Technology as Learning Environment

By: Laura Fleming
Technology As Learning Environment first appeared on Worlds Of Learning on January 8th, 2014.
Back in 2012, I wrote a post called ‘Growing Up in the Cloud’.  In that piece I pondered how, for children and young people, the Cloud is not a ‘technology’ in the sense thst most adults might consider, but how it is just a word that describes a metaphor for the networked world they are living in and growing up in. Adults know the cloud is a metaphor, but for them it is a metaphor that explains how the networked world works for us; for children and young people, however, it is a metaphor for the very world they live in – an important distinction. I went on in that piece to explain the boundless possibilities that exist in the ecosystem of knowledge and activities that comprises the Cloud, which includes enabling students to participate in and create content, and to collaborate with others, physically and virtually, nearby or anywhere across the globe, through their chosen media.
In a previous post on my blog, I quoted Winston Churchill when he said, “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us” and spoke about how of particular interest to me is how we can broaden the concept of a ‘building’ as physical attributes and physical space to include a virtual space that contributes to learning success.  School libraries in the 21st century should comprise fluid, flexible learning spaces. My goal is to transform my library into a ‘constant learning organization’ and I am about to take another step toward that by exploring the possibilities of 3-D virtual learning and collaboration in the cloud.  We will be exploring how 21st century libraries can use the virtual terrain for face-to-face collaboration, and how we can embed collaboration into the planning and the outcomes of instructional design and the learning process.  We will have an always-open library, where teachers, students, data, and content come together to increase the speed, richness and effectiveness of knowledge creation and knowledge transfer.
Cloud computing is an essential part of collaboration in both the school and the workplace.   A recent research report from The Center for Digital Education outlined ‘7 Reasons to Adopt Mobility and Cloud-Based Initiatives’.  These include:
1.  Effectively engage today’s “digital natives” and prepare them for modern, technology-focused careers
2.  Create a seamless transition between in-class and at-home learning
3.  Change the way students access and learn from information, providing a deeply engaging, student-driven and personalized learning experience.
4.  Provide anytime, anywhere access to online learning resources, collaboration and sharing
5.  Level the playing field for students who don’t have access to computers or broadband Internet access at home
6.  Eliminate the need to carry around or purchase textbooks
7.  Provide access to always-current learning materials and resources
Our virtual environment will be made possible by a solution called ProtoSphere, a 3D collaboration environment created by a company called ProtonMedia that connects people from all around the globe, at any moment in time, from virtually any device.

ProtoSphere brings people, places and data together in an engaging and stimulating virtual world, in which users are represented by avatars.

My intention is to utilize Protosphere as a tool for face-to-face interaction in the virtual space in order to raise student achievement and  to improve student performance overall while enabling our teachers to deliver classes more efficiently and effectively.  Our learners will be able to talk, view and interact with presentation and media content, record notes and access the Web, all at the same time, from anywhere.  Teachers will synchronously teach students and students will asynchronously access materials.    My goal is to embed learning into collaborative processes to improve performance and extend the learning culture and use technology as the learning environment.
Technology, we know, extends our capabilities as human beings, and each new technology extends those capabilities in new ways. The notion of 3-D interaction between people in the Cloud offers, I believe, some very interesting and intriguing aspects for us to consider in relation to extending our human capacity towards new ways of working, new ways of learning and new ways of interacting with each other. Marshall McLuhan’s much misunderstood dictum – “the medium is the message” – seems pertinent to me here. As he wrote in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, the medium is the message….

….is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.

In New Milford High School, we will be experimenting with, and reflecting on, the educational consequences of extending our capacity to interact into a 3-D environment in the Cloud, through Protosphere.
Laura Fleming has been an educator in the state of New Jersey for 16 years and have been both a classroom teacher and media specialist in grades K-12 and currently as a Library Media Specialist for grades 9-12 at New Milford High School.  You can follow her on twitter at @NMHS_lms.

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