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April 22, 2009 12:25 PM

Witnessing the Future of Education in Lafayette

Writing from Lafayette, LA, over the last few days I've witnessed an amazing confluence of events that suggest the future of education is being built down here in Cajun country.

On Friday and Saturday I attended the Digital Workforce Conference at LITE (short for Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise, which is a fantastic 3D visualization facility), which is put on by 3D Squared, a non-profit focused on workforce development for the digital media and gaming industries.

Friday was the culmination of what had been an 8-day intensive workshop where high school kids formed teams tasked with conceptualizing, designing, and building a videogame. The final step then was for them to present their games to a panel of industry experts as if they were pitching them to publishers.

The games they created were built on a new gaming platform that's currently in closed beta called Metaplace, which enables the creation of virtual worlds. And the kids' presentations helped showcase the multifaceted process it took to create these games, including developing the concept and game mechanics, creating the graphical style, recording sound and voiceovers in many cases, building the world using the Metaplace tools, and even some actual programming to make the worlds act in different ways.

On Saturday a series of panel discussions and presentations helped reinforce the fact that by teaching kids how to create games you're teaching them to think critically and creatively in a lot of different ways while also keeping them engaged with a process that's fun.

But I should also say that just because the kids were having fun doesn't mean they weren't taking it seriously. In fact I got a chance to poke my nose into one team's meeting and was amazed at the professionalism with which the students conducted themselves and the level of the discussion they were holding. And I learned that in order to create these games they were putting in 12+ hour days, working effectively in teams, and being respectful of their peers and others.

While I'm not sure if teaching videogame development is the panacea for all students and to fix all our educational problems, this event helped showcase how it can foster learning and why we should seriously consider supporting efforts like these as we work to redefine what education means in the 21st century.

Moving forward in my trip to last night I had the good fortune to be invited by Kit Becnel to attend an experiment in using online technologies to connect students on different sides of the country.

The setup was at a local public library, with cameras on the students in Lafayette and a screen showing video from students in San Francisco.

The application they used was called Vievo, which enabled both videoconferencing as well as the ability to view what was playing on computer screens remotely.

The agenda started with the San Francisco kids taking turns showcasing the work they've done creating 3D models using software called Cinema4D. The two projects they'd worked on were first a short animation of moving text that said, "My name is X, and in ten years I want to be a Y." The other project was to create what they think their bedroom would look like in 10 years.

Their teacher stressed that the students built all their 3D models from scratch, and there was some really impressive work going on in there.

Then on the Lafayette side they showed off the Metaplace world that one of Kit's students had helped create at the previous week's Digital Workforce Conference.

Throughout the students were asking each other questions.

This experiment really started showing the potential of what's possible by establishing collaborative relationships between classes in different cities. I could see the students on both sides being not just intrigued but also inspired by the work their counterparts had done.

That being said, I should also admit that this experiment also highlighted how far we still have to go to make this a reality. For example, despite both endpoints having lots of bandwidth, at some point out on the Internet the stream was getting choked causing some significant issues with the video stream. And both sides experienced local technical issues that caused the stream to break.

Luckily Kit had some great help from Kris Wotipka, who volunteers his time and technical expertise to the FiberKids project, and Adam Melancon, Lafayette's library system network guru. So these were only minor bumps, and overall I think everyone involved felt like this was a really positive first step towards establishing a collaborative relationship between these classes using fiber networks.

As a quick reminder, the FiberKids initiative has grown out of Kit Becnel's Academy of Information Technology program at Carencro High School, and it's setting out to enable a framework through which Lafayette students can become a testing ground for educational applications, in particular those that leverage the capacity of their fiber network. It's a tremendous program with unlimited potential, and you can look forward to hearing a lot more about that in the near future.

To that end, while I can't provide all the details as of yet, I can say that the final big event regarding the future of education being built here in Lafayette was a presentation and discussion I was able to participate in earlier on Tuesday about establishing a series of pilots in Lafayette to showcase a new model for 21st century classrooms that leverage the capacity of fiber networks.

I'm not yet at liberty to go into more details about this initiative, but do know that there's some significant energy behind doing this, that it should be moving within the next few months, and that it's not just going to involve Lafayette but also a global network of classrooms. I wish I could say more, but you'll just have to wait a little bit longer.

Until then, know this: the future of education's being built in Lafayette, LA.

That future means a world where students aren't limited to what's in textbooks, where they can collaborate not just with their classmates but with their peers around the world, where they're able to not just regurgitate data points but synthesize and create new things, where the technologies that capture their attention out in the world are brought into their classroom to facilitate teaching that's more interactive and engaging.

It's a future that won't be easy to achieve and still requires a lot of work, but fixing our education system is a challenge that we should all want to see tackled. And I know I for one am going to be doing what I can to help Lafayette and other communities bring about this new paradigm in how we educate future generations.

If you want to step up and help be a part of this process, add a comment below and I'll contact you so we can continue this dialog!

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Comments (1)

Dear Geoff:

I edit a weekly newspaper in the southern part of Lafayette Parish, but we often run stories on schools in other areas of the parish, especially magnets like Kit's program.

I'm asking permission to reprint your April 22 blog on education's future being built here in Lafayette.

I'd also like to tell folks how to find your blog and comment on the story. If this is OK with you, please let me know.

And is their any sort of affiliation I should mention in the intro to your piece?

Thanks for the time you take with this. And thanks for the time you took to get to know some of the remarkable people we have here in Acadiana.

love, judy j.

Judy Johnson
Acadiana Gazette

Posted by Judy Johnson on April 24, 2009 4:22 PM

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