MUVE Research – VLENZ Update, No 173, June 08, 2010

1. ‘Turning’ boys into girls, virtually speaking

Transferring body ownership

to  your virtual avatar …

The real Avatar: body transfer turns men into girls – video 85429678001 – life – 13 May 2010 – New Scientist.

Second Lifers or World of Warcrafters, who have become fully immersed in those environments,  would be unlikely to doubt  that one’s sense of self can be highly malleable and that they can easily believe – for  moments at the very least  if not hours – that their avatar, no matter how different in gender, species or age,  is “really” them.

But people, who have  not experienced MUVE immersibility either in a virtual world like Second Life, or a MMORPG  such as World of Warcraft,  might  be very sceptical about the possibility.

However,  researchers at the University of Barcelona, according to the New Scientist, have now shown that, facilitated by a  “young girl body image” view with virtual-reality headset and some brief arm-stroking, men in their mid-20s can react as if the “avatar” body is their own. They feel that way even when they subsequently move outside the girl’s perspective and watch her being attacked.

Professor Mel Slater, who led the team that carried out the experiment,  told  Wendy Zukerman, of the New Scientist, “This is the first experiment to show that body ownership can be transferred to an entirely virtual body.”

Mel Slater

The finding, Zukerman said,  highlighted how far one’s sense of self and body image could be manipulated, and could lead to therapies for conditions of body-image distortion such as anorexia and might be applied to entertainment – to make video games more immersive, for example –and also to psychology.

On average, the men in the experiment reported medium-strength feelings about the girl’s body being their own, and strong feelings that the woman was touching their body: the researchers recorded physical responses such as increased heart rate when the avatar, they were later viewing as a third person, was slapped.

The experiment demonstrated the strong connection the volunteers felt to their new, virtual bodies,  Slater told Zukerman, suggesting that the familiarity of looking down and seeing one’s own body “is so overwhelming” that even dramatic changes in body won’t override the influence of vision.

Slater’s principal areas of research are  in helping to find out what makes virtual reality work for people – in the sense that they can engage with one another in virtual environments, and also interact with virtual characters. His research, the study of ‘presence’ in virtual environments, is also explored in the context of psychotherapy for social phobia and other related applications.

2. Learning to control your nightmares the vid-gaming way

Nightmares - can you control them?

Video “gaming serves some of the same society functions in today’s world as explicit mythological systems have in indigenous cultures” through meditation-like absorption, according to  Professor Jayne Gackenbach,  of Grant MacEwan University, Edmonton, Canada, and Professor Harry T. Hunt, of  Brock University, St Catherines, Canada, in a paper  on “Video Game Play and Lucid Dreaming as Socially Constructed Meditative Absorption”, presented  at the Science of Consciousness Conference.

Gackenbach,  a  psychologist with the Department of Psychology at Grant MacEwan,  who has focused her research  on the effects of technology, especially video game play, on consciousness, believes video gamers learn through gaming to have more lucid dreams than non-gamers, to control  their dreams and nightmares and dull the stresses of real life.

Her research, which  suggests gamers suffer fewer nightmares and are more likely to turn their nightmares into fun, video-game-like challenges, could aid those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, of which nightmares are a common symptom.

Jayne Gackenbach

Noting in their paper that research has shown that video game players report more lucid dreams than those who rarely game,  Gackenbach and Hunt said, “… gaming serves some of the same societal function in today’s youth as explicit mythological systems have in indigenous cultures … these states experienced in gaming are a spontaneous re-engagement with that level of collectivity from a place of our individual conscious isolation in highly differentiated and pluralistic modern culture.

“… It appears that gaming adds a dimension to the lucid dreams of gamers such that their full potential for focused problem solving is expressed very much like the strategies of video gaming. The enhanced bizarreness of lucid-gamer associated dreams may also serve as a trigger for the emergence of their increased lucidity. The exotic-mythic element of the lucid bizarre dreams of gamers (Gackenbach et al, in press) is similar to previous research on the archetypal content in dreams (Hunt, 1989).”

