MUVE education at NMIT– VLENZ Update, No 176, August 11, 2010

New Zealand  MUVE activity

NMIT launches  course covering

3d immersive environments

Class of 2010: The first NMIT class in 3d immersive environments.

The Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology  has successfully launched and is into the fourth week of an online course on multi-user three dimensional virtual environments (MUVEs) and their relationships to other multi-user technologies.

The 16 students, enrolled in the course (A&M624, Immersive 3D Environments), based on  the  NMIT Second Life islands  of Koru and Kowhai, are being tutored on-campus by Dr  Clare Atkins  (SL: Arwenna Stardust) and online by former SLENZ developer and New Zealand’s most experienced virtual world builder, Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman).

Dr Clare Atkins

The course has been designed to  develop knowledge and understanding of using current generation commercial software as well as providing in-depth knowledge of specialised processes, techniques and media, according to Dr Atkins.

While the course includes explorations of other virtual environments, most of the classes  focus on the use of Second Life.

The course will take 60 hours class time,  with at least  half the classes in a virtual world, mainly Second Life.

Dr Atkins and Griffiths are known in New Zealand for creating and championing the successful $NZ500,00 Second Life Education New Zealand (SLENZ) Project,  which  over an 18-month period created and established two pilot  education programmes, one with Otago Polytechnic in midwifery, and the  other  in Foundation (Bridging) Learning  with Manakau Institute of Technology.  The  Foundation Learning course, under  the leadership of MIT lecturer Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa), has now become a permanent course within the MIT structure, with a large number of students participating in it.  Otago Polytechnic, however, decided at the conclusion of the pilot programme not to take the midwifery course any further.

Aaron Griffiths

Commenting on the first couple of NMIT classes Griffiths said that although the students  had appeared reluctant at first they had  quickly realised the potential (of Second Life) “… that it’s more than a game” with the student blogs starting to show their realisation of this.

” I am well pleased with this class…. most seem committed to learning ,” he said.   “Building  is slow, of course(and its) a HUGE step for many of them. I guess I am rather passionate about these environment … hopefully that rubs off on some.”

” The hardest part really is the limited time I have with them …  (there is) one hell of a lot to get across in such short spaces of time.”

Griffiths and Atkins  are detailing  the class’ activities  in a  blog, Immersive 3d environments, which also links into the student blogs:   this blog gives an interesting glimpse into how the lessons are constructed and are proceeding as well as student reactions.

SLENZ Update, No 151, November 20, 2009

SLENZ PROJECT: Useful lessons

Team debriefed on  unit tour,

presentation techniques …

Learning lesson: part of the Gronstedt ‘Train for Success Group’s tour.

It’s very easy to be wise with hindsight.

That is  not to take anything away from the  outstanding performance of  Otago Polytech tutor and SLENZ Project’s lead educator (Midwifery) Sarah Stewart’s (SL: Petal Stransky) before what she admits now was an unexpectedly large crowd of “experts” for  her early morning (NZ time) presentation and tour of the project’s birthing unit on the SLENZ Project island of Kowhai last week.

Your’s truely, also admits he was a little unprepared as a “helper” being  “invited” to demonstrate his “incompetence” (grin) in the early New Zealand morning after a self-inflicted heavy night of Second Life roleplaying.

Stewart also must be forgiven for her late notice of the Gronstedt ‘Train for Success Group’s tour, because it  had been moved up a week on short notice, following the postponement of another planned presentation. It did not help that  Stewart understandably did not realise the group’s  importance – in an education sense in the world of Second Life – until a few  hours before the meeting, and that she had previously only presented “virtually” to very small groups.

Stewart herself  has commented  usefully on the experience on her blog under the heading,  Learning a few painful lesson about presenting in Second Life

The debriefing at the normal Monday  SLENZ team meeting, however, raised some other important points – albeit many probably not new – which may be useful to others presenting their projects to  tour groups, particularly those composed of  virtual world  aficionados.

