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Friday, March 26, 2010

Interview with John Bittleston: Wiglington and Wenks

Welcome to an interview with John Bittleston, originator of the Wiglington and Wenks series of e-learning simulations, games, and interactive media for young learners. He has helped establish virtual mentoring programs for young learners as well.

1. What is your name and your affiliation?
John Bittleston (Lord Bittleston of Newnham - a very old British Manorial title).
A British Citizen, half American, living in Singapore. I am also Chairman of the Board of Wiglington and Wenks Worldwide Pte Ltd, children’s entertainment and learning project. Founder Mentor of Terrific Mentors Pte Ltd, an online and face-to-face personal and corporate mentoring business.

I am a business man of seventy-seven who spent sixteen years in advertising and nearly twenty-five years in the food industry, part of it building a food and herbal remedies business based in Singapore but with operations in eighteen locations around the Pacific. When I sold this business, almost twenty years ago, I wrote four children’s books The Travels of Wiglington and Wenks. These were turned into a play, an exhibition, a schools program on creativity, a board game, an early computer game and a five minute animated video shown at Cannes MIPCOM.

2. What is your connection to e-learning?
My children’s project has been a mixture of entertainment and education. The books were conceived at a time when geography was being removed from the syllabus of most schools but children were travelling more than ever. They often could not identify on a world map the places they had come from or gone to. It worried me that even some of the young in the American half of my family in Minnesota could not point to Singapore - even though I was living here.

As Napoleon said ‘Geography reflects History’. I decided to make geography and cross-cultural understanding the basis of the children’s books. As the internet has developed over the last twenty years the opportunities for making education entertaining have expanded beyond anything we could have hoped for, hence the Carto’s Maps online hidden object games and The Travels of Wiglington and Wenks Virtual World.

As a consequence of my books I was asked by the Singapore Government to get involved in developing the Gifted Education Programme, part of Singapore’s Creative Arts Programme. In particular I was asked to become a Mentor to young writers who were showing promise. Children everywhere are creative but in the past sometimes the demands of knowledge as proof of their education have outweighed the value attributed to creative output. The consequence of this is top level discipline at the expense of inventiveness and creativity.

For its survival Singapore - and the whole world - now needs high level thought and ingenuity if the human species is to survive in anything like its present form. From my mentoring young writers I became interested in mentoring older people and started Terrific Mentors, an online and face to face mentoring business with programmes covering career, personal, business and social problems. This became very popular and the people involved came from all over the world, a significant number from the United States. With over 4,000 personal Mentees, aged six to ninety-two, and many company Mentees the business has grown and is growing fast.

3. What s your philosophy of learning through virtual worlds and / or simulation?
All learning should be fun. We do best in life what we enjoy doing. There is certain basic information we need to be given in childhood, some standards that we need explaining to us so that we understand the community’s advantage of our abiding by them. But information is now readily available and we can see the standards of others on the internet.

What the young are not learning, and what previous generations have failed to learn, is the wisdom to use the information and technology we now have and will shortly have on a vastly greater scale. The evidence for this is all around us. In the 21st Century we are still fighting wars. The gap between the rich and the poor has doubled in my lifetime, a period when democracy has been widely accepted and practiced as the fairest of the available political systems. We have turned sex into a heinous crime while allowing truth to be routinely ignored, indeed even discouraged. Business, especially in the financial area, is more corrupt than ever.

Mankind is a mixture of good and bad. Proselytizing good has not had a record of unqualified success because it has involved telling people what to do. Mankind only does what is right when men and women have worked out for themselves what is right and concluded that following the path of right is sensible.

4. How do you see gaming / simulation / virtual worlds working with mobile learning?
We all grew up believing that, apart from life itself, choice was our greatest gift. We could choose right from wrong. Countless millions have struggled to follow their consciences while a relatively small number have been allowed to take advantage of them for personal material, social and political gain. This is not a Socialist view, it is a sound social view.

The fastest way to improve choice for those for whom it is still too limited is for them to know each other, to talk to each other, to learn about each other’s cultures, to enjoy each others’ company. Every time I see a children’s party on The Travels of Wiglington and Wenks Virtual World I rejoice at the mixture of cultures, at the visible exchanges of childish but profound wisdom, at the making of the real global village we all live in.

5. How can virtual worlds help develop viable learning communities?
Virtual worlds are nothing new. All religions from the dawn of time have relied on a concept of virtual world, without the benefit of the internet, to promote their beliefs, confident that doing so will improve the world and the behaviour of the people in it. As I have already said the lessons mankind has to learn are lessons of wisdom.

Who has this wisdom?
Happily, each of us has some wisdom regardless of our intellect and despite our level of education. Some of the wisest people I have known have been peasants or people in jobs that lacked the influence of the celebrated and the politically or commercially dominant. The internet is a chance to root out the dangerous businesses and the personality destroying greed and learn about a more balanced lifestyle.

We talk about it enough. Let’s start to walk the talk.
John Bittleston

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