So I have a feeling that I may be settling into a couple-a-somewhat-meaningful-posts-a-week routine here at the old blogyard, not nearly as much as I have posted in the past. It’s not that I’m not writing, I’m just writing in other spaces, trying to comment more to the things I’m reading, writing articles and proposals, and starting and participating discussions in PLP communities. (In fact, Sheryl and I are hoping to start a new blog just about that effort in the near future.) Or it might just be that I’m just really wrapped up in the politics of the moment which I choose not to write about here. Or it might be that I still can’t seem to shake this stuckness I still feel with the conversation about social tools and learning in schools. Or…who knows what else it might be. It’s kind of hard to let this space drift a bit since I’ve been focused here for so long. But drift it might.

At any rate, a couple of connections recently about the importance of and ability to create immersive learning situations for our students and ourselves that I thought I would just note here. MIT Press has a new collection of essays under the heading “Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge” that looks to have some important thinking, and as I was reading the introduction by John Seely Brown (.pdf), this part jumped out at me:

Technology, of course, is key, and I want to dwell on only two aspects of how technology can now transform our learningscape: immersion and intelligent tutoring systems. Immersion is a concept that has received all too little attention in the learning literature. Consider, for example, how every one of us has learned the immensely complex system that is our own native language. We learn language through immersion and desire. Immersion comes from being surrounded by others talking and interacting with us and is furthered [sic] facilitated by our deep desire to interact, be understood and express our needs. We learn language fearlessly and constantly. Nearly everyone with whom we interact is a teacher for us—albeit an informal teacher, encouraging us to say new things, correcting us, extending our vocabulary, and so on. This simple form of immersion is fundamentally social in nature. In today’s high tech, graphically rich world we now have almost limitless opportunities to leverage immersion. We can now build simulation models of cites, historic events, atomic structures, biological and mechanical systems to name just a few. Our challenge becomes how to share the vast simulations and data bases that already exist and share them in a way that others can extend, remix and compose them in order to expand their reach and scope. I still dream of a virtual human system where I can explore any aspect of how our bodies function from organs to cells to membranes. There are promising signs, but as of yet we have no real framework for constructing and sharing modules of such a system. But if we can entertain the semantic web, perhaps we could entertain a vast and recursively interconnected web of simulations. No one group can build it all, but many could contribute, including students themselves.

In that context, I can’t help to think of watching Tucker learn Spore, which he loves, btw. Last night, I watched him as his creature mixed it up with another tribe, ultimately getting himself killed in the process. I tried to really focus on the decisions that he was making, to fight, to run, all the while feeling, literally, the intensity coming off of his skin. When the battle was finally over, he went back and starting re-creating his creature, assessing the traits that he needed more of, the things he could get rid of. And then, he was off to try it again.

Like I’ve said, I’m not a gamer, but I’ve been struck by how much Spore hooks you in. The graphics, the objective, the decisions; you are immersed in this world and in the process. And you are pretty much in there on your own to figure it out. You literally learn your way through the game, and while that may not be an insight for those who have been there, done that, it is a revelation for me. What I would like, however, is a Yoda. Someone to work through this stuff with, to counsel me, ask the right questions, nudge in the right direction, but let me learn it on my own. Tucker, however, is perfectly fine without that. In fact, I think he prefers the challenge of doing it on his own. Me, I can feel my frustration. My son, who is easily frustrated in many other areas of his learning life, goes with the flow.

That concept of immersion also has me thinking about my PLP work with Sheryl. One of the reasons we went down this path of long term, six to eight month professional development is because we didn’t see (and still don’t see) much movement or deep learning coming out of the one-day (or one-hour) workshops we were doing. Sheryl’s brilliance in her work in Alabama was not only that to really help people and specifically educators understand the potentials of online social learning environments, they had to be immersed in those spaces, not just dropped off for the day, but that they also needed to feel a sense of community in the process. We all know, this isn’t about tools, it’s about the connections and the relationships.  And while this is common sense, this idea that the best way to learn French is to go live in France for a few months, it’s not easy to make work in these contexts. Even though Tucker may not mind being dropped into Spore and figuring it out on his own, most of us need that situated community support to start learning the new language or tools or pedagogies. We need the immersion into the conversation. We need Yodas.

That’s why that Seely Brown quote jumps out, especially the “Immersion comes from being surrounded by others talking and interacting with us and is further facilitated by our deep desire to interact, be understood and express our needs” part. Not saying we can’t do that without technology, but I wonder how we can do that more effectively with it.

(Photo by Arcady Genkin).