The highlights of the debriefing, including additional thoughts I have had since:

  • One must qualify “tour parties” before presentations so that one has an understanding of who they are and what their needs and desires are.
  • At least two people are normally needed for a  successful presentation of this nature  – on voice and monitoring chat, and in an IM link between presenter and helper.  The helper/facilitator should have enough knowledge of the project and the site to be able to answer questions, in text chat if necessary, rather than interrupting the flow of the presenter. It would help if  the helper is given a copy of the briefing paper before the event.
  • The TP area or meetup/holding area where the major voice briefing is being held should be far enough away from the  unit to be toured to prevent contention between  voice  – the tour leader presenting and the helper answering questions –  when the  audience is split into  smaller groups to tour a facility.  If there is a potential for conflict the helper should only answer questions in text chat. If there are two or more parties being shown the facility at the same time, all tour leader briefing should be done in text chat. If there is contention this can cause problems for video/audio recording  and is distracting for the presenter.
  • In facilities  where  the tour has to be conducted in  “tight spaces”  the roof should be able to be lifted off the facility so all the tour members can cam in, especially if they cannot fit inside the space without difficulty.  The  SLENZ birthing unit has this facility  but neither the presenter nor the  helper knew how to activate it.  On tight sites, with   the audience split into a number of tour groups it is also  potentially  worthwhile having the ability to rez a duplicate facility (if the prims are available) so that simultaneous tours out of  voice range of each other can take place.
  • There is a need for an agreed presentation format which both the presenter and the helper/faciliator are able to refer to during the presentation as well as  succinct presentation briefing notecards the audience can pick up  from a notecard-giver on the site and which the presenter alerts them to.
  • If the presentation is to be in voice rather than text the presenter or helper must ask everyone to use headsets or to turn off their talk button because of  feedback echo problems from  both that and from the use of  computer speakers.  The presenter should also use a headset for voice.
  • The presenter and  the helper  involved in the presentation should check voice levels immediately before the event and also make sure they are linked in a private IM window … so they can text to each other privately during the presentation if necessary. (Practice with this  in  presentation mode might be necessary so that the presenter is not distracted by the text). The helper should IM anyone generating echo  and ask them politely to turn off their talk button.
  • The helper must have both sim knowledge and sim land  rights to ensure he  or she can  deal with griefers – this tour attracted one –  and other sim problems which might arise, without disturbing the presenter.

SLENZ Update, No 148, November 4, 2009

SLENZ PROJECT – final F2F

SLENZERs celebrate ‘completion’

of virtual world  work …

now  team awaits official evaluation

IMG_1116The SLENZ Project team … final face-to-face meeting and debriefing.

The SLENZ Project team celebrated its successes last week at a real life face-to-face meeting in Wellington, New Zealand.

The meeting, which  included a warts-and-all debriefing of all team members, was marked by an unanimity of views on project outcomes in a team which  has occasionally been rift by  differences of nuance and interpretation over the  16 months of its scheduled 18-month life span.

The NZ$500,000 Second Life/Real Life project, which was funded by the Tertiary Education Commission of New Zealand, has been designed  to determine  whether and how multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) can benefit New Zealand education and, and if they are of benefit,  how the benefits can best be harvested.

Despite the fact the  formal evaluation  has not been completed  team members appeared in no doubt that most, if not all, of the  objectives of the three pilot programmes – Midwifery, Foundation (Bridging) Learning and Orientation – had been met.IMG_1127

The lead evaluator, Michael Winter (pictured right), of CORE Education,  who attended the meeting – although not pre-empting his formal evaluation, due before year end  –  seemed upbeat about  the project and said he  had been impressed with communication skills displayed by the team.  .

“I was really impressed with the level of communication and  the way people were working together,” he said. “It was a pretty tight ship in terms  of communication.

He added, however, that the project might have been somewhat hindered by a number of technical issues, including  bandwidth (Ed note: Possibly perculiar to New Zealand); institutional technology and firewall issues. He  added that there had been some resistance to what was perceived as “gaming” by some students;  and that there was a necessity for designing the e-learning experiences properly to  increase engagement. He also cautioned about an underlying concern about the “sleezier side of Second Life” which  the press has focused on.

Summing up her feelings about the project, joint project leader Dr Clare Atkins said, she was “incredibly proud of what we have done.

IMG_1121“I’ve learned some amazing lessons how not to do many things,” she said to laughter.

Despite the barriers to adoption of MUVEs for education in New Zealand,  Atkins said, she now  “absolutely believed”  that “the use of these types of environments and kinds of education are  going to change  the way everyone teaches, how they teach  and the way we think about teaching within 20 years.

“I believe its really important  not only to look for the next project,” she added, ” but also to offer everything (that we have learned) we can to others in education.”

In the debriefing team members  agreed the staged approach to the SLENZ Project had been one of the major keys to the success of the project.

