Idea's for educational trials of the National Broadband Network (NBN)

This blog has been quiet recently, because we have been busy finishing off large projects. Hopefully over the next few months there will be at least one post a week

Most of this week has been spent putting together Expressions Of Interest's  for the Department of Education in Tasmania for what trails could explore that potential of the National Broadband Network (NBN) for education and learning.  

I thought it might be interesting to share the idea's.  Most of the are a combination content and technology.

This is a long post ...   

Using Interactive Video-based Games for Learning Classic English Texts

BronteJack is sitting in an English class. The lights are out, and the class is watching a movie.

Jack: "I hate watching these films. They are boring. I suppose it's better than having to sit around and read the dumb book, though." 

Teachers use visual media such as video to add a visual layer to studying classic texts. The students' experience with such media is essentially passive. Students such as Jack are disengaged with these styles of passive learning. Jack is not responding well to the process of reading, talking and writing. He needs a learning process that is more active. 

Game-based learning is one of the ways to increase engagement for students such as Jack. 

Chris Crawford, in his book The Art of Computer Games Design, suggests that games are "the most ancient and time-honoured vehicle for education. They are the original educational technology, the natural one."

The most common form of narrative and story telling in games is the process of decision making. (For example, what happens if a player chooses to go through the door on the left?) Computer games are the contemporary Choose Your Own Adventure books, 250 million of these books where sold between 1979 and 1998.a popular children's series during the 1980s and 1990s where the reader assumed the role of the protagonist and made choices that determined the main character's actions in response to each story's plot and outcome. 

During the last 18 months, Sprout Labs has been developing and working with Stem, a web-based open source game engine for developing branching interaction and stories (http://www.sproutlabs.com.au/stem).  

Stem has been used in the context of: 

  • Learning experiences for telephone counselling
  • Business training for electricians
  • Simulation in responsible serving of alcohol training

Our experience with the alcohol training simulation was pivotal in discovering a limitation of the technology over a broadband connection. We originally planned to create a video-based simulation of a conversation with a drunken patron in which the learner had to pick up on non-1verbal cues to decide how intoxicated someone is. Video is the perfect medium for this. As the project developed it became clear that working with video was just not possible with the current bandwidth available to most learners. The learning experience had to be reduced to text, which affected the richness of the learners experience.  

The NBN will allow for these types of media media-rich learning experiences to enable students to reach their full potential.    

With this trial we propose to test how using a branching game containing video transforms the teaching of a classic English text, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontí«.   

Professor Pybus Cassandra from the University of Sydney and Adam Low from the UK-based documentary production company Lone Star Productions have recently completed A Regular Black: The Hidden Wuthering Heights. This inquisitive and unusual documentary is a radical new reading of Wuthering Heights that proposes that Heathcliff was a black slave.The trailer can be viewed at http://sheffielddocfest.joiningthedocs.tv/trailer-a-regular-black.php 

We plan to rework the linear version of the documentary into an online, video-based branching story. Instead of passively watching video, our example student Jack will move around Yorkshire moors, trying to uncover the hidden background story behind Wuthering Heights. He will be choosing who to interview and what questions to ask, and he will be scored on his decision-making skills at the same time.  

Jack's experience of Wuthering Heights now becomes active.  

Similar work is already being undertaken using different tools. One example is Journey to the End of Coal (http://doclab.voyageauboutducharbon.com/). For experiences such as this to be achievable with current bandwidth, the video is restricted to still images and audio, which is what we have doing with in our work for LifeLine. This solution loses a bit of emotional engagement and is not as immersive as it could be using video.   

This trail of the NBN will engage the students in a media media-rich, active and immersive experience that has the opportunity to revolutionise the learning experience of a piece of classic English literature.

Combining virtual worlds with traditional learning management systems 

Tasmania WhalingTwo of the major educational opportunities the NBN creates are:

  •  Real-time communication and collaboration for students
  •  The use of media-rich learning resources 

This trial will explore the opportunities created by combining these possibilities. Learners will work with video-based and visually rich learning resources in a traditional learning management system, and then, based on their inquiries and reflections, they will move into a structured scenario in an immersive virtual world.  

Technically the trial will use SLOODLE (http://www.sloodle.org/moodle/), a system that links Second Life (or Open Sim) with the Learning Management System Moodle.  

What if, instead of talking about history, we could experience it?

What if, instead of looking at photos or drawings of historical sites, we could walk into and through them?

Stepping into History: Exploring the Past through Virtual Worlds.

The learning experience for this trial will be based on Tasmania's whaling history and will explore its interracial, multicultural nature.     

