A passionate advocate for virtual worlds and gaming in education, US-based teacher Peggy Sheehy inspires educational professionals worldwide through her use of the classroom tools for the new generation.
An 18-year veteran, the educational gaming pioneer’s foray into technology education began when he daughter encouraged her, with her students, to open boxes of Dell computers that had been stored in the back of her classroom for months. Soon after Sheehy began an educational technology Master’s Degree and would teacher her third-graders what she learnt in her classes the night before.
“My students weren’t in anyway afraid or inhibited [by the computers],” Sheehy recalled. “Watching my students I went, ‘I need to learn more about this.’ By the end of my first year of teaching all of my students had their own digital portfolio built in Netscape Composer and their own website.”
Sheehy was soon labelled a ‘tech genius’ in her district and had teachers knocking down her door wanting to learn more about her use of technology in the classroom.
“I learned right from the get-go that things are received much more readily from teachers – especially reticent teachers or teachers who are a bit more technophobic – if they see an example from a colleague rather than having it shoved down their throat by administration,” Sheehy said. “Teachers need to take gentle baby steps at the beginning and build up their confidence.”
From there Peggy was made a district technology trainer and was given the ability to experiment and introduce a lot of brand new technologies, where eventually the educational use of online virtual world Second Life came into the picture.
“The video games are very often the avenue for a child to gain the confidence and the social skills, where they don’t feel inept and they don’t feel out of place, and I’ve seen those skills carry over into the real world and I think that transfer is really important,” she said.
Although Sheehy believes schools could do more to work towards meaningful integration of technology in the curriculum, she can see creative pockets of learning taking place in amongst the extreme focus on high-stakes testing in schools.
“Right now there are a lot of schools and a lot of teachers that are literally teaching to the test,” she said. “They’ve bought common-core curriculum packages and they are literally scripted – that’s terrifying because that’s going to suck all the joy of learning away from the kids.
“However, change is in the air because in the US teachers have had enough, parents have had enough and kids have certainly had enough.”
Sheehy will travel to Australia next month for the annual FutureSchools EXPO to showcase educational gaming, what works in her classroom and why it’s important.
“Educational gaming has come a long way… More and more teachers are acknowledging that they can do it,” she said. “The students are turning around and saying, ‘Finally you’re teaching me with the tools of my generation.’
“Quieter students are gaining confidence through leadership roles online then carrying it over into the physical offline world.
“Social and emotional skills are really taught in these virtual worlds.
“When a student functions as an avatar all of a sudden they have the freedom to let go of the shackles of ‘I’m not good at maths’ or any of those things, and they can let go of that.”
Peggy Sheehy will be presenting a Masterclass at the National FutureSchools EXPO – an annual 2-day event which runs from 2nd to 4th March 2016 at Australian Technology Park, Sydney. It is the sister-event of EduTECH (Australia and Asia Pacific’s largest education event). It consists of one central exhibition and five parallel conferences designed to tackle five specific areas of the future school:
- Future Leadership
- Young Learning
- Special Needs
- Teaching about and using emerging technologies
- STEM, coding, robotics and the new digital curriculum