“In fact,” Atkins said, ” I would recommend next time that we should go for even shorter stages – each with its own discrete documentation. For example we could perhaps have broken Midwifery Stage 1 down further into a) the build of the Birth Unit b) the ‘fitting out’ of the birth unit with information.”

Other things that  had worked well had included  the regular team meetings with voice in  Second Life and the face-to-face meetings for getting acquainted and determining agendas for further Project Stages.

Barriers or obstacles to development of the pilot programmes chosen for implementation, included, according to a list compiled from the discussions by  joint project leader, Terry Neal (pictured lower left):

  • Communication: Not having a one-stop shop for all documents from the start of the project. This was implemented when problems arose  after the project  had been launched.
  • Immersion: A lack of pre-project immersion by some tutors, team members. It was felt by some team members that for education to succeed in virtual worlds it is essential that promoters/champions/teachers and tutors be “immersed” in virtual worlds rather than just being “active” before launching into  educating students. This was coupled with a the lack of educator release time for immersion in world.
  • Learning Designer: The need for a Learning Designer or Educator  to be fully  “immersed” so that he/she could specify exactly what was needed based on their own knowledge.
  • Roleplaying Experience:  At launch a lack of MUVE roleplaying experience on the part of tutors, preventing them from having a complete understanding of what could and could not be done in a virtual environment.
  • Clarity: More clarity was needed around the setting of pilot  objectives/initial learning design specifications and the expected/required outcomes.

Things that were seen as an aid to project development included:

  • The use of “immersed” mentors/helpers for new tutors and students.
  • The employment of a professional MUVE builder/scripter rather than attempting to get teachers/tutors up to speed in this area. It was observed that teaching  should be left to teachers/facilitators, and building and facility development to MUVE building/scripting professionals.

Summing up the consensus feeling and her feelings at the debriefing, Neal said, she  thought the team could have done a lot worse, but it could have done a better job too.
Team members were all given a Taonga ( treasure) at the end of the session.

SLENZ Update, No 140, September 28, 2009

THE SLENZ PROJECT

Virtual world makes mastering

interview skills  much easier

… when virtual ‘really feels real’

“Fabulous”,  “amazing” and “fantastic” were only three of the superlatives used by the  more than 20  educators and researchers who toured the SLENZ Project’s two builds on Kowhai  in Second Life and listened to commentary from educators, developers and builders during the  virtual worlds’  prestigious, annual Jokaydia Unconference  on  Sunday.

The superlatives were used  by virtual visitors from around the world to describe  the concepts, designs, the builds and the practises being  used in the the SLENZ Project’s two pilot education programmes,  Foundation Learning (Bridging Education), under lead educator, Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa), of Manukau Institute of Technology, Auckland,  and Midwifery under lead educator, Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky), of Otago Polytechnic.

The Jokaydia attendees probably  would have been even more blown away had they   been able to watch the Pooky Media [producer Pooky Amsterdam,  director Russell (Rosco) Boyd]  machinima production  on  Foundation Learning, “Foundation Interviewing in Second Life,”  which was placed on general  release on YouTube later that the day.

Jo Kay, herself, one of Australia’s leading virtual world educators, said of  the video, “Impressive! Congratulations too all involved in the project and the video,” and   SL’s PimPeccable commented,  “Brilliant and professional.”

BirthUnit jokay unconference_019Arwenna Stardust (RL: Dr Clare Atkins) talks to the Unconference visitors.
BirthUnit jokay unconference_015Inside the  Skill Mastery Hyperdome …  demonstrating a “catwalk” rezzed.

The Skill Mastery Hyperdome, the centre of  the foundation learning  “class space”,  is described by PookyMedia in the preamble to the YouTube video, as “a step into the future, an environment in which students can learn, develop and practise skills that will help them progress on their career pathways and achieve their life goals.”

And it obviously is – and eventually, like the Birthing Centre,  will become the SLENZ Project’s “gift” to virtual world education, having been created under Creative Commons attribution license in OpenSource. It is scheduled to be made freely available  with all bells, whistles, scripts and animations in Second Life on completion of the project.

Foundation students who are use the Hyperdrome build are preparing to enter academic and/or training courses as diverse as nursing, teaching, business, police, travel and tourism, IT, engineering, and social work. Foundation Studies provides the basic building blocks and the scaffolding to enable students to enter and succeed in their selected career pathway.