Jorgen Jorgensen claimed to be the first to kill a whale in the River Derwent, in 1804. Jorgensen, an adventurer and once "King of Iceland," wrote:

"I can boast of being the first to kill a whale in the Derwent. Had its brothers and sisters been warned by the violent death to which their near relative was thus subjected, I would have little hope of living in the grateful remembrance of future whalers; but the contrary is the case, for the destruction of one apparently attracted many hundred of others ... and the rising City of Hobart Town is yearly and rapidly become enriched on the oleaginous remains."

Whaling is the industry that defined colonial Tasmania; it's also the industry that Tasmania attempts to forget.

The students will be immersed in a rich historical environment where they will be able to explore issues of identity, culture, social and race relations, and economics. 

Stage 1: Media-rich learning experiences 

UK-based Lone Productions, with Professor Cassandra Pybus, are currently filming "Moby-Dick in the Pacific: The Quest for Queequeg" in NSW and Tasmania. Following the success of the BBC Arena film "The Hunt for Moby-Dick," Philip Hoare, winner of the 2009 BBC Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction. The Quest for Queequeg charts the exotic figure of Queequeg the harpooner, the first Pacific Islander featured in a literary work. The media from this production will be reused and integrated into a learning resource that allows students to research, inquire about and explore the stories of key people in the whaling community. In addition to the video, timelines and maps will offer visual methods of exploring these storie. Using broadband technologies will give students a seamless experience while they work with these highly interactive forms of media. The use of timelines and maps with historical stories builds on the work Sprouts Labs has completed on the Black Loyalist project during 2009 (http://www.blackloyalist.info). 

Some profiles will be: 

  • Whaling tycoon James Kelly is an important figure in Tasmania's development
  • William Lanne (also known as King Billy or William Laney), best known as the last full-blooded Aboriginal Tasmanian man, he was also a whale spotter  

This learning resource will be hosted on the traditional learning management system Moodle. 

Stage 2: Re-enactments in a virtual whaling station  

After working in the resource the students will move on to re-enactment in a virtual whaling station based on the whaling station at Adventure Bay, which James Kelly owned. Extensive archaeological surveys of this station have been completed and the whaling station's details are known.   

The scenario the students will be asked to re-enact is:

James Kelly's son has just drowned in a whaling accident. Kelly needs to find a new harpooner to keep his Adventure Bay whaling station operating. Whaling, however, is a not an attractive job because it's dangerous and gruesome work, so it's hard to find good people.   

A student can choose to play the role of some key figures, including:  

  • James Kelly 
  • William Lanne 
  • A Pacific Island character based on Queequeg
  • An escaped convict working at the whaling station 
  • The captain of an American whaling ship  

These re-enactments could be run at multiple sites. Before participating in the actual re-enactment, students will need to take part in online planning sessions in Second Life, giving them an opportunity to develop new collaborative skills.   

Other approaches could be taken with the same content and scenario; e.g., the students could engage with avatars that are controlled by scripts.     

The trial will deliver a new, innovative learning experience the meets the goals outlined in the Tasmanian Curriculum for Society and History's syllabus.

Using multi-user virtual worlds with the NBN
A virtual version of Sarah Island

Sarah IslandThis project will explore how to use multi-user virtual worlds to transform the way Tasmanian colonial history is taught in schools. Its aim will be to utilise use internationally record collections and award-winning research to further key goals outlined in the Tasmanian Curriculum for Society and History syllabus. In particular, it will provide opportunities for active engaged learning and provide a platform for critical inquiry, analysis, and reflective thinking. It will achieve this by immersing students in a rich historical environment where they will be able to explore issues of identity, culture and social relations, the operation of the law, and the way in which individuals interact with their environment.

Multi-user virtual worlds are one of the bandwidth bandwidth-intensive activities available on the Internet. Their large-scale usage by whole class groups of students at once is outside the bandwidth that most educational institutions currently have. It is one of the learning technologies that NBN will enable. As Clark Aldrich stated in Learning Online with Games, Simulations and Virtual Worlds:

The early evidence, both rigorous and anecdotal, seems to strongly suggest that highly interactive virtual learning is a permanent transformation of the educational landscape, coming out of its somewhat awkward adolescence of and entering maturity. This is due in part to the ability of interactive environments to produce better traditional academic results.

The promise of learning through this technology is that virtual worlds will deliver rich immersive learning experiences that provide a deep level of participation and emotional involvement within a defined context. Students can see, feel, explore, and gain knowledge and understanding of environments that are impossible to visit.

We are proposing to develop a multi-user virtual world that is a test case of how virtual worlds could be used when schools have access to high bandwidth connections. Instead of just proposing to "test ... virtual worlds technology in schools" what we are proposing is an integrated project that includes the technology, content, and implementation.