By comparing the lucid versus non-lucid dreams of gamers, Gackenbach and Hunt concluded that lucidity in gamer’s dreams emphasised the already generally positive dream experience of being lucid in sleep, including the enhanced aggression which facilitated the sense of empowerment also typical in video-game playing. Not only is there more lucidity in gamer’s dreams, but that lucidity seems to be further enhanced by the gaming experience.

“To be absorbed in consciousness, be it in lucid dreams, intense fantasy or meditation is also to be absorbed in the social field more deeply than is available in ordinary consciousness,” they argued. “Since consciousness itself is collective already, and the high absorber is entering the level provided in traditional times by externalised ritual and myth, gaming offers those in contemporary western individualistic society much the same function.

“Specifically it is an externalised absorptive consciousness with provided patterns that are accordingly socially structured, simultaneously shared, and so offering some of the support of tribal societies, which individual high absorbers in the west have lost in their only ostensibly “private” lucid dreams and meditations,” they said.

Gackenbach’s research and views on dreaming,  which  she presented recently at two gaming conferences, Games for Health and Canadian Game Studies, have gone viral on the net with good reason. They are an important adjunct to explaining the ways MUVES – whether in video-gaming or virtual on-line environments – can work in changing both perceptions and  people’s lives and how they can be used.

Harry T. Hunt

Dreams and video games both represent alternate realities,she told LiveScience Senior Writer Jeremy Hsu, noting, however, that dreams arise biologically from the human mind, while video games are technologically driven by computers and gaming consoles.

“If you’re spending hours a day in a virtual reality, if nothing else it’s practice,” she said. “Gamers are used to controlling their game environments, so that can translate into dreams.”

On the question of mastering nightmares,  Gackenbach conducted a 2008 study with 35 males and 63 females, which found that gamers experienced less or even reversed threat simulation (in which the dreamer became the threatening presence), with fewer aggression dreams overall.

“What happens with gamers is that something inexplicable happens,” Gackenbach explained. “They don’t run away, they turn and fight back. They’re more aggressive than the norms.”

NZVWG – VLENZ Update, No 172, June 03, 2010

Does the Emperor have any clothes?

New Zealand’s NZVWGrid  ‘newbies’ get

free avatar skins, hair, eyes and clothing

A ‘noobie’ appearance is no longer necessary in the  NZVWGrid …
free avatarskins, eyes and hair have been made available for users  …

New Zealand academics, researchers and  virtual world builders,  using and testing the alpha phase of the New Zealand Virtual Grid (NZVWG), no longer have to look like ‘noobs’ even though given some of the vagaries of the OpenSim environment they might sometimes feel like that.

Open source  avatar skins,  eyes, hair and clothing  have  now been made freely available on the Auckland  portal of  NZVWG at Kapua 6  (NZVWG  Kapua 6/88/116/34), and are  likely to be made  available  near the Auckland entry point to the MUVE on Kapua 3  as well as at other Portal entry points.

The full permissions skins have been created by the likes of Eloh Eliot,  Ziah Li,  Greybeard Thinker and others, with  the clothing obtained  from a variety of sources outside  the Second Life environment, such as free, full permission listings of clothing textures.

All are being made available under   “Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported” Creative Commons licenses.

The  NZVWG Project which grew out of  Otago University’s ONGENS programme is a joint venture of the University of Auckland,  the University of  Otago the University of Canterbury and  the Wellington Institute of Technology, Weltech.  A number of other institutions both in New Zealand and oversea have expressed interest in the project which is supported by New Zealand Telecom.

It is an open access national virtual world grid based on open source software. It operates on NZ-based servers hosted at Otago, Auckland and Canterbury Universities, and leverages other national investments in IT infrastructure through deployment on the high-speed KAREN (Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network).

The grid has been set up with an academic focus and will be used for research and education, as well as for proof-of-concept application deployments and testing.

