SLENZ Update, No 158, December 23, 2009

THE SLENZ PROJECT

Yay! It’s a 2nd runner-up EDUBLOG

‘Oscar’ to  SLENZ  Project Team

‘Phenomenal’ result for team from Aotearoa/New Zealand

The SLENZ Project Team at work … the final 2009 meeting.  Key players, Terry Neal and
Aaron Griffiths at the head of the table, and Dr Clare Atkins, in black, left.

A chance meeting in Second Life three years ago between  Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust), of the Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology,  and  education-online tools developer and Second Life builder Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman) came to a climax this week with  a second runner-up place for the SLENZ Project in  the prestigious, international EDUBLOG 2009 awards  in the “best educational use of a virtual world” category.

The placing  for the  the team from New Zealand was greeted with elation by SLENZ Project team members -  “the best Christmas present ever “- and seen by  independent educators, academics and  education institution administrators as “fantastic”, “phenomenal” and “unprecedented.”

The New Zealand team  won its second runner-up place in a competition which pitted it against 14 of the world’s best  “virtual world” education organisations. The winner of the title was  Virtual Graduation at the University of Edinburgh; the first runner-up, Virtual Round Table Conference; with the SLENZ Project sharing second runner-up status with  ISTE’s Second Life island.

‘Set a benchmark’

“I  think this is just phenomenal,” said Scott Diener, one of the world leaders in Second Life education and associate director, IT services, Academic Services, at The University of Auckland, in a message to the team. “The SLENZ team has truly set a benchmark against which other developments should measure.  I hope I can say ‘I am so proud of you’ without it sounding pretentious…because I am so proud of you.”

Tony Gray, the chief executive of the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology which hosted the SLENZ Project  initially  on its island of Koru in Second Life,  said in a message to Atkins on hearing  the news:  “This is a fantastic outcome and significantly achieved through your passion and commitment to the project. I am  very proud that NMIT should have first of all taken a lead and secondly that we can show a peer-reviewed achievement as a result.”

The SLENZ Project  grew out of that first meeting between Atkins and Griffths who both dreamed of seeing “students interacting with each other and their international peers, with the Second Life environment, with teachers, domain experts, inspirational speakers from all over the  “real” world”.  The project was funded by the New Zealand Government’s Tertiary Education Commission. It  has been completely developed under Creative Commons license with all builds freely available for use or acquisition by anyone with “full permissions.”

The EDUBLOG placings were chosen by public vote.

The SLENZ Project creations – 1. The Otago Polytechnic’s Birthing Unit during
a Jokaydia un-conference presentation

The SLENZ Project creations – 2. The Kowhai Island arrival pad.

The SLENZ Project creations – 3. Manukau Institute of Technology’s
Foundation (Bridging) Learning Pilot Programme

“I don’t think either of us ever really imagined that only three years later we would have been part of a team that had not only helped to realise that dream but had succeeded beyond our wildest hopes,” Atkins said today commenting  on the award to the NZ$500,00 project . It was designed to determine whether there were benefits from providing education in a virtual world and, if so, how those benefits could best be harnessed.

“The SLENZ project has been a very large part of my ‘real’ and ‘second’ life for the last two years and I sincerely hope that its successes will enable us to continue the work that it has begun,” Atkins, who is joint co-leader of the project, said. ” I think we have demonstrated, not only that the immersive and engaging experiences of multi-user virtual worlds have an enormous potential to enhance learning for all kinds and levels of tertiary students, but also that a small virtual team from New Zealand can create global-award winning experiences.
“Gaining this award is a recognition of the world-class work being done in Second Life by our educators, our designers and our developers and this is just the beginning,” she said. “I would like to thank those at the TEC who decided to take a bit of a gamble and fund the SLENZ project.

‘Brave decision’

“It was a brave decision to take in 2007 when education in this kind of environment was truly in its infancy but I believe that we have proved worthy of the trust that they displayed in us and that we have set the stage for some really exciting developments in the next few years.  The use of environments such as Second Life will change the way we teach and learn in the 21st century and I hope we have helped to sketch out the early plans of how this might be achieved.
Acknowledging the work of the development team, the Steering Group members,   SLENZ friends and support staff who enabled the project to run so smoothly,Terry Neal (co-Project Leader) “for keeping us all on track with such good humour” and  Tony Gray (CE, NMIT) for not only supporting the project but believing in it, she singled out Griffiths for “both  sharing the dream and for using his incredible 3D building and scripting talent to actualise it.”
Describing the award as “thrilling,” Project co-leader Terry Neal, of BlendedSolutions Ltd,  said, “From the very beginning  we wanted to share our journey so others could learn from what we  could do well and what we could do better. I’m proud of what we have achieved, but its nice to know others value it too.
“It has been a wonderful team effort. Each of us has contributed in a different way but no subset of the team could have achieved what the team has. I’m  also proud that even though we are in such a small country we can still foot it with the rest of the globe when it comes to what is happening in virtual worlds.
“But we really need to build on what we have achieved over the last 18 months and maintain the  momentum through the recently formed New Zealand Virtual World Group (NZVWG).”

