GKCx Book Review

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Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

September 2008. 438 pages. Free download. Visit the Wiki version

I knew there must be some simple explanations to that most complex problem of teenagers’ school absenteeism and drop out rate in the land of plenty. I would have dropped out of school too, if a manual like GKCx would have been given to me, no matter how appealing the subject. You can see that for yourself. Screen this book and you will be confronted with another sad example of a most commendable purpose gone completely awry. An American tragedy.

Jeremy Kemp and his father, Stephen Kemp did a superb and commendable job. They donated their time to Global Kids' Second Life Curriculum, and produced an extraordinary array of additional resources, including the bookmarked and indexed book under review. They give full credit of the original documents to Barry Joseph and Joyce Bettencourt of Global Kids (GK).

On GK's Second Life Curriculum (SLC) it is stated that it was developed by Global Kids staff and co-produced with Cathy Arreguin. A group or organization identified only as "we" is grateful to Kate Farrell, Sean Farrell, Blueman Steele, Jeremy Koester, Ross Perkins, Jonathan Richter, John Wallace, the Second Life Educators Listserv, and countless beta testers. It is assumed that all the above mentioned individuals and organizations cooperated and/or contributed to GK's SLC.

Joseph, Director of the Online Leadership Program at GK, holds a BA from Northwestern University and an MA in American Studies from NYU. Joseph went to GK in 2000 through the New Voices Fellowship of the Academy for Educational Development, funded by the Ford Foundation. He has broad experience in human rights work and computer technology, with work experience at Web Lab and Joseph is responsible for translating Global Kid's programming onto the Internet. He has also taught Web-design at New School University, the School of Visual Arts, and Parsons School of Design. Joseph serves on the steering committee of the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning initiative and his writing appears in the Foundation’s Ecology of Games volume (2007). His invited presentations include the GLS conference, MIT’s Educational Arcade, the Games For Change conference, the United Nations, and Microsoft’s Wide World Summit; also, his work has appeared in the New York Times, CNN, Marie Claire, BusinessWeek, The Voice of America, and through press in Russia and Japan. While at Global Kids, Joseph has successfully launched two non-profit companies, Games For Change and a second working for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Bettencourt became interested in virtual words as a blogger. Besides posting since Nov. 05 on "why my (second) life" she's also a contributor of SLOG - A Second Life Resident Blog. Bettencourt describes herself as a creative conceptualizer with professional experience in virtual world development, blogging, podcasting, machinimatography, graphic design (web/print), illustration (traditional & computer), animation (Flash), character and concept generation. She holds a BFA in visual design/illustration from the UMa., Dartmouth. Bettencourt is a Creative at DeskHappy (Graphic Design industry), Principal and Executive Creative Director at The Vesuvius Group, LLC (Online Media industry), Contract Designer, Editor and Webmaster for GK, is self-employed as Virtual World Content Producer in Second Life, and Freelance Graphic Designer at her own studio h2o.

Cathy Arreguin teaches about and supports the use of virtual worlds for the San Diego State University, Department of Educational Technology, is an Instructional Designer/Coach/Sole Proprietor at Instructional Muse, and Instructional Designer/Consultant at School Media Inc. She coordinated multiple authors, wrote and edited GK's SLC, recruited, solicited feedback from beta testers, and managed project on time and budget, from January to August, 2007. Arreguin holds a BA in Psychology, from UC, Los Angeles and an MA in Educational Technology from San Diego State University-California State University

GK's SLC was written as a key component of GK professional development services offered to nonprofits, educational organizations, and other institutions interested in using Second Life […] to extend their work. GK's services focus, among others, on training individuals and organized groups to develop skills and learn best practices for conducting programs in Second Life. GK's SLC is offered free to all qualified educational institutions, but GK can be retained to adapt it for specific uses or train others in its use. Don't start queuing up for that training just yet. In that last quote, adapt is a true euphemism.

The names of Joseph and Bettencourt, the two authors that the Kemps give full credit for GK's SLC, are nowhere to be found on the original documents. They have a dazzling array of qualifications, baffling by the conspicuous lack of any evidence of having ever before produced any sort of manual and/or curriculum. Aside from some feeble attempts, the same might be said about the author of this review. However, after a lifetime spent dealing with both manuals and curricula, even if they might be hard to define, he knows them when he sees them. GK's SLC is not a manual, as it was initially called. It's a curriculum.

