Its been an interesting week. One minute Sunshine and I were 3 days skiing near Queenstown, the next I’m in Melbourne meeting Alan Levine and the NMC gang to talk about why Horizon.au should be Horizon.anz. And then the next I’m in Wellington to meet the team involved in a pretty significant research grant looking at educational uses of Multi User Virtual Environments (MUVES) that will focus on Second Life as a test bed and will probably carry the project name Second Life Education in New Zealand (SLENZ).

The skiing at Coronet Peak was quite fine. Ski Express sell really good deals for resort style skiing, and we used that to get our legs back into form for the season. I really hope THIS year we will get some some back country skiing in with over nights in empty huts, and lovely morning skin ups to glacier heads for an afternoon powder ski back to the hut. Perfect and a fraction of the cost of resort skiing!

Horizon.au was something I was really looking forward to. I don’t think I have ever worked with a team of American edutechs and its something I’ve been looking forward to doing, even if it was for only one day where I was one of many Austalian/NZ participants. I was especially looking forward to meeting Alan Levine, who represents to me everything that is great about American edutech.. get in there and do it, make the most of it, be super productive, experiment, enjoy it, have fun and make fun, be serious sometimes but never all the time, and always be open and friendly. Too often I think, Australian and NZ edutech can become too serious and lose site of some of the more personable reasons we like doing this.. well, speaking for myself anyway – this is certainly the case. But there I go again! Making it more serious than it needs to be. In short, Alan where’s a fine pair of boots and one day I hope to visit Arizona and buy me a pair too, and pace the desert gravel, and size up an Arizona cactus.

The NMC crew (Larry, Rachel and Alan) showed us all a way to power through a serious undertaking like primary research for a Horizon report, in a way that keeps it fun, engaging and creatively productive. I don’t think I have experienced anything like it in the Australia/NZ scene for quite a while – perhaps ever since the FLNW in NZ tour. I think it was Rachel’s hand made graphical abilities that kept me enjoying it.

On the wiki I expressed a concern with the use of the word Australasia to describe the region we were trying to represent in the report. I’m not sure that Australasia is a term that is often used outside Australia, or if the regions it encompasses even feel comfortable with being included in an area defined as Australia and Asia. Apart from that, I don’t think anyone from Papua New Guinea is on the advisory board, and on the face to face day I was the only one from New Zealand. I also expressed a little dissatisfaction with the dot au in the branding for the report, and so proposed that the report be for Australia only. Some discussion continues about this, and its probably just another indication of me getting just too serious with it all. However I do think there are significant differences between Australia, PNG and NZ when it comes to edutech, just as there are assumed differences between North America and Australia – enough to warrant a Horizon.au report anyway.

Its all a problem with generalisation and where the line should be drawn. Most people agreed that Australia and New Zealand are similar enough and that the report would be worth representing those two at least. In the end, I think I was a bit on my own with this so was happy to let it slide to where ever it ends up in the final report. I can’t help wondering though, if this problem is part of a bigger problem, being the break down of our cultural diversity, facilitated by Internet technologies and economies dominated by an American cultural experience and socio political ideology… there I go again, sorry.

And if you’re wondering what technologies the group identified as ones to watch.. well – you name it, it was there! This was a primary research activity where a group of people simply used the 2008 Horizon report as a spring board to cross off or identify new technologies that are likely to have a significant impact on the way we do things in education. Big lists were captured on the wiki, and Rachel’s wall charts were used to vote on the lists. The group was diverse, and I sensed it was made up largely of Australian edtech managers. I found myself disagreeing with more things than agreeing, but I’m used to that (maybe one day I’ll get a grip). From my perspective I think the identified and voted for areas that I did agree on was a rise in the use of web apps and popular media platforms. Things like Google docs and Youtube. There’s a name for it I found out – Cloud Computing. I think utility computing and web services is something of related interest. Virtual worlds seemed to float about in the not so sure area and while many agreed things like Second LIfe have significant things to offer education, most seemed to feel that we’re still waiting for the killer app that brings MUVES into the main. I tried to insist that cheap computing brought about through One Laptop and Asus and their use of open source desktop software will have an impact, but I think what was agreed on is the idea that central campus computer labs will receed within a 3-4 year horizon, replaced by individualised and portable computers like cheap laptops. So many things were identified and discussed and I can already feel myslef projecting my own bias into the interpretation. Here’s the source.

I didn’t get to stay around for after meeting drinks in Melbourne, and instead I was on a delayed flight to Auckland where I grabed 2 hours sleep before flying onto Wellington to meet a few people involved in a project to reseach educational opportunities in MUVEs, specifically Second Life. It was a good meeting going all day, where we orientated ourselves to the project objectives and roles. There will be a project blog set up and weekly informal and formal meetings in SL. Hopefully an embedded journalist will come on and help us document our progress in an accessible and condensed form to the blog.

At the moment the project is entering its literature review stage with some interesting scope. It was agreed that we should make the lit review as wide in scope as possible and include consideration of MUVEs generally, before we focus on Second Life specifically. I was happy to see acceptance of the notion that we observe learning beyond the projects that formal education institutions have set up, and consider learning on the platform as a whole, especially the probable connected learning that may be occuring between Sims (spaces in Second Life) and other platforms or the Internet more generally. I am hoping that if we can tackle this question, we will discover and identify measurable learning (and perhaps new teaching practices) that will leverage the informal and constructivist learning hypothesized as taking place in these environments.