The trail is based on the book Closing Hell's Gates: The Death of a Convict Station by Hamish Maxwell-Stewart. This text is one of the most significant explorations of convict life in colonial Van Diemen's Land and the only book-length academic study of the operation of an Australian penal station. For twelve long years between 1822 and 1834, Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbor was the most feared place in Australia. Clinging to the shores of the wild western coast of Tasmania and hemmed in on all sides by rugged uncharted wilderness, the environment itself formed the prison walls that confined the unfortunate convict reoffenders who were sent there. Based on detailed early nineteenth century accounts, Closing Hell's Gates reconstructs daily life in a penal station and in the process demonstrates that, even in a place designated as a site of ultimate punishment, it was possible for prisoners to shape the social and physical environment in which they were condemned to toil. While Closing Hell's Gates is an account that does not shy away from the misery of penal station life, it also seeks to explore and explain the rich diversity of the convict story. Many educational virtual environments are only recreations of places the the learner navigates. However, this project is focused on the people and their stories. The scenario will be based around James Thomas, a young groom transported to Macquarie Harbor for masterminding the robbery of the treasury in Hobart Town. This was a spectacular event that involved a great deal of planning. At Macquarie Harbor, James ended up working in the shipyard. He slipped to his death while running along a path behind the fence that protected the hospital from the worst of the wind (it was said that he was returning from a clandestine meeting, although it is not clear whom he had met). He was due to testify to an inquiry about black market trading in government leather. Remarkably, the painted Huon pine grave board erected by his fellow convicts to preserve his memory survives and is part of the collection of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery.

James' story is a mystery that students will be encouraged to unravel. In the process they will have to engage with a number of questions that lie at the heart of any understanding of colonial society. These include: Who were the convicts? What was life like under sentence in colonial Van Diemen's Land? What was the purpose of penal stations, and who was sent to labor in them?

While exploring these issues students will be introduced to a range of source materials. These could include:

  • Digital images of the convict records held by the Archives Office of Tasmania (recently inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register);
  • Nineteenth century and contemporary views, maps, and plans of Sarah Island (part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Site);
  • The trials of prisoners in the British Isles that resulted in sentences of transportation contained within the Old Bailey Online website;
  • The transcriptions of correspondence relating to Sarah Island available through the Parks and Wildlife website;
  • The population, punishment, description, and other databases relating to Sarah Island, assembled by Maxwell-Stewart, together with transcriptions of convict and other records;
  • The relational database of the Tasmanian colonial population, assembled by the Australian Research Council-funded team headed by Maxwell-Stewart, containing in excess of 900,000 records.

The availability of these materials presents exciting opportunities. It is now possible to link images of records to transcripts, to create navigational tools to guide students through related record collections, and to provide access to the results of research on those record collections that explore issues lying at the heart of the development of Tasmanian society.

Two different approaches could be taken for the scenario

  1. Students would be given the task of unravelling the mystery of James Thomas' death, by exploring the simulation of the island and by talking with avatars that are driven by both scripts.
  2. Using a website and resources that go along with the project, students could research James Thomas and other aspects of the story of the penal station and colonial life generally, then actually build parts of the world and role-play and reenact the events.

This could make a significant multi-site trial. The final solution could be a combination of both approaches.

With both approaches, consideration needs to be given to the implementation and the skills of students and teachers. Sprout Labs would provide training and support to the teachers and students involved. What is exciting about this project is that it presents the opportunity to use existing resources to create a world-class educational tool that will enable Tasmanian school children to explore internationally recognized historical and cultural resources that will inform them about the development of their environment.

Smart Workshops 

Smart Workshop

"Smart objects and devices connect objects in the physical world with one another and with relevant information. A host of underlying technologies support smart objects, but the key to their potential is not in the technology but in its ability to collect, store, and transmit data about themselves and the world around them. Smart objects and devices are increasingly common in the consumer world, but they are just beginning to enter the educational arena. Early applications focus on real-world data collection and linking multimedia information to everyday objects, but additional uses are emerging as the supporting technologies become smaller, cheaper, and easier to use."

Horizon Report: 2009 Australia-New Zealand Edition

During 2009 Sprout Labs has been working with The Tasmania Skills Institute (TSI) to develop smart workshops in the Joinery and Furniture area to provide a new way of engaging with students who have traditionally struggled. This was under the 2009 Australian Flexible Learning Framework Innovations project. 

When working in the workshop, students are able to access touch screens with video based Standard Operation Procedures (SOP-Builder) for some of the common pieces of fixed machinery.   

