OpenSim – Cheap and Easy Ed Tech

posted in: education, virtual world | 1

A US House bill looks to eliminate Ed Tech spending as they “trim the fat” from the Federal budget.

Many Education Technology programs fund expensive endeavors and many of those endeavors are only realised at more privileged schools. Two challenges with the more expensive technologies often come in the form of on-going training for teachers and the maintenance of associated hardware. Many schools in the US have unused technology gathering dust due to a lack of training in their use or overdue maintenance sometimes due to cost. I see 3D projectors following that same route in time – broken and lost 3D glasses, LCD projector bulbs that cost far too much, and the novelty of 3D wearing off for students (a past post of mine on this).

Education Technology includes many types of technology for use in the classroom and in “virtual” schools. In this definition, virtual schools don’t have much to do with virtual worlds. They are a distance learning approach to help reach out to students that are unable to attend a brick and mortar school (this is a gross over simplification on my part). Half of the states in the US have adopted some form of virtual school and we should expect this to grow in importance, adoption, and efficacy.

While trimming Education Technology can be short-sighted, I have always looked at Science in the classroom as a discipline that does not need the “latest and greatest” in order to be effective and even exciting to students.

I did immensely enjoy the multimedia auditoriums that I taught in when I was with Miami-Dade College but that may have had as much to do with teaching as it did with my love of creating content with Flash. It was fun to see my work displayed on a big screen with state-of-the-art audio. However, I also have taught in a secondary school setting where resources where limited and the first school I taught at was one where I would bring my own VCR, strapped to the back of my scooter, to my classroom. The VCR comment should sufficiently date that time period!

Regardless of State or Federal funding, or of the wealth of a school district, technology does not always need to be expensive. OpenSimulator is open source virtual world software and can be run on average computers. While not every student in America has access to a computer, a good deal more students do than those with access to the “latest and greatest” education technology.

If you are in a situation where you do have the latest technology then more power to you but for many schools, even before this proposed budget cuts, education technology was a yearly line item that was often crossed out.

In those situations resourceful and passionate teachers find ways to excite their students and I have seen fine examples using OpenSim for this. A semi-technical and patient person will be able to install OpenSim on a server but barring a server, much can be done with Ener Hax’s “sim on a stick“. The latest version of OpenSimulator is available online as a zipped file that can be run on a USB drive or simply copied to anyplace on a PC (unfortunately this build does not work on Macs).

The “stick” version is for individual use and not for collaborative group work like you could do with a server deployed version (for server installation, see Dr. Lopes’ five step install instructions). Many activities can be done with this stick version when you view it as a tool and 3D application. Science is my focus but OpenSim can, and is, used for architecture, storytelling, filming, engineering, and art.

Imagine creating a water cycle that students could walk around in rather than just looking at a drawing, or having students create a giant plant cell as a project. You are more limited by your imagination than by technology.

Having Federal funding cut for Educational Technology is a shame with long term repercussions but that does not mean your students need to suffer.

Be innovative and explore the possibilities.

With OpenSim on a USB drive, you can explore this while riding the train or maybe visiting the in-laws (shhh, I don’t really mean that . . .).

cinema lobby built on a USB thumb drive
cinema lobby built on a USB thumb drive

reposted from iliveisl