The project, based on opensource OpenSim  technology, is being led by one of New Zealand’s foremost virtual world education   champions, Dr Scott Diener,  an academic and  Associate Director, AC Tech, Information Technology Services,  at the  University of Auckland. Diener is well-known, both  as himself and as his Second Life personna, Professor Noarlunga, in MUVE  education circles around the world for his development of medical simulations and teaching programmes within Second Life.

Although little educational research is currently being done  in the alpha test phase of  the NZVWGrid there are opportunities once testing is completed. Besides  Diener’s Second Life University of Auckland virtual medical centre project in Second Life, which  may migrate to the NZVWG,  Otago University  has set up  the Otago Virtual Hospital in NZVWG (OtagoMedicalSchool/162/99/2800)  and is also hosting scenarios for medical students to gain experience practicing as doctors.   Some members of the now completed SLENZ Project are also active in the NZVWG although  there are no plans at this stage for a sequel to that successful research project.

… as well as  both men’s and women’s avatar clothing
and a limited range of footwear.

VLENZ Update, No 161, February 02, 2010

VLENZ PROJECT

Steering Committee named

for  new VLENZ Group

A new steering committee, which includes some of  New Zealand’s  leading virtual world researchers and educators,  has been named to head  the Virtual Life Education New Zealand (VLENZ) group, formed after the finish of SLENZ Project.

The  new leadership group is:  Dr Clare Atkins, of Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology, Terry Neal, of BlendedSolutions, Dr Scott Diener, of the University of Auckland, Merle Lemon, of Manakau Institute of Technology, and Aaron Griffiths, of Fxual Education Services.

Dr Atkins and Terry Neal (pictured top right and left) were joint leaders of the NZ$500,000 Government-funded SLENZ Project;  Dr Diener(pictured middle right), the Associate Director, IT Services (Academic & Collaborative Technologies) at the University of Auckland, has led the development of the University of Auckland’s  much-lauded medical simulation project in Second Life,  is active in many international groups related to the use of virtual worlds in higher education, and  is a key player in the New Zealand Virtual World Grid (NZVWG);   Lemon (bottom left),  an MIT lecturer, was a Lead Educator (Foundation (Bridging) Learning) for the SLENZ Project; Griffiths (bottom right) ,the founder of Fxual Education Services,  was the Lead developer for the SLENZ Project. Atkins and Griffiths initiated the SLENZ Project two years ago.

The VLENZ meeting early last week, which set up the steering committee, agreed  to the VLENZ name for the group,which will be a consortium of

individuals rather than institutions. It currently has 32 members drawn from education and virtual world research across New Zealand.

It will continue with this blog at slenz.wordpress.com, as well as becoming a sub-domain of the previously registered edumuve.ac.nz domain as vlenz.edumuve.ac.nz. It has a  Second Life Group  called VLENZ as well as a google group under the same name.

It is likely that the formal group will operate as a non-profit trust although this has not yet been finalised.

The group’s purpose and objectives are to be discussed  at meeting on the NMIT Second Life island of Koru at 10 am on Monday, Feb 8 (New Zealand time),  with the objective of finalising the  group’s  mission statement and initial goals.

SLENZ Update, No 154, December 06, 2009

Where is education going in Virtual Worlds?

An earlier (2008) view of a Duke University  foray into virtual worlds
- just one of  the university’s many virtual projects

With the  Obama Administration  turning to the virtual world to extoll the virtues of a science education through expansion of the STEM Education Initiative and NASA also using virtual worlds to promote engineering education to the next generation of potential NASA employees it seems certain  that educators around the world will not be able to avoid the  MUVE issue although it is  apparent many would wish to.

It  also appears certain that Governments, if they wish to keep abreast of world education trends, can no longer allow their telcos to limit bandwidth or  to  obfuscate the issue of the need for consistent, high speed Broadband  – which New Zealand telcos dont deliver outside  the major centres –  if  all are to benefit from the growing acceptance of virtuality, in all its guises. In future education poverty might be determined by one’s access to Broadband, particularly in the sense of distance education,  as we move away from on-campus learning to virtual campus learning which is available to everyone.

