Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Reflection into the first year of Project DIRECT

Project DIRECT (Distance Innovations for Rural Educators using Communication Technologies), is a professional development project that uses the immersive quality in Second Life to provide a space for 20 teachers from rural schools to meet, learn and share. This project, funded by School Partnership II A, is designed to enhance the abilities of participating teachers to integrate technology into their practices and content areas.

Reflecting on the last year of this project, the take away is that it is proving to be wildly successful. From its launching in late November, educators continue to build a community with colleagues, share resources, attend workshops, explore and enjoy their virtual space.

According Peggy Marconi, associate director of Project DIRECT, the true success is in the comradery and community of this group and how their collegiality is performed through a virtual space. Marconi notes that Second Life offers a space for rural school educators that is accessible, interactive and visually exciting.

To better understand this process, we have been documenting and creating machinima throughout the year. In the following piece, "online learning" is the topic presented for discussion. The workshop leader introduces the topic and each teacher contributes to the discussion with personal narratives, suggestions and feedback. The ease and willingness to discuss a given topic can be attributed to both the comfort level in which the teachers have developed throughout the last year and to the nature of the 3D immersive space.

In addition to the workshops, we wanted teachers to explore the 3D immersive environment. To help guide them to good destinations we created the Project DIRECT’s travel guide. This travel guide offers suggestions on educational and entertaining destinations that could possibly benefit physical classrooms. For example, in this piece we introduce the NASA CoLab region, which might appeal to science and astronomy teachers.

It has been a wonderful experience to watch this group of educators use Second Life for a necessary and socially compelling purpose. We have a full year ahead of us and plan to learn more about the successful integration of 3D immersive environments into the professional development for educators.

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