The curriculum is composed of nine sequential "levels." Each level is composed of modules which, in turn, are composed of individual lesson plans or "missions". In total there are 163 missions. These missions are offered under a Creative Commons license (attribution-noncommercial-share alike) and educators are encouraged to adapt this curriculum in any way they see fit. Credit should always be given to Global Kids. To share significant changes or best practices with other professionals implementing the curriculum, educators are encouraged to do it at

The Kemps added to GK's SLC a color cover, and three front pages: "GKCx Overview", "Level Abstracts," and "Level Table of Contents." On the "Level Abstracts" they expertly summarize the contents of each "level."

Level 1. Avatar: Appearance. Getting Around: Walking and Flying. Getting Around: Taking A Closer Look. Communicating: Chat.

Level 2. Finding Stuff: Inventory Part 1. Communicating: Friends. Building. Avatar: Clothing

Level 3. Building: Playing With Shapes. Communicating: Instant Messaging. Media: Snapshots. Textures: An Introduction To Textures.

Level 4. Building: Additional Features. Getting Around: Map and Mini-Map. Teleporting and Landmarks. Textures: Beyond The Basics.

Level 5. Avatar: Attachments. Building: Power Building. Communication: Joining A Group. Getting Around: Search.

Level 6. Avatar: Profile. Finding Stuff: Inventory Part 2. Media: Snapshots Part 2.

Level 7. Avatar: Gestures. Finding Stuff: Help and Other Resources. Finding Stuff: Money.

Level 8. Avatar: Animations. Communication: Creating A Group. Land: About Land.

Level 9 Communication: Voice. Land: Introduction To Estates. Land: Terraforming

GKCx summary of GK's SLC is misleading. A curriculum is more than the "levels" contents. Each level has a foreword introducing GK, and GK's SLC, presenting its scope, aims, organization, availability and acknowledgements. More to the point, every level is introduced by a list of standards from the McREL Learning Standards, as well as 21st Century Skills, which you can expect the modules of each level of the curriculum to address. In each module’s overview you will find a more comprehensive list of standards addressed within that module. Along with [those] standards, many modules […] also address the areas of math, engineering, the arts, geography, civics, behavioral studies, and life work. These are followed by the actual lesson plans that align with the standards.

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL), a nonprofit organization, researches and develops valuable information for teachers and administrators about proven, effective approaches to the challenges in education. The McREL product referred in GK's SLC is Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education. 4th. ed. (2004), by John S. Kendall and Robert J. Marzano. More than 600 pages of food for thought in the debates about learning standards.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills between the U.S. Department of Education, businesses, educators, administrators, parents, community organizations and individuals. The Partnership has developed a unified, collective vision for 21st century learning that can be used to strengthen American education. The key elements of 21st century learning are represented in a graph and corresponding descriptions. The graph represents both 21st century skills student outcomes (as represented by the arches of a rainbow) and 21st century skills support systems (as represented by pools at the bottom of the graph). The elements described as “21st century student outcomes” (represented by the rainbow) are the skills, knowledge and expertise students should master to succeed in work and life in the 21st century. The 21st century support systems are the critical systems necessary to ensure student mastery of 21st century skills. 21st century standards, assessments, curriculum, instruction, professional development and learning environments must be aligned to produce a support system that produces 21st century outcomes for today’s students.

The result of GK's SLC putting all the above theory into practice is a disaster of catastrophic proportions. Every level is introduced by exactly the same list of standards from the McREL Learning Standards, and 21st Century Skills. Beyond the seven McREL Learning Standards given for the nine levels, sixty percent of the 32 modules list additional standards. Starting at Module 1 of Level 2, 18 other standards are listed. The four 21st Century Skills are the same in more than one third (12) of the modules. Three and two of those four skills are listed in eight and six more modules, respectively. One of the remaining six modules includes a skill not listed for the levels, and two more modules share still another skill also not listed for the levels. Given the author of this review passing familiarity with the McREL Learning Standards and the 21st Century Skills there might be nothing wrong with all this, but it’s impossible to find any practical use for any list of subject areas, standards, benchmarks, and outcomes where a part is larger than the whole.