Following President Obama’s announcement early in his term of  initiatives to encourage American students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the White House now  appears to be moving into the Metaverse in an attempt to expand its  flagging science education initiative, according to  Max Burns (pictured left) of the Washington-based Pixels and Policy  blogs .

Quoting a  press release issued by Duke University, Durham, North Carolina,  in which  the Duke Center announced a partnership with the White House to promote the development of virtual learning worlds related to science and engineering  especially in middle and high school by linking into virtual worlds and the digital generation’s undoubted video-gaming experience, Burns said:

  • The third-annual Digital Media and Learning Competition will award $2 million in support to 21st Century learning lab designers  for learning environments and digital media-based experiences that allow young people to grapple with social challenges through STEM-based activities.
  • Digital media of any type (social networks, games, virtual worlds, mobile devices or others) may be used. Proposals are also encouraged for curricula or other experiences that link or connect to any game, especially but not limited to Sony’s LittleBigPlanet™ on PlayStation®3.

“Lifting American students from the middle to the top of the pack in STEM achievement over the next decade will not be attained by government alone,” said President Obama at the event in late November at which he announced the “Educate to Innovate” campaign. “I applaud the substantial commitments made today by the leaders of companies, universities, foundations, nonprofits and organizations representing millions of scientists, engineers and teachers from across the country.”

KZERO’s current virtual world universe – an ever-increasing population.

Moves cannot be seen in isolation

But the  White House moves cannot be seen in isolation.  The University of Texas has already  announced plans to put all its 16 campuses across the State online in the virtual world of Second Life; The prestigious Australian Film Radio and Television School, based in Sydney, has announced  a Graduate Certificate in Video Games and Virtual Worlds starting next year;  the University of California at Irvine has received a US$100,000 National Science Foundation grant to study World of Warcraft;  the creation of  an US Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds by the Information Resource Management (IRM) College of the National Defense University, to ‘ prepare leaders to direct the information component of national power by leveraging information and information technology for strategic advantage’; Glasgow’s Caledonian University has become  the first university  in the UK to offer a complete, integrated module on 3D Internet Virtual Worlds, teaching students all components involved in this relatively new branch of internet design and multi media; the Immersive Education Initiative, a 1000-plus  member, non-profit international collaboration of universities, colleges, research institutes, consortia and companies that are working together to define and develop open standards, best practices,platforms, and communities of support for virtual reality and game-based learning and training systems, is growing apace; and closer to home  the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission’s  NZ$500 000 SLENZ Project to determine the benefits of virtual education  is nearing completion with the formal evaluation process currently taking place;  The University of  Auckland, under the aegis of lecturer Scott Diener has set up a medical centre for training purposes in Second Life; and that university has also seen lecturer Judy Cockeram, gain international recognition for  her virtual architecture study programme which is schedule to accept more than 100 students in the New Year.

But these are not alone.  They  are among  the more than 500  universities and tertiary institutions now in Second Life and other virtual worlds. The launching of both learning and research programmes into  virtual worlds is continuing apace throughout the world, despite  some skepticism  from those who have never been immersed,  who are not  members of the digital generation or not digital migrants. Unfortunately for them virtual worlds, with 690 million participants worldwide, according to the UK-based research organisation KZero, will probably leave them behind as the flotsam and jetsam of  the virtual age.

Probably one of the best recent summations of just where  virtual education in the world is and where it is going   has been given  by Robin Teigland (pictured right), Work Associate Professor in the Center for Strategy and Competitiveness, at  the Stockholm School of Economics,  Stockholm, Sweden.

Her Powerpoint presentation to the Online Education Conference in Berlin on December 2 is well worth taking the time to look at.

And the US National Defense University initiative.

SLENZ Update, No 149, November 7, 2009

ATKINS ADVICE TO POLYTECHS/UNIVERSITIES

Collaboration is key to making

virtual education work in NZ

Nurse educators  ‘convinced’ of value -

the question is, how best to use it.

IMG_1151NZ nurse educators at the Wellington SLENZ meeting.

