Voki Characters Make Writing Fun

— Click the play button to hear me speak.—

The text to speech capabilities of Voki characters make them great motivators for student writing. Students enjoy having Voki characters read out their written assignments, stories and other pieces of writing on places like the Ultranet, websites and blogs. Here’s a video from 2011 of one of my year 4 students at Winters Flat Primary School in Castlemaine. He talks about his writing process and use of Google Docs, Voki Characters and Global2 for blogging.

The free version of Voki.com lets you create colorful characters who can replay your voice recordings or convert text to speech in a variety accents. These characters are easy to place on blogs and websites, and they each have their own unique URL. It’s possible to save the characters you create as HTML code in a text editor like Notepad or Word, but it’s easier and more convenient to save them directly on Voki.com using a free account. A 13+ age restriction makes this unsuitable for primary schools, though younger students can still use the free site legally provided they don’t create accounts and login. Voki Classroom ($29.95 per year) lets teachers add primary age classes and students who can then save their characters for future use. Classroom Voki also provides a significantly larger range of characters and lets teachers access additional resources and create lesson plans which can be shared with others. Regardless of which version you use you can still access sample lesson plans such as that shown on the screen below which came from a search for writing lessons for year 2.

I didn’t read the terms of service agreement when I first signed up for Voki, but having read it for the purposes of making this blog post, it seems that Oddcast, Voki’s owners, protect themselves no more or less than most free and paid-for service providers on the web. The use of Voki characters must be non-commercial, which excludes for profit schools, and the terms of service include the condition that “any material” submitted to Voki.com “shall become the sole property of Oddcast to the fullest extent permitted by applicable law.” The terms also state that “Oddcast reserves the right to limit or revoke your access to this Web Site, or any area thereunder, in its sole discretion, at any time…“ They also reserve the right to change the terms of service any time. Given the nature and pricing of the product, those conditions sound like reasonable commercial protections to me. The terms imply that a separate commercial understandings with Oddcast for uses otherwise prohibited by the terms of use are negotiable.

New Literacies Video Presentation

Here is the New Literacies Group video presentation from the culminating session of the PLP ConnectU program for DEECD teachers in 2011. It features students from Winters Flat PS, Castlemaine PS, Berwick PS, Kalinda PS and Yuille Park Community College.

The students talk about:
– using blogs
– using Google Docs
– using the Ultranet
– improving their traditional literacy skills
– learning new digital literacies

Ultranet meets Google Docs at Winters Flat Primary School

Today students in year 5 and 6 at Winters Flat Primary School logged into the Ultranet to view their ICT tasks and were delighted to discover that they now had their own accounts on the school’s new Google Apps for Education domain at wintersflatps.net.  Web 2.0 technologies like the Ultranet and Google Apps work conveniently in a web browser, make collaboration easy and make hunting for that file or email attachment a thing of the past.

Students are already collaborating on creative writing tasks using Google Docs.  Here’s an example of what’s possible.  The video shows the development of a piece of writing by a Canadian primary student using Google Docs.  (If YouTube is blocked at your school, this is worth watching at home.)

Learning through games

In mid-May I visited the DEECD Innovation Showcase in Melbourne and attended a session entitled “Learning through games”.

When I visited the Tyrell College showcase I felt an immediate sense of deja vu. The way in which students and teachers were using The Lord of The Rings Online reminded me of a period in the 1980s when adventure games like Granny’s Garden were often used by teachers as thematic centrepieces for cross-curricular activity that turned whole classrooms into exciting places where witches, dragons and other fantastic creatures came to life. Children became enthusiastically engaged in reading, writing, numeracy, art and drama – all related to the world of the game.  And here at the DEECD Showcase in 2011 I was seeing an approach that was remarkably similar!  Today the reach of the technology is broader so that what were once cross-curricular off-computer pen and paper based activities are now mostly on-computer activities. There is also the entirely new element of social networking where students communicate with other students and gamers across the state and across globe.

gg_witchbig

The Witch from the 1983 classic Granny’s Garden

It was good to see that an innovative approach pioneered in primary schools by teachers like Mike Matson almost thirty years ago is still alive today.  I hope more teachers try it.

An interview with Mike Matson from 2010 can be found here, where he discusses the genesis of his game Granny’s Garden, first released for the BBC microcomputer in 1983.

gg_dragonsbig

The challenging Dragon Puzzle from Granny’s Garden

DISCLOSURE: I’m especially fond of Granny’s Garden as it was the first adventure game I programmed for my own software company Dataworks. 4Mation, the UK publishers, allowed me to produce the first Apple II and Macintosh versions of their best selling adventure games Granny’s Garden, Flowers of Crystal and Dragon World.

PS. If you’re tempted to try The Lord of the Rings Online, go here. It’s free.

Is blogging good for school children?

Blogs have tremendous educational potential.  They provide a communication space that teachers, children and parents can use to develop writing, share ideas and reflect on work being undertaken at school in any subject area.  They enable children to showcase their work and to receive feedback and encouragement from friends, family and fellow students.

What are blogs?
You are reading one.  Blogs are websites maintained by people to describe events or make commentary on news or subjects of interest.  Blogs are mostly made up of pieces of writing, called posts, written by the blog owner.  They may also contain images and video and usually have links to other blogs and web pages.

Do blogs threaten children’s privacy or safety?
Blogging on teacher-monitored blogs is a comparatively safe online activity, but since anyone can see a blog and anyone can post a comment on a blog, there is a risk that unwanted comments will be posted.  Usually comments don’t appear publicly on a blog until they are approved by the blog’s owner (this is the default setting for most blogs), so inappropriate comments will only be seen by the blog owner (child) and the teacher administrator.  School children should be taught about cyber bullying and all school blogs should be monitored to ensure appropriate behaviour.  It is rare to find anyone outside the school community posting on a school blog.  Children should not share personal details like their address or family photos.  Once a photo or video is posted on a blog it can be viewed and downloaded by anyone.