The Age of Technology – A Case for Computer Science as a Core Competency

by Jasmin B. Cowin, Ed.D.

We are the cusp of a new age. The age of technology. Just as the steam engine changed the way mankind moved beyond manual labor and gave rise to the industrial revolution, so computers are changing our world at an exponential pace. This spring, I read Alec Ross’ book “The Industries of the Future” where he discussed what changes are coming in the next ten years, highlighting the best opportunities for progress and explaining why countries thrive or fail.

Think about this: Could you have imagined a self-driving car twenty years ago? Was the profession of a blogger or social network communication specialist born yet? How many people had a cell phone? What functions could that phone perform? How about genome mapping? For our children to be part of this age of technology and find meaningful employment they must be conversant, fluent and comfortable in computer science. Computer science, invention, and integration of Artificial Intelligences will be the driving factors for tomorrow’s industries. I am the best example of the need to stay current. I took a look at where the teaching profession is moving and decided to take a year out of my life to learn as much as a can about computer science, and its integration into my profession. S/he who stands still – falls behind!

In ‘The Industries of the Future’ Ross examines the “specific fields that will most shape our economic future, including robotics, cyber security, the commercialization of genomics, the next step for big data, and the coming impact of digital technology on money and markets.” From my teacher’s perspective working for a University Pathway Program, I  match students with career paths.  The stagnancy and inability to think outside the box are worrisome. I see students looking backward to professions which will not exist in their current form fifteen years from now. While students are adept at using social media, gaming and creating blogs most of them do not have any insight into the “How’s” of the interior lives of computers. Rarely does a student ask: “How does this work?” Even rarer the question: “How do I create my own game, program, etc.?” Students unschooled in computer science are end-users, not innovators. Content such as Computer Science can not be relegated to parental realms, as parents often know even less about the “How?” than their children. For competitiveness in a global environment, computer science is the stepping stone to better careers and lifetime earning opportunities. We, as a country, must provide opportunities to this generation to succeed and pursue their American Dream.

An impossible task? Not at all. Last semester I taught a cohort of business students at EF – Education First analyzing the minuscule country of Estonia, initially famous for its mass choir performances. After the collapse of the Soviet block, Estonia became a free marketplace. The new president and his cabinet were technocrats with ideals. This speck of a country, without natural resources, required all children starting in elementary school to learn to code. This long-term approach to educating the complete student body in computer science and code bore fruit within ten years. Today, Estonia is at the forefront of innovative ideas such as e-residences, innovative computer programming, and e-banking. Men and women are equally represented in all computer fields.

I ask you this: What hinders us to provide such opportunities for our children? Are we so narrow-minded and unable to embrace change? Estonia, a small country at the brink of bankruptcy pulled off a feat like this, investing in the future of their children! Remember – 65% of the jobs of the future are not invented yet! Let’s give our children a chance to be part of this new age of technology by embracing Computer Science as a liberal art, and a core competency necessary for a successful future of not only our children but also of our country.

“The Phoenix Firestorm Project: Virtual Worlds, JokaydiaGrid and Second Life” Teaching ESL in OpenSym Grids

An accepted paper by Jasmin B. Cowin, Ed.D. for the TESOL Conference, November 3rd and 4th, 2016 in Syracuse, New York. I am embarking on a journey of discovery with critical questions in my mind: …

Source: “The Phoenix Firestorm Project: Virtual Worlds, JokaydiaGrid and Second Life” Teaching ESL in OpenSym Grids

“The Phoenix Firestorm Project: Virtual Worlds, JokaydiaGrid and Second Life” Teaching ESL in OpenSym Grids

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An accepted paper by Jasmin B. Cowin, Ed.D. for the TESOL Conference, November 3rd and 4th, 2016 in Syracuse, New York.

I am embarking on a journey of discovery with critical questions in my mind:  How does an ESL facilitator put virtual environments to practical use?   The purpose of my paper and presentation encompasses several areas which I will explore in future blogs.  An essential element will be describing and analyzing my experience as the avatar ‘Muse Terpsichore’ in virtual worlds during my online summer “Games and Simulations” course at Marlboro College for Professional and Graduate Studies in Brattleboro, VT.  Another component will focus on describing and comparing the virtual worlds of Jokaydia Grid and Second Life. Immersed in these virtual environments I will investigate their suitability for ESL education with a closer look at areas such as experiential learning, fluency practice, virtual classroom meetings, grammar, and storytelling.  I look forward to an in-depth exploration into content availability and suitability for independent, guided, synchronous and asynchronous student-teacher interaction and collaboration. Finally, I want to examine the difference between the student and administrator view of virtual environments.  How does a virtual world look like to an administrator or student? What set-up work is necessary to stage for a successful learning experience?  What skills does an administrator or student need to successfully implement and engage in a virtual learning component?

I hope you will check in often to read about my ambitious journey into the alternate universes and creative teaching possibilities within virtual worlds.

 

Minecraft, World of Warcraft, Virtual Learning, and Reality

ObenThe last few weeks I spend taking care of my mother, traveling on occasion and exploring virtual worlds and their possibilities in the teaching profession. The goal of the course was to expose us, a group of students at Marlboro College for Graduate and Professional Studies to the relevance of virtual worlds for real-world learning environments.

I would love to say that I aced this course, that it came naturally, that I felt “like a fish in water.”  Nope, this idealized view of myself never materialized.  Instead, I learned how to be humble, ask for help, call 13-year olds on Skype in the US to get lessons on Minecraft mining, called a neighbor’s son to reconfigure my mother’s antiquated router system, and watched hours upon hours of youtube tutorials.