‘Lil, happy dance’

Aaron Griffths Second Life alter ego, Isa Goodman, “smiled and did a lil, happy dance” inside Second Life, on hearing the news, according to Griffiths, the SLENZ Project’s lead developer.

Griffiths added, “This is a great achievement and I think all the team should be proud of what we have accomplished. It is wonderful to have peer recognition that we have done something right in our attempt to explore the educational possibilities of virtual worlds and I hope that New Zealand will not now drop the ball  as this award, I believe.  recognises, we are up there with the best.
“On a personal level I am very proud to have produced builds that have been received so well,” he said. “I believe it gives some credence to the methodologies used in them and in particular to the Foundation Studies build, which was deliberately designed to capture some of the elements of play that an environment like Second Life allows.

“It showed I think a possible pathway for developing learning that can engage and be fun and still have a positive outcome in terms of student achievement.”

The core SLENZ team members who worked on the project, besides Neal, Atkins and Griffiths, included from time to time, Merle Lemon, Sarah Stewart, Todd Cochrane, Leigh Blackall, Ben Salt, Henry Work and John Waugh.

The SLENZ Project’s final fling – the Koru Xmas Party 2009

SLENZ Update, No 156, December 13, 2009

SLENZ PROJECT

SLENZ in 14  international finalists

for top Edublog 2009 award

Your vote will count! Click Button TOP RIGHT and vote.

The SLENZ (Seoncd Life Education New Zealand) Project team has been  honoured by being named among the 14 finalists  for an EduBlog 2009 Award  in the category, “Best Educational Use of a Virtual World 2009.”

The award is among those which  “celebrate the best educational blogs on the web”.

Although the SLENZ Project originated from an isolated  small country – one might say at the end of the earth – the nomination shows  again that Kiwis can compete on  an even footing with the rest of the world when it comes to internet applications, such as virtual worlds, despite in-country broadband limitations and the “tyranny of distance.”

It demonstrates that virtual worlds can create a world  without borders:  that ordinary New Zealanders – anyone – can collaborate across time zones,  national borders, cultures, ethnicities and languages to provide benefits throughout the world.

Dr Clare Atkins (SL; Arwenna Stardust) (pictured right), the SLENZ Project co-leader said that she was  delighted, when told  of the SLENZ nomination in the final list.

She appealed to readers of  the SLENZ Update: “If you have enjoyed reading the SLENZ blog we are really pleased. We would love it if you felt a strong need to show your appreciation by voting for us.”

The other finalists include prestigious virtual world groups such as:  CANVAS (Children’s Art in the Virtual Arena of Scotland); DEN SL Blog; Edunation; ISTE’s Second Life island; Reaction Grid; School of Nursing, University of Kansas; SIGMS in Second Life;  Sloodle;  The International Schools Island (isi); The UC Davis Virtual Hallucination simulation; Virtual Graduation at the University of Edinburgh; Virtual Macbeth – Angela Thomas; Virtual Round Table Conference.

“For SLENZ to even be listed amongst these groups is absolutely wonderful, ”  SLENZ Update editor/writer, John Waugh (SL: Johnnie Wendt) said. “While I would love for the SLENZ Group to win the award  I am very conscious of the calibre of the other finalists – they are the best in the world from a myriad of educational uses and I have accessed them all.”

He  wished the other finalists luck  and concluded with a call for SLENZ Update readers and their friends to vote for  Second Life Education New Zealand at  Edublog.

The Second Life Education New Zealand Project was funded by the New Government’s Tertiary Education  Commission. It has been designed to determine the benefits of using virtual worlds for education and  how best these benefits can be captured.

The work of the team has been completely “transparent” with all documentation/discussions etc included on this site. The team’s builds and findings  have all be done under Creative Commons attribution, are all OpenSource, and freely available to all educators as “full perms” packages.

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