Saturday, May 23, 2009

A William Gibson Moment

Let me set the scene ...

A voice from on high. Carole’s smiling face suddenly appears on our whiteboard … she is with us!

I'm in my classroom at Duke St. It's about 11.05 am. My Level 1 ESL class has just divided into small groups. They've started a sequencing exercise about Making a Cuppa. I'm a bit sleepy ... hung over from my late night Web 2.0 experiments and cyber adventures.

I sit back for a moment and ask myself o0( isn't there an Elluminate@Eleven right now?) I take advantage of a quiet moment, flip open a new tab and log into the Ning. I click on the Elluminate@Eleven URL. The client program quickly downloads and I’m in … then I'm called away from my laptop by one of the groups.

Suddenly a voice from on high descends upon the class. The voice is crystal clear, amplified by the powerful speaker I’ve got hooked into the laptop.

"Hello, Dale, it's Carole here!!! Carole from Albury/Wodonga." …

I've left the datashow on. I've got various pages flashed up on the grimy, marker smudged whiteboard. We've just watched ‘You Tube Cooking Star’, Ruju from India, teach us how to make Chai and heard voice messages left on VOXOPOP by other students of mine about the secret art of tea-making. Suddenly the whiteboard is "illuminated / elluminated" and ...

... Carole McCulloch has somehow hijacked my whiteboard and her smiling face has become the centre of attention ... she's chattering away ... calling us to attention from her video window on screen.

Carole is almost holographic. She's in our classroom. How did she get there? How can she seem so real? She is so clear. So crisp. The class has abandoned the sequencing exercise. There’s excitement all round. Screams of disbelief and pleasure. Now my students are out of their seats dancing around the whiteboard, touching Carole's face, talking back at her. This is like something out of Science fiction. This is a William Gibson moment.


They were inside now, smoothly accelerating, and the squirming density of the thing was continual visual impact and optical drumming ... Walls scrawled and crawling with scrolled messages, spectral doorways passing like cards in a shuffled deck. And they were not alone: others there, ghost figures, whipping past, and everywhere the sense of eyes ... (William Gibson, Idoru)

I love that passage. I quoted it when I was invited to write an article about MOOs in the 90s. Of course there was no sound or image in the MOO ... but I think I immediately recognised the power of synchronous virtual places. The highly social, communal space of the MOO fired my imagination and gave me some insight into the way classrooms might look in the future --- just like today with Carole ‘elluminated’ on our whiteboard .

The boundary between real and virtual seemed to collapse with Carole's ‘visit’ ... or at least there was a fascinating overlap. Here was another teacher (remotely located) actually working with us in the small world of our suburban classroom.

I realised in that 'William Gibson moment' that there was also the potential to exploit voice and video technologies as an unconventional channel for beaming in virtual guest speakers, other teachers, other students, who like Carole can be a part of our class.


Student instructing Carole in how to make a good cuppa while Carole types up the instructions verbatim in the chat window … a useful little log for discourse analysis later on

I hand the mike over to the students who are now lining up to talk to Carole. A representative from each group tells her 'how to make a cup of tea' and Carole responds with kind comments and related questions. She even types up my students instructions verbatim so we can later on pick up mistakes by having a written record of the discussion. She's virtual guest, virtual scribe ... she's doing all of this from way up bush (if you can call Albury/Wodonga 'bush')

Idea! ... a whole series of guest speakers in my ESL classroom. "The visit" could just as easily be done using Skype or another program ... that's unimportant. It's the value of bringing these other voices and presences into the classroom which counts.

What a wonderful morning. What a truly 'elluminating' moment.

Dale and Carole ‘live’ … one in the classroom, the other on screen

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