The Virtual World of Gifted Kids [VIDEO]

Click on image to see the children interact with Gifted Kids Virtual World

At the Gaelscoil Eoghain uí Thuairisc in Carlow, Ireland where lessons are taught in Irish they are implementing the use of 3D technology for the learning support of gifted children. This is the first time that this technology has been used in Ireland to teach part of the school curriculum. The interactivity and detail of the 3D technology means that anything you can do or build in the real world can be replicated in this virtual world.

Gifted children who, at the most conservative estimate, make up 5% of the entire school population are taking part in a pilot programme devised by the school in conjunction with Irish software company Daynuv, and Giftedkids.ie, an association specifically set up to advocate for provisions to be made in the education system and elsewhere for the needs of gifted children.

Bríd Uí Mhaoluala, who runs the project for one hour every week in the school with the children helped to devise the pilot program. She has been working with gifted children for over ten years and she welcomes the lack of need for any real learning curve when initially engaging with the software. She says, “I’m not a computer whizz. I am the sort of person who presses the button without reading the instructions to see what this thing does. But if we can do it here any teacher can do it and that’s the most attractive thing about it, I think. It’s accessible to any teacher who wants to try it.”

She gave the children minimal instruction in how to get started and in a very short time they were way ahead of her in terms of understanding the capabilities of the software and their inventiveness in what they were able to create. The exceptional nature of gifted children, even within the educational community, can be the source of many problems as Brida explains, “Some teachers can be a little bit scared of exceptionally abled children and don’t want to admit that they don’t know how to do it but you need to pack your ego [away] and say, Right, you are going to get this more quickly than I did. You’re probably going to be better at this then I would. So run with it.”

James Corbett, co-founder of Daynuv (an Anglicisation of the Irish word ‘deanamh’ which means making,) a company that provides virtual worlds for education says, “It’s an open source platform called OpenSim which is an open source version of Second Life. What it does is give you a 3D space which, on first blush, looks like a gaming environment that you see on a console.

“It’s a 3D space, you have six degrees of movement, up and down, left and right and in and out of the space. But unlike a game it is not a pre-programmed environment it’s something you can decide exactly what you would like it to be.

“So, what the kids initially get from us is a clean slate, sixteen acres of land that they can terraform, build their own terrain. If they want to build mountains or valleys or rivers or lakes then they can build that. On top of that they can use building tools to build whatever they want. First and foremost it is a platform about building and constructing unlike a lot of console games which are about destructing. It’s…about collaborating.”

Margaret Keane is a strong supporter of the Gifted Kids Virtual World project. She runs Giftedkids.ie which describes itself as “An Online Survival Guide for Parents & Teachers of Gifted Children in Ireland.” It is specifically set up to advocate for provisions to be made in the education system and elsewhere for the needs of gifted children.

Margaret explains the original genesis of the idea, “We were looking for something that we could bring into the classroom because we were getting a lot of requests through the website saying, “We want to know what this information is, we want to know what the characteristics are. What do we need to to look out for? We have [children with] this range of special abilities and we don’t know how to support them.” So they’re looking for practical solutions.”

She met with James and it was agreed that there would be a certain kind of synergy in combining their efforts and Bríd became involved through her participation on the GiftedKids.ie forums.

Margaret says, “I was very excited by the fact that you can use this technology to support the entire curriculum. You can link to all sorts of learning objectives.”

But as important as it is to acquire knowledge and practical skills the Gifted Kids Virtual World technology also acts as a vital communications tool for the children when they are away from the school.

Margaret points out, “That’s where it really helped the social skills because a lot of these kids find it hard to find a peer group within their school or even within their classroom.”

With the inbuilt messaging capability the children can still participate in the Gifted Kids Virtual World from their homes and continue collaborating on the various projects they are working on together.

We made a short video and you can see and hear the children describe for themselves how they interact with both the application and each other. It is only six minutes long and is a testament to the power that 3D technology can have if properly applied.

The pilot programme is expanding and very soon 20 schools in total will be involved. The software is made freely available to schools but sponsors are needed to pay for server and administration costs. 3D technology has moved from the gaming console to the classroom and is facilitating the education of our gifted children. One can only imagine the possibilities if it were made available for all our children.

There is also a flythrough video of the 3D environment in Gifted Kids Virtual World available for viewing here.

Margaret and James would like to offer a special thanks to Social Entrepreneurs Ireland for their part in helping to make the Gifted Kids Virtual World project possible.

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SMXQ – James Corbett

As well as being an advocate of 3D technology through his work organising 3Dcamp in Ireland James Corbett is also a prime mover in the Limerick business community; participating in such events as bizcamp Limerick and Open Coffee Limerick.

1. Could you tell us about your background (where you’re from, what you’ve done)?

I’m from rural Co. Limerick and qualified from the University of Limerick in 1995 with a degree in Computer Engineering and Grad. Dip. in Marketing. I went on to work with Apple Computer, Motorola and Analog Devices before starting my first company in 2002 which was an online sports forum. More recently I co-founded Daynuv which which develops virtual world applications for education and training. We received seed funding from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland to focus on applications for children with physical and intellectual disabilities.