Several omissions and mistakes might also be revealing of the tedious task of listing the McREL Learning Standards and the 21st Century Skills. The benchmarks for the McREL Learning Standards 1 of all nine levels subject areas Arts and Communication and Behavioral Studies, as well as for the new Behavioral Studies standard listed in Module 2 of Level 4, are not given. The benchmark of Standard 1 of the Technology subject area could not be identified in the source for the McREL Learning Standards. By Level 3, Mathematics is listed instead of Geography in Module 1, of Technology and Working with Others in Module 2. Engineering Education is listed where it should be Language Arts in the same Module 2, adding up to three out of four subject areas being wrongly listed in this module. In Module 4 of the same Level 3, and again on Module 4 of Level 4, there’s an awkward combination of two standards of Mathematics in a single one. By Module 3 of Level 7 there was an apparent repeating fatigue and examples of some of the benchmarks were left out. This omission continues in modules 1 and 3 of Level 8, Module 1 also with a shorter version of the 21st Century Skills outcome, and in modules 2 and 3 of Level 9. In Module 3 of Level 8 and Module 2 of Level 9 there’s also a departure from the format used for quoting standards and skills throughout the SLC.

In GKCx, page 6, with the foreword to Level 1, is misplaced between pages 13 and 14. In GK's SLC, sections 7-1.3 and 7-1.3.1 are copies of sections 6-1.3 and 6-1.3.1. The major problem with GK's SLC supposed lesson plans (missions), however, is that they are not lesson plans at all and it veers suddenly from a document intended for the teacher to a manual that addresses the student directly. Prerequisites, for example, should allow the teacher, and other teachers replicating the lesson plan, to factor in necessary preparation activities to make sure that students can meet the lesson objectives. Materials should help other teachers quickly determine how much preparation time, resources, and management will be involved in carrying out the lesson plan, and what resources they will need to have ready. A lesson plan provides an opportunity to share some thoughts, experience, and advice with other teachers. The lesson procedure provides a detailed, step-by-step description of how to replicate the lesson and achieve lesson plan objectives, providing suggestions on how to proceed with implementation of the lesson plan. All this is noticeably absent from GK's SLC missions.

Each module starts with the statement of its goals (what is expected students to be able to do by the end of the module) under the title “power-up.” Power-up, a term long favored by engineers as equivalent to “turn it on”, permeates computer and video games. Power-ups instantly benefit or add extra abilities to the game character. The objectives of the module are drawn from the broader goals of the module plan and list how students will demonstrate what they have achieved (their new powers). Students familiar with the module material (powers) are asked to demonstrate their mastery on an assessment before beginning any of the module missions. This is immediately followed by sections with the prerequisites, materials, and vocabulary terms that are intended to be covered in the module. Prerequisites (previous knowledge), the concepts that have to be mastered in advance to accomplish the module objectives, are subtitled: “What you need to know to learn this power”. Perhaps preferably it should read: what you need to know to attain, acquire, or earn these powers. Materials are what needs to be prepared in advance of the module. The vocabulary is presented in a window, parallel to the prerequisites and materials. The choice of terms included in the vocabulary leaves much to be desired. For example: Toggle, IM (Instant Message), and Sandbox, among others, are repeated twice; Rez is also repeated, but with two different definitions; Inventory is introduced at the beginning of Level 2, after being profusely used in Level 1; Drag onto should be a well known technique in personal computer use.

Assessment of previous knowledge (Action Plan), one of the basic principles of teaching, is addressed before the presentation of new material (missions). Activities that have been mastered are eliminated and instruction streamlined to a pace commensurate with the students' readiness. Students familiar with the topic can demonstrate mastery on the assessment before content is introduced. These students require engagement in replacement materials instead of redundant work. This provides an educational option that challenges learners and affords those who demonstrate their achievements the time to pursue differentiated activities. Tasks (take action, and showing off your new power(s)?) are set up to assess previous knowledge and understanding.

The new material (missions) is introduced by a too brief statement of what is expected of students, the focus of the lesson. As already stated, the missions diverge substantially from a lesson plan. Absent is a mission description of any sort, providing an opportunity for some thoughts, experience, and advice to be shared with other teachers. There is no general overview of the mission in terms of topic focus, activities, and purpose. Left unanswered are questions like: What is unique about this mission? How did students like it? What level of learning is covered by this mission? How can the mission be presented to ensure that each student will have a good learning experience? The mission procedure introduction is reduced to what is expected of students. It does not explain how the ideas and objectives of the mission will be introduced; how to get students' attention and motivate them in order to hold their attention; how mission objectives tie with student interests and past classroom activities. On a positive note, students familiar with the task at hand are asked to proceed to the next mission.

