Monday, July 02, 2007

Engage Me, Immerse Me, Learn Me?...

There have been a lot of posts lately on the SLED (Second Life Educators) mailing list on the subject of immersiveness.
The debate has been over the issue of if you are immersed in something, in this case Second Life, is learning necessarily happening? Also, if this immersive experience has engaged learners, are those learners actually learning anything?

To me the answers to these questions are critical - if we engage our learners, and they become immersed in their learning environments, yet no learning is occurring, where does that leave us as educators, and more importantly, what does it mean for out learners? As we explore and move towards PLEs, and other customized, individualized approaches to learning, we have to have the answers to these questions.

What is engagement, what is immersiveness, and what do either one have to do with learning? The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) defines engaging learners as:

"Engaging learners in the process of learning involves teachers adopting and fostering active, interactive and deep learning approaches so that learners can interact meaningfully with the concepts, materials, processes and people in a course." (the italics are mine)

As for immersing learners in their learning environments, one of the newest set of tools and technologies for doing this is Immersive Education. Immersive Education is an initiative of Media Grid. Media Grid (as defined on its Web site) is:

"The Media Grid is a computational grid platform that provides digital media delivery, storage and processing (compute) services for a new generation of networked applications. Built using Internet and Web standards, the Media Grid combines Quality of Service (QoS) and broadcast features with distributed parallel processing capabilities. Together these features create a unique software development platform designed specifically for networked applications that produce and consume massive quantities of digital media. The Media Grid is powered by service providers (such as rendering farms, clusters, high-performance computer systems, computational grids, and similar systems) that furnish on-demand services to Media Grid clients (users).

As an open and extensible software development and delivery platform the Media Grid is designed to enable a wide range of applications not possible with the traditional Internet and World Wide Web. Applications enabled by the Media Grid include: Immersive Education; on-demand digital cinema and interactive movies; distributed film and movie rendering; truly immersive multiplayer games and virtual reality; real-time visualization of complex data (weather, medical, engineering, and so forth); telepresence and telemedicine (remote surgery, medical imaging, drug design, etc.); vehicle and aircraft design and simulation; and similar high-performance media applications. The Media Grid is modeled after an improved national power grid, with added security and stability features that eliminate downtime and blackouts."

Media Grid defines Immersive Education (the tool) as:

"A novel learning platform that combines interactive 3D graphics, commercial game and simulation technology, virtual reality, voice chat (Voice over IP/VoIP), Web cameras (webcams) and rich digital media with collaborative online course environments and classrooms. Immersive Education gives participants a sense of "being there" even when attending a class or training session in person isn't possible, practical, or desirable, which in turn provides educators and students with the ability to connect and communicate in a way that greatly enhances the learning experience.

Unlike traditional computer-based learning systems, Immersive Education is designed to immerse and engage students in the same way that today’s best video games grab and keep the attention of players."

So if we use this information to define engaging and immersing learners, we now need to answer the question "does learning happen when learners are engaged and immersed?" In my mind the answer is a simple yes, if you are engaged and immersed in what you are doing them learning will occur, if only by "osmosis". But several people have raised some interesting issues on SLED. I'll summarize them here:
  • Learners are different today (Presnsky - digital native/digital immigrant)
  • Today's learners read few books
  • They have shorter "sound bite" attention spans
  • They lack literacy skills and information discrimination skills (good vs faulty data)
  • They play video games and watch TV
  • The old lecture, classroom style of learning is not reaching today's learners, but Nintendo is
  • Many teachers and facilitators don't "get" their learners
So what are the implications for us as adult educators? As far as I am concerned in order for learning to happen there MUST be engagement - without engagement all the learner hears is a lot of noise. Now do learners also need to be immersed in their learning environments/opportunities for learning to happen? Probably not as long as they are engaged in learning, but I also think that the more immersive a learning experience is, the more learning occurs. Even taking in all of the points raised above engagement and immersion are key to learning happening, perhaps more now than ever. I think the big issue here is educators who don't see the engagement and immersion happening because they don't "get" their learners - that's the issue - understand who your learners are and how they learn - they learn through engaement and immersive environments.

So Engage me, Immerse Me, Learn Me? You bet, and these will only become more and more important for successful learning as we move towards "soft" classroom walls, alternate delivery, distance education, and methods not even thought of yet to bring more and more learners into our institutions.

Let the engagement, immersion and learning begin...

(Photo "Hopscotch" by Jan Tik)


Carolyn said...

Them's fightin' words, Ian!! And wonderful words to hear. I'm with you. The more we understand who our learners are and how they use technology, the more we engage them.

I notice also that you threw in a reference to PLEs. Do you think there's a connection between the bottom-up organization that PLEs allow & an engaging learning experience?

Ian H. MacLeod said...

I most definitely think that there is a connection between PLEs and engagement. The very nature of PLEs implies for me a certain level of engagement from the get go - as a learner develops their PLE (hopefully supported by faculty and staff that understand PLEs), they can't help but become engaged (and hopefully immersed) in the whole process.

It's one of the many reasons why I am so excited about the possibilities of PLEs - engage me, immerse me, learn me... I think it's my new mantra.