Friday, July 13, 2007

Back at work on The Rock


Following hard on the heels of the course in Toronto is the current course we are involved in at Steady Brook in Newfoundland. The venue is the same as in previous years, at the Marble Mountain Ski Lodge, but the course itself is evolving. Well, the Lodge too has evolved over the past year in ways directluy relevant to our work. Both the Lodge itself, where the classes go on, and the Villa, where we live whilst on the job, are now high speed wireless access throughout. The experience of 2004 when we hooked an Apple Extreme base station up to a dial up connection is now a happy memory. Somehow the dozen or so laptops brought by participants in those days managed to pull enough down the pipes to begin building a tradition. This year the speed is good and the access pretty continuous.

As a result we have had a bit of luck with the logistics of the course. It's a Masters program component, with 36 participants who have sorted themselves into 7 groups of 3-6 people. There are three main tasks, to be completed over the 3 weeks. The first and third weeks are face to face. In between is a "recovery" week, when participants will be "off campus".

The first task was for each group to immerse itself in learning a "new literacy" with which they were previously unfamiliar. No groups opted for the card games on offer but, rather, gravitated to the computer-based stuff. One group has set itself to programming a robot to perform certain tasks. Three groups are making machinima movies. One group is learning to play a computer-video game (Maple Story). The remaining groups are making music videos. Many participants -- probably 50% -- at best very basic computing experience (word processing, emailing; a few have Facebook pages).





The second task is to research their learning in situ -- collecting data about the processes they are going through in order to do their learning toward completing their tasks (negotiated and defined within the groups).

The third task is to present their research findings in a full day conference at the end of the course, having produced reports of their work in the interim.

There is good variety among the projects. Groups are using The Movies, Second Life and World of Warcraft engines, respectively, to make machinima. One of the music video groups is setting video recorded cosplay to music. They are all having to troubleshoot all manner of "inconveniences" in order to do their work. Ironically, one of the best troubleshoots so far has involved resolving the wireless connectivity problems of the two group members who had purchased new laptops running Vista (suffice to say, we will *never* move to Vista. Once XP has run its course we'll be looking to some other option). Eventually, it was found that the connectivity issue had to do with using the laptops on battery power. Online searches threw up information that Vista often needs AC power for sustaining wireless connections.

Needless to say, there is some pretty humbling experience for us watching participants pooling all their resources, and mobilising internet resources, to work their way into producing outcomes they were, in many ways, absolutely unequipped to do. By the end of the 4th day there were two machinima movies in good shape and another well on the way. The music videos (including our own one on coffee production, being set to Mississippi John Hurt's "Coffee Blues" and Cream's "Spoonful") are more or less on the way. The game players are powering along, and good progress has been made on a concept music video of Newfoundland music involving a bricolage of live action and "found" video.

For us this is the kind of teaching and learning we most enjoy being involved in. Fieldnotes are burgeoning, along with video grabs of troubleshooting and trial and error learning, and short audio grabs of think alouds and the like.

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