What follows (Practice) is a detailed list and sequence of the steps to be performed by the students. The teacher continues to be ignored. There is no description of the flow of the mission to another teacher who will replicate it; what does the teacher should do to facilitate learning and manage the various activities; what are some good and bad examples to illustrate what the teacher is asking the students to do; how to check for student understanding; what methods can be used to check for student understanding; how should the tasks be carried out to ensure each student will benefit from the learning experience; how to monitor this practice session and give the students feedback.

Oblivious to what a lesson plan should be, the mission has no closure/conclusion. What will the teacher use to draw the ideas together for students at the end? How are students given opportunities to draw conclusions from the mission? How do students describe their problem-solving process? How do students show their work? How will the teacher provide feedback to students to correct their misunderstandings and reinforce their learning? Way ahead of the closure/conclusion, follow up lessons/activities (missions) are sometimes mentioned at several points, i. e., what mission follows as a result of this lesson. Here would be the right place to do it.

Aside from repeated calls to Blog it! (followed, inexplicably, by If you have access to a blog), there’s no assessment/evaluation. How does the teacher ensures that the students have arrived at their intended destination? How is evidence gathered that they did? This is usually done by gathering students' work and assessing this work using some kind of grading rubric that is based on lesson objectives. The teacher, for example, could quiz students on various concepts and problems addressed in this mission. How will the teacher evaluate the objectives that were identified?

The procedures listed for the students (Practice) are generally well explained, comprehensive and accurate, including the keyboard, menu, and window alternatives, when applicable. However, although much has been said and written about choosing a name for an account in SL, and the fact that that account name can’t be changed, in Level 1, Module Avatar: Appearance, Mission 1, GK's SLC ignores the potential of creating an alternate account (Alt) to circumvent that restriction. Mission 3 cautions to the loss of make-up, given that there is no undo button, ignoring the fact that default appearances remain always available in the Inventory Library, as addressed in Mission 6. There seems to be no knowledge of the proper function of the Apply and OK buttons on the same window, which the student is asked to Press (click on) sequentially. Some tasks are repeated, with no particular advantage in a sequence of levels. For example: finding textures is addressed in Level 2 and later introduced in Level 3. The note to NEVER put personal real life contact information, such as phone numbers or email addresses in your profile! is very appropriate for children, but may not apply to adults who are not in SL anonymously. In Section 9-2.0.1, Power-Up, You will demonstrate your new powers by: it should read: Deciding which abilities (not characteristics) you would like other avatars to have on a region.

There is too much confusion between the student in real life (RL) and its avatar in second life (SL). Your (avatar) eyes and you (your avatar) are wearing are two examples. This identification or confusion of the operator with the avatar is an important issue that has been the object of serious analysis and should not be treaded so lightly. You and your avatar are two of a kind: they're different, but linked. As your avatar experiments, grows, and develops, in some way, you yourself grow and develop too. Is someone's ipse identity (her sense of self) affected by the way her avatar is treated in virtual space, or by her being identified - by her idem identity (her sameness) - as the person behind the avatar? Research subjects fitted with goggles that stream video from cameras strapped to another person (or mannequin) can experience that body as their own, neuroscientists say. The subjects experienced measurable physiological changes, as reported in the open-access journal Public Library of Science.

