Kevin is the Director of post-graduate professional development (PPD) in the Faculty of Education at the University of Hull, working to support the professional learning needs of educators across the region. He is the programme director for the Advanced Certificate in Sustained Professional Development (ACSPD), a Teacher Development Agency (TDA) programme based around action research in the work-place. Recently he has been appointed to lead the strategic development of Technology Related Learning (TEL) across the Faculty of Education and is currently working with colleagues to accomplish this. Kevin’s own research interests are related to both professional development and the role and impact of new and emerging technologies. He is particularly interested in the emergence of new media forms and how they can be incorporated into teaching and learning. Kevin and I caught the metro together at 9:00am to South Hylton, about 30 minutes from Newcastle, near Sunderland. We had a stimulating conversation about pedagogy and the integration of ICT in teaching and learning.

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Academy 360 is an all MAC environment with sweeping open plan designs, sunlight light infused rooms from the large expansive glass panels which are part of the school landscape. A comprehensive school catering for ages 4-17 year olds, wi school divided into three groups. The local community had injected funds to develop the state of the art classrooms for teaching and learning. Denise Green (Librarian and Learning Resource Manager) took me on a tour of this well equipped and state of the art school. All rooms were equipped with Apple computers, even the artroom had a 3D printer (impressive). Kevin and I met with Premkumar Krishnan who was developing an OpenSim environment for teachers to initiallly explore and then for integration into teaching and learning later. Hull University is piloting this project with this school to see how virtual worlds could be integrated into the curriculum. This project is in its early stages but it will be interesting to see the progress sometime next year. Hull University is also working with DADEN and looking at 2D images rezzed into 3D with this software. Therefore, making it easier for teachers to create scenarios for their classes.

15-16 November

An interview with Peter Twining will be postponed to 2 December (Skype Session)due to conflicting appointments. I am very interested to see where SCHOME (School at Home) is up to since Teen Grid had dissolved with Linden Lab. I spent the time catching up with this blog and organising the next leg of my tour to New York.

17 November

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This is Bromley College which is located in Bromley South about 20 minutes train journey from London Victoria and 10 minutes bus ride. This school is equivalent to our TAFENSW system which caters for students. I was introduced to Clive Gould (IT teacher) through Justin Clarke-Casey, one of the core OpenSim developers in the UK. Clive Gould and Barry Spencer have been using OpenSim for the last three years which is located on 3 servers of the College. Clive and Barry have been using OpenSim to teach programming and software design. It was great to finally put a face to all the contributions that Clive has made on the OpenSim community. Unfortunately, other faculties have been slow to embrace this technology at the College. We discussed how TAFENSW have been experimenting with Second Life to create simulations for teaching and learning. At the moment there is no solution for an OpenSim browser to cater to all the requirements. It was suggested to me to look at Phoenix (1.x client) and Firestorm (2.x client) browsers. I spent the afternoon researching on The Rose Theatre an amazing detailed architectural design in Second Life. I can’t wait to explore the Script OAR that Clive sent me when I get home.

18 November

I will be catching the morning train to Bristol to meet with Sue Cranmer (Futurelab). I am looking forward to discuss some of the research that has been conducted by this organization.

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