In addition, I WhatsApped my son in Japan to go through the finer points in mining, creating gold, creating signs, power boosts and cry about a dog who drowned in Minecraft. Our mother-son relationship benefitted greatly from this reversed dynamic. Before the course, I saw absolutely no use for his time on the computer watching endless “weird” legos move. However,  in his apps and Skype lessons the amount of detail orientation and real-time work which goes into mining, creating every item through combining different materials, and creating complex structures one forth.  For every question, my son had an online tutorial ready to guide me.  He wrote pages of commands and emailed them for me to try.  I got advice from his friends on “super awesome structures” complete with more tutorials via email. More than that, the collective teen posse cautioned me to “keep totally to the letter of the tutorials”.  All this from a group that never takes a book and reads it from front to back, a group which seems completely laisser faire when it comes to spelling, etc.  I had entered an alternate universe where I became the learner who climbed the mountain….

Only after entering the World of Warcraft did I completely realize how deeply connected these kids are through their online gaming.  They quest together, they form complex teams with characters completing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, they problem solve, read and analyze detailed notecards. Before this course, these were realms I had no access to. Now, I understand the process, time commitment, and mindset much better.

There are definitely uses for Minecraft, SL, WoW in the teaching profession.  However, the great challenge is for teachers to first master these realms and then fold this mastery into required subject activities which guide students not only within a virtual world but extend those activities into the real world.

 

 

 

 

 

Game-like Learning and hidden Ideologies

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GAME-LIKE LEARNING: AN EXAMPLE OF SITUATED LEARNING AND IMPLICATIONS FOR OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN James Paul Gee University of Wisconsin-Madison

 PDF of JP Gee paper

Sometimes we are struck by specific  insights triggered through our reading.  My personal trigger in JP Gee’s paper was: “What all these games exemplify, though, is that there is no real learning without some ideology. Adopting a certain set of values and a particular world view is intimately connected to doing the activities and having the experiences that constitute any specific domain of knowledge. “

I never really thought or analyzed this aspect of video gaming and virtual world
environments. However, as I have a teen, I know about my strong reactions to ongoing gaming endeavors. Games such as Minecraft and Clash of Clans while time-consuming did not seem inherently dangerous. However, the line was drawn and defended when a game simulating a Casino environment became of interest. This game not only requires the buying of gems in real currency but also encourages a Las Vegas type mindset. While I could not put my finger on the strong negative reaction of mine, this article cleared it up. Indeed, this game requires the gamer to embrace a certain type of ideology which I consider extremely dangerous. I see it as a training ground to desensitize the approach to life gaming in a casino.

Generally, the idea of inherent ideology nestled in a game is something worth exploring as this opens unconscious doors within the ID and Ego not accessible to teachers in a classroom. Latent character flaws and strengths could be activated. As such, I will call this for a lack of better words “unguided manipulation” which can and does have far reaching consequences not only in school but real life.

Joshua Smyth, associate professor of psychology in The College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University, recently conducted a randomized trial study of college students contrasting the effects of playing online socially interconnected video games with more traditional single-player or arcade-style games.

While both multiplayer and traditional single player video games present a double-edged sword, Smyth’s research found that online, socially integrated multiplayer games create greater negative consequences (decreased health, well-being, sleep, socialization and academic work) but also garner far greater positive results (greater enjoyment in playing, increased interest in continuing play and a rise in the acquisition of new friendships) than do single-player games.

All students taking part in the study reported decreased health and sleep and interference with real-life socializing and academic work. In contrast to these costs, participants experienced benefits, most notably by those taking part in online multiplayer game play. Online multiplayer gamers enjoyed their play far more than those assigned to more traditional game types, creating new friendships in their online environments.

The greater question is that of hidden manifestations of value and ideology manipulation be it “good or bad”. With online time commitments outpacing real life experiences the door is wide open to idealogical manipulation.  While I am not paranoid about a “great conspiracy”, I do believe that a highjacking of values is inherently possible in virtual worlds.  When thinking about a counterpart in the literary world I was reminded  of “The Giver” by Lois Lowry where society in its quest for total harmony eventually forgoes all their memories to achieve perfect harmony though perfect assimilation.

“We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others.”
― Lois Lowry, The Giver

 

Firestorm, OpenSim and Virtual Worlds

by Dr. Jasmin Bey Cowin – Virtual World Explorer

Better late than never!  After watching my son battle giants, slay dragons, and built complete societies, I decided to become cool too.  To achieve that highly desired “cool mom” status I enrolled in a course at Marlboro College for Graduate and Professional Studies and am taking an online course in Games and Simulations. I am currently pursuing a Certificate in Educational Technology at Marlboro College.

I shall be writing about my adventures in JokaydiaGRID, which is an OpenSim grid for education. Click me to go to Jokaydiagrid and enter an educational world.  So far, I have created an Avatar in Jokaydia and joined Second Life, a 3D virtual world created by its users.Signing up for JokaydiaGRID will take a couple of days as one gets vetted.  How I don’t know!

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A Firestorm in Germany Real Life Photo by Jasmin Bey Cowin.

However, before I could enter any world I had to get acquainted more closely with my computer operating system and install Firestorm an OpenSim viewer which is a software program developed by the Phoenix Viewer Project. There are many Open Simulators but this was the one recommended by my teachers – or should I say Virtual World guru guides?

Was the signing up easy, painless and hassle free?  No, it was filled with vexing problems, online tutorials and sad emails such as Which buttons do I press? Why does it not load? Or even:  Where am I?  I will explore the finer points of In World experiences my next blog.

I shall let you know through updates where my travels have taken me, which worlds I discovered or created and the fabulous failures which surely will happen.

Visit my blog often!