Digital Classroom needs Virtual Space!



  • Official comment
    Wendy Gorton

    Mark Cobb this sounds incredible! I wonder if you would be interested in turning this into a lesson or maybe even walking our community through this vision in a live event? Email if you're interested!

    We also hope you can come to our Release Party to chat with other community members and also ask our developers any questions you have:

    Hope to see you there!

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  • Kyle M

    Hi Mark Cobb,

    Thank you for the very rich feedback. I will make sure our broader team sees this!

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  • Mark Cobb

    Thank you, Kyle.


    The Virtual Kindergarten Classroom

    The classroom should use various means to create a sense of place.  The child’s experience should be less of talking to teacher and peers on some device, and more of going somewhere to work with them.  It needs elements of “first person” games—having a body and a point of view you can control.  If the classroom experience doesn’t include the child, they won’t feel they were there—just watching.  If you put them into the environment, they’re more likely to stay engaged.

    Upon logging in, the child would join the others for a few minutes of virtual play and chit-chat.  Each will have chosen their avatar, and perhaps an outfit for the day (these options would be unavailable during class).  The child could choose to show their face (live from their webcam), or use an emoji or mask to show.  Besides moving around the space, the avatars would be able to wave 1 hand or 2, nod or shake their heads, and wiggle or jump.  They would not need to pick up virtual objects or move with precision.

    I would call them to the rug with a song, and see their avatars line up on the rug (or not), and when each child pressed their SIT DOWN icon, they would plop down and be locked in place and muted.  They would be able to look from side to side (virtually), but not to get up until I released them or speak to neighbors or the group unless I un-muted them.  They would have a button for raising their hands, and on my screen the RAISED HANDS list would show me who was first.  They would need to ask permission to leave the virtual group (for instance, to use the bathroom) before leaving their workstation at home.

    You could use their webcam to tell whether they were paying attention—to measure how much their eyes stayed on the screen.  They could have a yellow light that blinks when their eyes wander, and I would see the warning blinking on their avatars.  (I would need a switch to turn off attention tracking when they were free to look away.)  Those who need it could have an animation of little prizes falling into a virtual bag one one side of their screen, and the prizes could keep getting bigger as long as they continued to keep their eyes on the screen.  And why not test their listening as well?  You could occassionally ring a virtual bell and the attention tracker could see if they react.

    In presenting a lesson, I would be able to show an image, video, or a live feed from my webcam, document camera, or whiteboard.  I would be able to respond to raised hands by speaking privately with a child or by bringing them to the front of the class, side-by-side with me or taking my place, to speak to the group. 

    During the lesson, I could issue the students tools to practice what I was teaching them or show they understood it.  They could have a way to draw a picture, or virtual math manipulatives, and I would see them and what they were working on.  I would be able to say, “Look at Jenna’s paper,” and share it with the group.  They might be given a sharing time when they could move around the virtual room and share papers with each other.

    They could be sent for a break with a timer ticking on their screen to show them when to return.  Brain breaks and recess could include games acted out with the avatars in an “outside” virtual space, at the Taj Majal or on the moon.  There could be some parts of the day, like recess and lunchtime, when students could choose to be together in the virtual space or to disconnect.

    Independent work would be available in stations, so that some children go to one part of the room and click on a link to do an art project, while another group goes to the letter station to choose a link.  The program would keep track of how much time they’d spent in those places, and perhaps let them know they had been in Blocks enough this week and needed to go to Sink and Float, or that Letter Identification was now too easy for them, that they should go to Letter Sounds.

    There would also be spaces for students to work in small groups supervised by a teacher or paraprofessional.  Students would be prevented from being together in a virtual space without a teacher present—for instance returning to the large-group meeting area before the teacher returns from a small group.  Small group conditions would be different for different groups.  The teacher would choose when to encourage interaction within the group and when to minimize it.

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  • Bryan Crisler

    I was just thinking about the same thing. I was asking my 13 year old niece and she would love to see this be a reality. Why not farm it out to the community for development?

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  • Mark Cobb

    I'm seeing teachers excited about the Bitmoji classroom, which is just a web page with links and a cartoon version of the teacher.  One step would be for students to be able to place their own cartoon character in the picture.  That would allow the child to say, "That's me.  I'm in there," but that's nowhere near something you'd call "immersive".  Many kids meet in multiplayer games and they feel they've been somewhere together.  That's the kind of immersion that could be valuable.

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  • Mark Cobb

    More imagining: 

    My class would have a homeroom/homepage where the kids would interact with me and with each other in a virtual space, just as they do in multiplayer video games.  Each child would outfit their character as they liked, and be able to look and walk around the room.  By going to different parts of the room, they could go to a room/page about letters, or shapes, or Native Americans.  They might follow me to the Math Room and then be turned loose to choose an activity while I pull a group to work with me.  They would go to the exit when they needed to leave their (real world) workstation, and a window would pop up on my screen, giving me the option to just say “yes” or open a video chat.

    To make them easier to recognize, each child would choose some unique symbol that would remain part of their virtual self (gold chain guy, turquoise hat girl), as well as having their name appear above their heads.  A child would walk over to a friend and touch them, offering to chat.  If the friend agreed, a window would pop up for a mini video-conference.  The teacher would choose when to enable this and other options.  I could call them to sit together at the rug, and when each clicked into his or her spot, they would only be able to listen, look from side to side, and raise a hand.  I’d like to have a “turn-and-talk” button that automatically paired them up briefly to answer a question or share a reaction.

    The student would gradually learn how to use virtual tools, such as a white board, an alphabet chart, a rekenrek, a picture editor, and an assignment list.  The interface would start out very simple, with the teacher adding items to the student’s display as they were introduced.  The teacher could add items to the displays of specific students, such as a timer, a schedule, or a reward chart.  A child with anger issues could learn to push the MAD icon, where a video would pop up guiding her through three deep breaths, and then pop her right back into class.  A child having trouble distinguishing b from d could be given the option to see an image of a bed.

    There would be a door we could all go through for a movement activity.  The difficulty here is that it would be best to include social interaction, but we need the children to step away from the controls of their workstations in order to actually move.  We might have an enhanced video conference that makes their images into dancing dinosaurs, but it would be best if they could still see each other’s faces.

    The teacher’s interface would include quick access to lists of which students were in the system, what “room” they were in, and who was not connected.  The system would keep records of how much time students spent in the system, and how they spent it.  A limited version of the classroom and its resources would be available even when the teacher was not present.

    While an environment like this could make a virtual kindergarten class more engaging, keep in mind that being on a computer or phone for long periods of time is unhealthy, especially for young children.  Every effort should be made to minimize their screen time and get them learning with their bodies and their five senses.

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