2. What was your route into social media?

I started blogging in 2003 and was shortlisted in the Technology category of the inaugural Irish Blog Awards. Around 2005 I became particularly interested in the area of blog feeds and wrote a lot about a technology which could group feeds in useful ways (called OPML). As a result of the ideas I put forth I was invited to join the advisory board of a Boston, MA startup called Grazr. It was proud moment for me when Dan Bricklin, co-creator of Visicalc, the first spreadsheet software for the PC, later joined the same board.

3. Tell us a little bit (if you can) about what you’re interested in or working on right now.

Daynuv provides the back-end infrastructure for 3D virtual worlds based on the opensource version of Second Life, called OpenSimulator.

A number of educational organizations around the country are currently trialling our system and we have developed a good partnership with GiftedKids.ie which provides much needed support services to talented children and their parents.

4. What social media services do you use regularly and why?

Blogs are still my favourite social media, which I consume voraciously through a feed reader (Google Reader). As much as I enjoy the greater immediacy and two-way conversation of microblogging the original blogging format continues, on the whole, to generate deeper and more meaningful discussion.

Twitter is a close second and particularly good for business networking. It’s the virtual water cooler of choice and my network there churns out numerous nuggets of knowledge and wisdom each day.

LinkedIn is a useful third and continues to gain in importance. I’ve connected with many people there who seem disinterested in Twitter and Facebook. As for Facebook I have a profile there but have yet to find it of any great use. Then again it’s strength lies in true social networking, rather than professional networking.

Another social media service (though not always recognized as such) I find immensely useful is Delicious. I’m following a large number of people there who save bookmarks to articles and services that are often missed by other channels.

I’m also a fan of podcasting though I don’t have time to subscribe to as many channels as I’d like. Recently I’ve tuned into the Audioboo community and am finding it a refreshing return to the raw ‘braindumps’ of podcasting’s roots.

Not forgetting YouTube where I’ve subscribed to a large number of informative channels.

5. If you could only keep one service or tool, what would it be, and why have you chosen it?

I wish I could be original in this but I have to join the choir and chime in with… Twitter. In my ideal world everyone would blog and the necessary realtime protocols and plumbing would be in place to give the federated blogosphere the immediacy and bi-directionality of Twitter. But it’s not an ideal world and Twitter is here now and has the critical mass to be an invaluable intelligence hub.

6. Including your own area of expertise, what developments in social media do you think are particularly important?

As I understand it the technologies behind the emergent ‘federated social web’ have the potential to give us the best of both worlds – the aforementioned benefits of Twitter and the open Blogosphere combined. No one company, whether it be Twitter or Facebook should control the conversation. Microblogging should be no different to email in the sense that no one entity owns or monopolizes it.

7. What can you do now that you couldn’t do before the arrival of social media?

I can network like never before. I can exchange tips and advice with my peers though-out the day, every day. As someone who lived and worked in the cities of Cork and Limerick for a number of years before striking it out alone I had never accounted for the professional isolation of working from a home base in the countryside. That and the fact that I had no latent network to tap when starting my first business mean that without blogging and social networking it’s safe to say I’d have been back working a 9 to 5 job a long time ago.

8. What issues, either technical or social, do you see with social media?

My biggest issue is the tendency towards echo chambers. Which of course is both a social and technical issue. I’m looking forward to more innovations in microblogging tools and conventions that facilitate greater discovery of diverse viewpoints. For instance, the hashtag convention in Twitter is a great way to discover new people around a particular topic of conversation. And to read opinions outside of a stale follow list.

9. What one piece of advice would you give to someone entering the social media world?

Fill in your profile and use a passport-style photo. Then engage in some real conversation before going on a follower hunt. Like most longtime Twitter users I get many new follows each day from people who have built up no ‘track record’ and worse again have protected their tweets. Why would I take the effort to follow them back?

Be generous – retweet interesting points of view even if you disagree with them. Reply to those who engage with you. Reach out to newbies. Make introductions. Vary your tweets – don’t make them all replies, retweets or links. And definitely don’t make them all advertisements for your business.

10. How do you see social media helping and improving things for us in the future?

Innovation happens at the edges. For all the success of social media the flawed design of today’s tools draw us inevitably into silos and echo chambers. Stifling the cross-pollination of ideas across disciplines.

I’m very interested in the area of memetics which brings evolutionary models to the study of cultural information transfer. A meme is defined as a cultural unit (an idea or value or pattern of behavior) that is passed from one person to another by non-genetic means. Memes, like genes, are replicators and ‘use’ people as hosts (interesting aside: the movie ‘Inception’ refers to ‘the idea’ as the most contagious virus in the world).

So I see an evolution of social media in symbiosis with memetics. We will continue to refine the protocols, plumbing and tools such that social media will eventually not be seen as a mere part of the internet but the internet itself will be the ultimate social fabric and a hyper-efficient ‘meme machine’. Boundaries will disappear, silos and echo chambers will be consigned to memory and ideas will flow effortlessly across demographics and disciplines.