The student feedback has been positive.  

  • They are positive about being able to have control over when they access information. This means they are more comfortable when they forget what they need to do and have to review material.
  • These are students who don't use computers everyday; the touch screen gives them an accessible interface which is easier to use. 
  • Because the material is video based, the students have a detailed visual guide of how to work safely with the machinery. Learners who are attracted to these "hands-on" areas often struggle in a traditional school environment because they are visual learners. The visual touch based resources engage these students.  

touch screen

These are new types of visual job aids.  

To achieve this project, a web application called SOP-Builder was developed. The application allows for collaborative sequencing and some collaborative development of the SOP's in a shared online environment. 

The system allows the SOP's to be exported in different formats including:

  • As an HTML based version for using on the touch screen 
  • As IMS Learning Objects so the learning assets can be used in a Learning Management System and can be shared. 
  • A print version  

One of the limiting factors with the system and workflow was the need to download the touch screen version, drive to the workshop and update the files. 

Our vision of the Smart Workshops trials is to extend the project in the following ways:  

  • Using the solution with students in 7-10 years 7-10.   
  • Adding mobile media and using QR-codes with power tools and hand tools 
  • Developing a workflow that allows teachers to choose which SOP's they need in their workshop and having those SOP's appear automatically on the correct touch screen.   

1) Using the solution with students in years 7-10

The nature of work in the in trades like joinery is changing. To increase productivity, businesses are using computer controlled systems for fixed machinery (CNC) more often. This means that the learner needs a new combination of IT skills and trade skills. Learners need to able to work with technologies within the workshops. This project gives students the opportunity to do this.  

The solution allows the students to have the same benefits that the TSI students have had:

  1. Access to just-in-time, location-based learning support that they control.  
  2. Access to engaging visual learning experiences.   

2) Adding mobile media and using QR codes with power tools and hand tools 

Imagine for a moment Jim is working in a workshop. 

Jim picks up the planer. It's been a while since he has used the planer. So he grabs his mobile out of his pocket, he turns on his QR reader and points the camera at the bar code on the planer. The phone uses wi-fi to access video files on the touch screen in the corner of the workshop. A video made by one his teachers plays. It gives him details about how to work with the planer. This takes Jim about 3 minutes and he is now happy that he knows what he doing.  

Instead of being the student's phone the device could be a device such as an ipod touch which is supplied to students for use in the workspaces.      

What is a QR code? 

qr code

QR Codes store addresses and URLs and can appear in magazines, on signs, buses, business cards or just about any object that users might need information about. Users with a camera phone equipped with QR reader software can scan the image of the QR Code causing the phone's browser to launch and redirect the phone to the programmed URL. This act of linking from physical world objects is known as a hardlink or physical world hyperlinks.  QR Codes are a well developed technology that is common in countries such as Japan. The uptake of them in Australia has been slow because of the cost of mobile data. They are the solution that the Horizon Report explores extensively.  

The other solutions would be RFID tags NOT to using RFID tags in a projects such as this are

QR Codes RFID tags
Most phone and mobile devices have a
Not many mobile devices have an RFID
QR codes can be printed on any printer RFID tag needs to be purchased
One QR code is linked to media or a URL
once and then it can be reproduced easily.
Some of the common technology used in
learning, such as the "RFID Learning
Tables" require the programming of every
tag, which is time consuming.
It's a mature technology In the area of smart objects for learning itʼs
an emerging technology. They are used in
other areas extensively.

The suggestion of using QR Codes is based on the problems and failures we had in using an RFID based solution in the project during 2008. That project focused on students with low literary skills and learning disabilities developing skills in housekeeping for the hospitality industry.   

Well feel that QR codes are the key technology to making smart objects a reality today.  

3) Developing a workflow that allows teachers to choose which SOP's they need in their workshop and then those automatically appear on their touch screen.

The media for these touch screens and mobile devices are bandwidth intensive. They make a good test case for the types of workflows and sharing that can occur with high bandwidth. The scenario would like to see is:  

Adam knows there is new a SOP for the rip saw that one of the other schools have developed. SOP-Builder sent him an email message to say it had been uploaded. He logs in to the SOP-Builder system and the clicks a box saying that he would like that SOP in his workshop. He can preview what the touch screen is going to look like. SOP-Builder then sends the 2Gb of files for this SOP to the touch screen in Adam's workshop. That package includes the high definition video files and the mobile media. Adam also prints out the QR code onto stickers and he puts one on the actual rip saw, so students can access the mobile version.   

block diagram

This system aids in the sharing of media-rich learning resources.

There also exist possibilities for engaging interfaces that use multi-touch technologies