Collaboration between tertiary educational institutions in the implementation  of  virtual world education scenarios is the key to making them economic, effective and successful in a country as small as New Zealand.

This is the view of  of the joint leader of the SLENZ Project, Dr Clare Atkins,  who has worked for 16 months on three education pilot education projects funded by the Tertiary Education Commission of New Zealand to determine the benefits or otherwise of education in virtual worlds and how the benefits, if any, can be harnessed successfully by New Zealand educators.

Dr Atkins expressed her view at a meeting attended by eight leading nurse educators from a number of polytechs  in Wellington last week.

“It makes sense  to collaborate,” Atkins said. “It would be crazy to try to do things separately when you can share  and collaborate.”

She suggested that New Zealand’s Polytechs and/or Universities could band together inexpensively to increase New Zealand’s educational usage of  and presence in Second Life, around the  virtual island “archipelago” already created by the Nelson-Marlborough Insitute of Technology (NMIT), the SLENZ Project, and The University of Auckland. Virtual land for education could be made available economically within this hub area, she said.Jacoby, Jean

Atkins noted  that whereas a Second Life build from scratch, such as that of  the SLENZ Project’s midwifery pilot could cost up to NZ$30,000, collaboration by institutions both in New Zealand and overseas – and the sharing of already created facilities – could reduce on-ground, virtual world costs for individual collaborating  institutions to several hundred dollars a year, if enough were involved.

“There is no point to reinventing the wheel,” she said. “Second Life is  notable for the way educators share and collaborate.”

The one-day meeting,   sponsored by the SLENZ Project followed expressions of  interest from nurse educators who had viewed or attended presentations on the SLENZ Project’s Midwifery and Foundation Learning pilot programmes.  The nurse educators attending represented  among others, UCOL, Manukau Institute of Technology, NMIT and Whitireia Community Polytechnic. The  national co-ordinator of  nursing education in the tertiary sector, Kathryn Holloway, also attended.

Besides Atkins, the meeting also included presenations by other SLENZ Project members,  and a Second Life nursing training presentation by Second Life’s Gladys Wybrow, of  The University of Auckland.

The meeting, less than a week later,  has led to the establishment of a  “collaborative” New Zealand Polytech nurse educator project to explore and develop the potential of Second Life in Nurse Education.

The project,  Nurse Education in Second Life NZ,  based on a ning created by Jean Jacoby (pictured), an instructional designer, at the UCOL School of Nursing Palmerston North, already has  20 members.

Jacoby, who has taken on a co-ordinating role, said in a dispatch after the meeting,  “It seemed to me that none of us needs to be convinced of the value of exploring Second Life; rather we are looking for practical ways to do so.

Two main approaches

“There seemed to be two main approaches identified at the meeting,” she added. “Looking for existing builds that we can adapt or use as they are”  and/or “Identifying a small, practical project to build from scratch, for which we could potentially get funding.”

The nursing group is currently in the early stages of discussing a proposal to set up a verbal health assessment scenario, with the nurse getting the information from the patient.

According to Susie le Page, also of UCOL,  this suggested Second Life application could be applied across a number of nursing areas, including midwifery, mental health and the medical/ surgical community.

Meanwhile commenting on the meeting the SLENZ Project’s lead educator for Otago Polytech’s Midwifery pilot on Kowhai in Second Life, Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) offered advice, based on her Second Life experience, to the  nurse educators.

Stewart said nurse educators contemplating using Second Life should:  find a Second Life mentor and learn as much as you can about how Second Life works; network with other nurse and health professionals using SL using online communication tools such as blogs, YouTube, Slideshare and of course, Second Life; develop learning activities in Second Life that require little or no development to keep things as inexpensive and easy as possible; work alongside your educational institution to ensure you have full access to Second Life; collaborate with each other using virtual tools such as wiki, Google Docs, Skype and Second Life.

At the same time as the nurse educator meeting SLENZ Project joint leader Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel) and  Foundation Learning pilot lead educator, MIT’s Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa) briefed representatives of the Open Polytechnic, UCOL, CPIT and Wairakei Polytech at another venue, delivering  a similar message to that of Atkins.

