NECC ’09: Quest Atlantis

Wandered into this session with teachpaperless (Shelly Blake-Plock) and I’m listening in on a conference call from Australia about the kids’ virtual world Quest Atlantis.

It sounds like this program is World of Warcraft wedded to Second Life related to Microsoft Word and Kindle… by which I mean that it’s a place to present and review and edit your writing within the context of a 3-d virtual world.

They’re saying the kids are between 8 and 14, and safety is paramount. There are profanity filters on the automated side, and chat logs are also monitored by live observers.  So there is moderation of negative or phobic or bullying behavior, but also praise of positive behaviors and acts of virtue and quality.

In other words, it’s a utopia.  Or a dystopia, I’m not sure which.  Kids become enforcers of the norms after time.  The teachers in the room seem to think this is utterly cool and wonderful.

I come at this from a very different perspective.  More than a third of my students are connected to me through facebook, which I treat as a professional site as much as I can.  They monitor what I do as much as I monitor what they do. I understand that sometimes their norms do not match mine, and they recognize that I am (when it comes to Facebook) an unreasonable and probably prudish dweeb.

But my friend John in college said once, AOL isn’t bad.  It’s sort of like being virtually in the Jacob K. Javits convention center.  All sorts of people are telling you, come look at this, watch this, look at our product, see our stuff.” And the whole time, they’re distracting you from the signs that say EXIT. “you don’t want to see anything out there,” they say. But outside those doors is New York City, and I live there.

By which he meant, that we should be cautious of sticking kids into paradises, or walled gardens.  THis program may be great, and this virtual world may be wonderful. But why must we build ‘fake’ environments for kids to practice in, instead of giving them adult tools, and teaching them ab initio to be cautious about strangers, behave appropriately, and produce work worthy of your name?

On the Other Hand, they did have some kids making gains of 2 years in reading ability in only six months. So that’s a good thing, and maybe it does speak to a kid’s need to have a walled garden.

3 comments

  1. Andrew – QA can be a little tricky to imagine if you haven’t had kids using it; that’s what I gathered from your description above. Any I use it with 9-10 year olds, last year for the first time. So far, very rewarding for all,. lots of skills and responsibilities being exercise. Kids solve problem in social areas, sciences, environmental while interacting with other kids and teachers. They earn priviliges along the way and are very attracted to being there. The background research of the whole thing by Sasha Barab and his team is quite incredible and on target. You might want to search on him and read a paper. Last – my class is project based, lots of technology, very low income populaiton of kids. I’m also a doctoral student in educational technology as well as a classroom teacher to add to the perspective I am offering. Cheers. Terry

    • I’m sure that’s the case. I’m intrigued by game-like environments, because I write gaming materials for extra income for old-school game companies like White Wolf Games Systems, which did the Vampire and Werewolf games in the 1990s. But I find that my knowledge of pen-and-paper games doesn’t translate well to online environments; and my knowledge of one very-offline school doesn’t translate well to online schools… so imagining an online game-school hybrid is very hard indeed.

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