To write this week’s reflection, I’ve stepped a way outside normal boundaries of a Wilkes assignment to imagine what it would be like to blend the power of inquiry based learning with the networking capability of a virtual environment and apply it to the most authentic problem-solving situation of all — real life. These thoughts were prompted by the conjunction of the ideas of two educators: Sahsa Barab who is convinced of the potential of  immersive learning to give meaning back to education and Tony O’Driscoll who used his blog, Learning Matters, to issue a challenge “to get the world involved” in finding a remedy for the daunting problem portrayed in this video.

I suspect from his title that this was the seed of O’Driscoll’s vision.

Here’s what Sasha Barab has to say.

For Barab, to play a game is to be “positioned with a purpose  ….  to help transform some situation that’s in a problematic state. …  [and to ask] what are the rules of this world? What are the laws that affect it? When I do this, what happens?” He adds: “In a game I’m considered someone who has a really powerful role to do something significant with my time … and that requires that I learn a bunch of things [so I can ] do that thing even better. … Failure is motivating. It’s not something to be avoided. … [This kind of learning] allows me to be something I couldn’t normally be.” This sure sounds inquiry based learning to me.

As many of us (even educators) do, O’Driscoll underestimated young people and left them out of his call to become part of his solution. Barab’s ideas hold promise, but he may not have been thinking ‘big enough’ either. I’m wondering if there’s a way to involve educators all over the world in mobilizing the untapped resources of today’s youth to solve not only an authentic but an actual problem such as the oil spill in the Gulf?

We try to raise children’s level of  concern when we show video clips of  disasters unfolding and talk about how terrible they are in class, but perhaps what we’re really doing is role modeling passive response.  Without also engaging kids in working towards a solution,  we may be adding to their sense of helplessness. They may come away thinking that if such problems are too big for corporations and governments to solve, they as individuals are powerless to do anything that will count.

Here are my questions.

Is it possible to use evolving global networking capabilities to involve the world’s youth in a collaborative effort of inquiry learning and problem-solving and thereby give them the chance to ‘play’ what might be the largest and potentially the most impactful ‘game’ of their lives? Can they handle this level of independent inquiry?

If, as O’Driscoll wrote in his blog, what’s going on in the Gulf  “is not a technology problem,” then we truly need people to “think differently  …  to help frame the problem differently to see if there are transferable concepts that can help stop this leak.”  Imagine if every student we could connect globally in Second Life dedicated seventy-two hours to this inquiry? What if we then mashed the kids up in that virtual environment with adult scientists, designers, architects, educators, and engineers — harnessing both the energy and unbounded enthusiasm of youth who believe in their ability to change the world now and also the experience and learning of trained thinkers and problem-solvers — and infused the forum with the urgency of the Apollo 13 mission team?

Could they solve this problem?

Is it at least worth a try?

Can they do any worse than BP?

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Resources

Edutopia. (4 November, 2009). Big thinkers: Sasha Barab. [Video]. Retrieved May 24, 2010, from YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GBDAaXEvDo

EnergyBoom. (12 May, 2010). New underwater footage of BP oil leak at the sources. Retrieved May 24, 2010, from YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJ91G3e0OBQ.

“hychum”. (4 June, 2007). Decision Making [Video excerpt from Apollo 13]. Edutopia. (4 November, 2009). Big thinkers: Sasha Barab. [Video]. Retrieved May 24, 2010, from YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GBDAaXEvDo

O’Driscoll, T. (15 May, 2010). 2 Hour “Moon Shot” like Stop the Spill Challenge. [Web log post]. Retrieved May 24, 2010, from Learning Matters at http://wadatripp.wordpress.com/2010/05/15/72-hour-moon-shot-like-stop-the-spill-challenge/



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