Unfortunately, all too often the supposed assessment at the end of each mission (Action Plan, take action, and showing off your new power(s)?) includes some questions not addressed in the missions. New material should never be introduced during this activity. Higher level thinking questions should also be avoided if students have not engaged in such practice during the lesson. This is an extensive problem that permeates through all of GK's SLC. For example: Does it (your avatar) look like how you look in real life, or is it very different? How do your (avatar) eyes fit the personality of your avatar? Why did you pick the avatar look you did? What would it be like to choose someone different? Perhaps someone who differs visually from you – someone with a different race, ethnicity or gender than yourself. Make an avatar to reflect that "different" person. Walk around Second Life and notice if and how you’re treated differently. Blog about your experience being "different". In what ways were you different? Why did you make those choices? How did it make you feel? Did people treat you differently than you had anticipated? Reflect on your new friendship. What made you choose this person? What did you learn about him or her? Did you learn anything about yourself in the process? Befriend someone you probably would not spend time with in your real life. Make an honest attempt to get to know them and find common activities and things to talk about. Write about your experience. Please be sensitive to the other person and decide if it makes sense to mention him or her by name. As you walk around in Second Life wearing your new outfit, what does it feel like? How do people treat you? Using all of your new building skills, design and build a shelter for people in an area of the world unfamiliar to you. Blog about your shelter. Include a snapshot! (Taught two modules later). Why did you choose that area of the world? Does your shelter look like actual shelters in that area? Why did you make the building choices you did? How is it similar or different from your own home? Slightly changing the color of a cut face can really improve the look of an object (Taught three modules later). Select the leg section and shift-drag to make another leg section (Not taught). IM a few friends and ask them to describe one action they have taken to stop global warming. Also tell them one action you have taken to protect the environment. Try this now: If you are part of a group in Second Life, IM the group (Joining a group is taught two levels later). Why did you choose the textures you did? What do they say about you? You already know how to make an object glow from within using the Fullbright feature (not true). You have already learned how to tint faces of prims to show shadows (not true). You may remember that land parcel owners can only change the level of their land by 4 meters up or down (taught in the following module). Is the order of modules 2 and 3 of Level 9 reversed from what it was supposed to be?

It is with profound consternation that most of the examples above lead to the realization that GK is using SLC to promote their own agenda. This is a somber abuse of those who might trust GK's SLC to train the minds of children and adults alike as users of SL. GK's SLC takes a long time to recognize the misalignment of some of the action plans at the end of each module with assessment or, indeed, with any kind of action, for only in Module 3 of Level 7 it states: THIS IS NOT AN ACTION, THOUGH – JUST A SET OF QUESTIONS.

Any order that is used to present the features of SL is debatable. This also holds true for GK's SLC. For example: it chose to introduce building and clothing early (Level 2), leaving teleporting and landmarks for much later (Level 4). This might not necessarily be a good option, since teleporting and landmarks are a basic way to get around in SL, introduced in Level 1, and building is used only by a fraction of SL residents. A major flaw of GK's SLC might have been an eagerness to provide fish, instead of teaching how to fish. Only in Module 2 of Level 7 are students told about Help and Other Resources. The requirement of previous knowledge of levels 1-6 is utterly inappropriate as several resources are available outside SL, for example: and It does not take much time spent in SL Main Grid to know that a resident needs to know how to handle abuse. GK's SLC, however, avoids this matter and only teaches how to Report Abuse, in what seems like an afterthought, in that same Module 2 of Level 7.

Is GK's SLC an extensive and all inclusive first approach to SL? Sadly, no. Particles, for example, are only mentioned once, and never discussed. At the other end of the spectrum, scripts are mentioned profusely. What’s in GK's SLC, however, hardly classifies as the most basic introduction to scripting in SL.

All of the above, including direct testimony from GK's SLC co-producer Cathy Arreguin, received after this review was started, makes the task of grading the quality of GK's SLC content, contribution, or any other aspect from which the content should be profitably viewed, very unpleasant. Short of accusing the absent authors, Barry Joseph and Joyce Bettencourt, of outright intellectual dishonesty, GK's SLC fails as a curriculum and the modules are not suitable for anyone who might want to learn how to use SL. It’s easy to understand Joseph and Bettencourt: nobody in its right mind would want his/her name associated with such dubious accomplishment. The outstanding work of the Kemps who, by putting together GKCx, made this review possible, no matter how commendable, was probably misplaced and lacking in a proper evaluation of the material they worked with. You can't make something out of nothing.

The only audiences who might benefit from GK's SLC would be: someone capable of carrying through the undaunting task of publishing a SLC and willing to learn from other’s mistakes; a SL user wanting to expand his/her knowledge of SL, that might study the modules with extreme caution; the reviewer, who shortly after starting to teach in SL a course in Facilities Planning and Design, documented in this very same wiki, and a few days after the beginning of this review, started to put together A Second Life Real Life Manual, also available in this wiki.

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