The SLENZ Update – No 25, November 15, 2008

SLENZ NAMES ‘PILOT PROJECTS’

The SLENZ project steering group has chosen  educational institutions at opposite ends of  New Zealand as the successful applicants for the first two innovative pilot education projects in Second Life.

The two projects, named to participate in the SLENZ project are the Manukau Institute of Technology, with a foundation learning proposal , and Otago Polytechnic with a midwifery proposal. nealterry11

Both proposals include a number of partner institutions who will join in the pilots.

The participants will work with the SLENZ project team  subject to agreeing roles, responsibilities and expectations, according to the SLENZ project joint leader, Terry Neal (pictured).

Neal is currently talking to all the institutions who have signaled their  participation and will give more details as the institutions confirm their roles.

The two insitutions were selected from a shortlist of three from the initial six formal proposals from across New Zealand.

“We initially shortlisted the three because we considered they covered the breadth of student types and desired learning outcomes to help us determine the answers to a broad range of questions,” Neal said. “We were disappointed budgetary constraints prevented us from selecting more because all the proposals were interesting.”

The proposals from which the initial selection was made included: language learning, including Te Reo; medical training; foundation learning; information technology and retail training.
Initially more than 40 individual educators from tertiary institutions across the country expressed interest in becoming part of the SLENZ project.

All five types of New Zealand tertiary institution were represented in the numbers – universities, institutes of technology and polytechnics, wānanga, industry training organisations and private training enterprises.
The project, which has been set up on the Second Life islands of Koru and Kowhai, owned by NMIT, aims to determine how multi-user virtual environments might be used to improve student learning.

‘Playability’ crucial

‘Playability’  was described as a crucial factor in video games at the second European Conference on Games-Based Learning in Barcelona, Spain,in October, according to Nicola Whitton (pictured), a Research Fellow at the Education andwhittonnicola Social Research Institute at Manchester Metropolitan University, who has presented an interesting two-part blog on the conference. http://playthinklearn.net/

Her take on the conference is particularly valid for educators involved in virtual worlds, given her interest in the potential of using online games for learning, teaching and assessment – particularly in Higher Education but also in the context of adult learning. She recently completed a PhD in the potential of collaborative computer games for learning in Higher Education at Napier University in Edinburgh.
She noted that JL Sánchez described six facets of ‘global playability’:

  • intrinsic playability – the mechanics of design intrinsic to video games (e.g. goals, rules, game mechanics).
  • mechanical playability – the quality of the game as a software system (e.g. sound, graphics, rendering).
  • interactive playability – the methods of player interaction and interface design (e.g. dialogue and game controls).
  • artistic playability – the aesthetics of the artistic elements of the game (e.g. visuals, music, storyline).
  • personal playability – the vision, perceptions and feelings of the person playing the game.
  • social playability – the perceptions of the player group when the player plays with others.

Each of these facets, Sanchez and colleagues argued in their paper, had seven attributes (satisfaction, learning, efficiency, immersion, motivation, emotion and socialisation) and this can be used as a design framework for ensuring playability in educational games.

Another presenter, NP Zea gave guidelines for the development of collaborative games. They  should foster, Whitton reported:

  • positive interdependence – group members must share the same goals, group lifespan, evaluation and score.
  • personal accountability – individual contributions can be identified (but the game should seamlessly support students who may be struggling).
  • face-to-face interaction – game elements (such as reaching consensus) that encourage face-to-face meeting.
  • social skills – activities that support the development of team skills such as leadership, negotiation, and debate.
  • group processing – meta-cognitive group skills and evaluative skills.

In her blog Whitton gives perceptive highlights of a number of other excellent papers from this conference which she termed “one of the best conferences of the year with lots of relevant and high-quality papers.”

The Hayes diagram

A simple although complex-looking social media marketing campaign diagram which focuses on a few simple phases and steps has been developed by Australian, Gary Hayes(pictured) (SL; Gary Hazlitt) one of the Australasia’s leading virtual world builders, designers and bloggers on marketing and the new media. http://www.personalizemedia.com/the-future-of-social-media-entertainment-slides/
Although his views on the future of social media entertainment are apt to be dismissed by some of the more academic educators operating in and theorising about education in virtual worlds they do provide an easy-to-understand key to “getting under the skin of the new forms” of social connection being developed by the audience/consumers.

As head of MUVE Development at the Project Factory and also the Director of Laboratory for Advanced Media Production run through the Australian Film ,TV and Radio School, he managed and built the Australian Broadcasting Commission and Telstra’s Big Pond presence in SL. He has always had positions at the “bleeding edge” of new service delivery including being in Senior Development and as Producer at BBC New Media for eight years and as an Interactive Producer in Los Angeles in 2004.hayesgary

Although not all the Hayes concepts, developed with Laurel Papworth, are as relevant to virtual world education as they are to 21st Century viral and regular marketers  they do provide a roadmap of what virtual educators should be thinking about in shooting for success in virtual environments (diagram on Hayes’ website – see above).

  • INVOLVE – live the social web, understand it, this cannot be faked.
  • CREATE – make relevant content for communities of interest.
  • DISCUSS – no conversation around it, then the content may as well not exist.
  • PROMOTE – actively, respectfully, promote the content into the networks.
  • MEASURE – monitor, iteratively develop and respond or be damned!

The crash!

user-hours-per-quarter

With the recent release of the latest Second Life metrics and the world global economic meltdown which is currently taking place, questions are being asked about whether high-technology internet pursuits such as Second Life or other virtual worlds can survive the severe downsizing which will occur in all developed economies and the fact that consumers are likely to put their wallets away for the duration.

My feeling is that they will survive – and handsomely. In most developed countries, once the initial costs of equipment and broadband are overcome,  virtual worlds offer  a much less expensive form of entertainment than almost any form of real life entertainment except perhaps lolling in the sun  on the grass in your own backyard. There is no cost for fuel to get away to the beach or the mountains, no necessity for special clothing, no necessity to buy drinks or food, beyond that which one has in the cupboard, and no need to face up to expensive peer pressure with cars, boats, planes, travel, resorts or clothing – keeping up with the Jones’.

That said the metrics for Second Life and other virtual worlds are going to make interesting reading over the next few months.

Despite the world economy turning pearshaped the Linden Lab economic metrics for Second Life’s third quarter show significant growth in land, user hours and the inworld economy. (http://blog.secondlife.com/2008/11/12/q3-closed-on-a-high-note-with-an-unusually-strong-september/)

Users spent 10 percent more per hour than the year-to-date average although inworld transactions in October declined to levels more consistent with the year-to-date averages.

Linden said that the October results indicated that it should expect land growth to slow in Q4 as residents reconfigured their land holdings to accommodate the change in pricing and the addition of the “Homestead” island type.

It remains to be seen, however, just how great the exodus to other virtual worlds will be as a result of the new pricing arrangments.

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