EVENT -Kiwi educators

Sunday 8 November 7 pm (NZ Time) – meet on Koru shortly before  7pm: This week Kiwi Educators have been invited to tour the University of Western Australia sim. Our guide will be Jayjay Zifanwe, owner of the UWA sim. Highlights of the tour will be the main landing area, Sunken Gardens, Sky Theatre, Square Kilometer Array, Visualisation Research & the 3D Art & Design Challenge. This amazing SL campus is a pefect combination of realism and fantasy and well worth a visit. – Briarmelle Quintessa.

SLENZ Update, No 136, September 17, 2009

CAN NEW ZEALAND USE THIS LESSON?

Texas shows the way forward in

virtual world education …

UTSLcampus

John Lester (SL: Pathfinder Linden) and Leslie Jarmon (SL: Bluewave Ogee)
meet in front of the virtual version of Johnson Claudia Taylor Hall
at the University of Texas System.(Picture: Pathfinder Linden)

The New Zealand tertiary education system  should probably be looking at  following the virtual lead of the University of Texas, although perhaps not on  a such a grand scale.

After four years of research and “toe-dabbling” the University of Texas has  launched its State-wide 16-campus system into Second Life  as part of a year-long project that will bring students, faculty, researchers and administrators into Second Life to explore the use of virtual worlds as “an innovative, low-cost approach to undergraduate instruction.”
At the same time the New Zealand  tertiary education system remains at the stage of “toe-dabbling” with the arguably  successful SLENZ Project slated to finish at the end of the year  and the OpenSim ONGENS New Zealand National Grid Project simmering – one might unkindly say bumbling – along in Alpha mode with inadequate funding and resources despite a small band of hard-working devotees doing their best to create a homegrown virtual world and build support across the whole New Zealand university spectrum.

That the Texas lesson, created by the UT System Transforming Undergraduate Education Program initiative, is being taken to heart, however, can be gauged from the fact that 0ne of the main ONGENS “builders” and virtual world enthusiast,  University of Auckland academic Dr Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga), describes it as “an astonishing development … in scale and concept.”

But despite some tardiness here all is not lost. The UT research into virtual world education  is to be made freely available to educators/researchers around the world and there will be opportunities for collaboration with the UT campuses, something New Zealand educators should look into.

Biggest challenge

The University of Texas’ Dr  Leslie Jarmon (pictured right), Faculty Development Specialist and Senior Lecturer in the Division of Instructional Innovation & Assessment (CIE/DIIA), at the University of Texas, at Austin,   co-founder of the Educators Coop in SL, and the primary investigator for this statewide  initiative, told Linden Labs’ John Lester that the  the biggest challenge to gaining approval for the  initial  one-year, 50-plus-SL region launch of the project  had been  finding the most effective language and concrete Second Life examples  to craft a proposal that would be heard by key administrators. JarmonLeslie

In a lesson for  New Zealand educators seeking virtual world education funding, she said, “When an opportunity arose, a real time demo of Second Life using Voice with real educators and Linden Lab officials answering the Chancellors’ questions right there on the spot was more effective than 100 pages of textual description. Very pragmatic, concrete, visionary ­ at the same time.”

Another key challenge, she said, had been rigorously ensuring that the provision of the virtual infrastructure for 15 campuses (9 academic campuses; 6 medical health science center campuses)  and information and training support would  not dictate which direction each campus would take as they discovered and created their own unique learning and research journeys.

“We’re meeting this challenge with the overriding mission of creating together a virtual learning community,” she told John Lester. ” Virtual worlds are a new human dimension for educational activity, and we¹re constantly exploring and learning alongside one another.”

“Step-by-step in this evolving system-wide virtual learning community, all of these players — and especially our undergraduates — will be seen as learners with expanded roles: learners as scientists, learners as designers, learners as researchers, learners as communicators, and learners as collaborators. We see endless possibilities on the virtual learning horizon.”

UTmeeting

UT campus Leads meet Second Life officials in Austin Texas to lay the foundation
for the Virtual Learning Community Initiative (VLCI). (Picture VLCI)

SLENZ Update, No 135, September 09, 2009

CATCHUP READING …

Innovate:  a Net Magazine for anyone

really interested in virtual worlds

I’ve been meaning to comment for some time that, for me, one of the most useful  magazines in the field of online education and virtual worlds is  Jim  (James L.) Morrison’s  Innovate.

As  Editor-in-Chief, Morrison (pictured right), Professor Emeritus of Educational Leadership, University of North Carolina, publishes the online education journal for the   Fischler School of Education and Human Services at Nova Southeastern University.

Published bimonthly as a public service  it is sponsored, in part, by Microsoft.Morrison, James L.

The August/September issue includes articles on the role of virtual  realities in (and as) the classroom.

In one article, Ulrich Rauch, Marvin Cohodas, and Tim Wang describe the Arts Metaverse, a virtual learning environment for the three-dimensional reconstruction of important archeological artifacts and sites, allowing students access to places and works they would not otherwise be able to experience. In addition, students may create reconstructions as well as visiting particular sites. Embracing the principle that engaging students in the construction of a virtual teaching and learning environment can create a participative learning experience, the Arts Metaverse Project aims to enable students and academics to become joint researchers in creating and sharing knowledge beyond the walls of the university.

Two other articles describe efforts to create learning environments in Second Life. Mary Anne Clark, of  Texas Wesleyan University,  describes the creation of  Genome  Island, a virtual laboratory complex, supported by the Biology Department of TWU and constructed for teaching genetics to university undergraduates. Her initial trials of teaching in this virtual world, she said,  had indicated that virtual worlds offered a learning environment that combined active engagement with the convenience of online access.

“Encouraged by the results of my preliminary trials,” she said, “I taught a fully in-world course for non-majors in the fall of 2008, and I am now trying Second Life “light” (virtual laboratory experiences offered as in-class instructor demonstrations) with the current group of freshmen. When the current class is completed, I will be able to compare student responses to these two instructional modes with those from the “field trip” approach used with the pilot classes.”

Meanwhile  Anne Hewitt (pictured lower right), Associate Professor of Healthcare Administration, Seton Hall University, Susan Spencer, Danielle Mirliss, and Riad Twal reported on a collaborative initiative to create a virtual simulation exercise focused on key competencies for students in a Master of Healthcare Administration program. The exercise they designed provides a previously unavailable virtual counterpart to the tabletop exercises traditionally used to teach emergency preparedness, allowing online students to gain important hands-on experience and opportunities for interaction.Hewitt,Anne

Hewitt et al reported that creating a virtual learning experience using “Play2Train’s Second Life environment” satisfied a need for an interactive simulation that allowed for discovery, critical thinking, and analytical skills, all goals of a graduate MHA course.

However, she said, preparing the adult graduate students required a team of committed professionals, significant lead time, specially developed support materials and guided practice activities, and a scenario development process that integrated project goals and outcomes.

She added, “our experience could be replicated in many disciplines that use scenario-based learning but cautioned that the decision to develop and use a simulation delivered in a virtual world should be based on several factors.

“First, the instructors must ensure that the course content is aligned with the choice of scenario,” she said. “Instructional design of the scenario should directly facilitate attainment of the desired learning outcomes through appropriate activities. In addition to the learning objectives, both faculty members and students must be allowed adequate time to develop the necessary technical skills to participate successfully in the scenario.

“Finally, it is important that instructors encourage the students’ sense of discovery and engagement throughout the learning activity,” she said. “If these factors are accounted for, a virtual world can provide an engaging, learning-intensive alternative to face-to-face scenario exercises.”

The articles referred to above, along with a number of other interesting education articles, make this August-September issue of  Innovate,  worth reading even though it has been out for some weeks now.

Coupled  with the two other special issues — on Academics in Second Life, in December, and on Virtual Worlds and Simulations, in June—  the online magazine paints a picture of  virtual world education which is compelling.

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