Acitivites provided in this build are designed to enhance communication skills, specifically the skills needed in an interview situation. These students can  select appropriate interview apparel from Rapungakore (“…you have come to the right place”), the clothing store,  which is part of the Hyperdome.

Noting that irrespective of their ultimate career goal all students will need to develop interview skills and strategies,  Merle Lemon,  has pointed out that the hyperdrome environment allows students to experience virtual interviews, to take on the roles of both interviewer and interviewee, and to develop confidence in answering and asking questions in a professional manner.

“The opportunity to rehearse variations of the interview scenario will lead to further enlightenment through reflective evaluation and deliberation on their own behaviour in action,” she said.

The Manukau Institute of Technology  students, whose reactions are canvassed in the video, find that  the Second interviews “really feel real” with one student even worrying that he was being interviewed for a “real job” which he couldn’t accept accept because of his student commitments.

The SLENZ Project is funded by the New Zealand Government”s Tertiary Education Commission.

BirthUnit jokay unconference_011The Unconference participants tour the birth centre.

SLENZ Update, No 134, September 02, 2009

Lest we forget unsung heroes …

Design and building  in Second

Life really is hard ‘yakka*’

… an ‘Oscar’ for Isa/Aaron?

koru100809_001Isa Goodman (aka Aaron Griffiths), Second Life builder

It’s easy to forget that the often unsung heroes of virtual worlds are the builders – the on-the-virtual-ground developers, scripters, animators but  especially the builders.

As educators it should be easy for us to specify what we want  – after all we’ve generally been giving similar lessons in real life – but then it is much more difficult for  the developer-builder  to turn one’s dreams into reality, especially if those dreams  are just pie-in-the-sky impossibilities, conjured up by people with little experience or “immersion” in virtual worlds.

However, the kudos for turning “impossible dreams” into some sort of reality, more often than not, goes to  the publicity-conscious academics leading a programme rather than the builders and developers who toil, mostly anonymously, behind their screens, trying to meet impossible time and financial constraints, and who are then forgotten in  the praise heaped on the successful project promoters.

All educators, before they embark on the design of a learning opportunity in a virtual world, should clearly understand that content creation and development in virtual worlds is hard “yakka*”.   They also should not forget that praise should go to the builder if a design works. The builders know only too well that if a project fails, they, the builders, will be blamed by the academics for its failure.

Birth1_002In the beginning…

Unlike the academics, however,  most top-notch builders I have met have been loath to accept written praise or credit  despite the fact that their livelihood often depends on them getting on-going work in virtual worlds.

In the SLENZ Project we have one top-notch builder, Aaron Griffths (SL: Isa Goodman), of F/Xual Education Services (email:  debnaar@clear dot net dot nz),  who is the Lead Developer “genius” who has created the SLENZ Project’s  foundation learning  and midwifery pilot builds, scripts, textures, animations etc from what  initially were little more than fuzzy ideas. Aided by developers/builders NMIT’s Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust), who doubles as the SLENZ Project’s co leader,   and WelTech’s Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker) Aaron has created from scratch the builds which you can see on Kowhai today,  on time and on budget.

But let him tell you himself what it was like, even though  I believe  he would not want the limelight. Fortunately he has he described how it is in a letter to Metaverse Health, which in its otherwise well-intentioned and fulsome article on the SLENZ Project’s Midwifery Pilot promotional machinima, unfortunately gave no credits to the SLENZ Project builders.

Answering criticism in a comment on the article, that a partner was not present in the midwifery birthing machinima, Aaron noted it had been intended to have a partner present but this  had been finally precluded by having to meet deadlines and budget constraints.

“Unfortunately in the end to meet the deadlines set by the fact the students were coming into the build on a specific date, the scripting, animations and building required to have a partner (of whatever gender) present in the scenarios just did not happen,” he said, before going on  to describe the build and the work involved.

“This  (midwifery build) was a very complex build designed out of very little in terms of actual specifics, reassessed and recreated on an ongoing basis through discussion with the educators,” he said, by way of explanation. “The build was divided into stages so that at least, even if the ideal could not be developed within the budgeted hours,  we would have finished stages at points throughout the process which could be considered complete resources.

birthingfinal_002

The finished Birth Centre … interior.

“Stage one therefore gave us the actual unit, created as an immersive experience of an “ideal birthing unit” complete with notecards and links out to information supporting the theory associated with the design.

“Stage two (which we have reached) … steps the midwife through a normal birthing process in terms of her interactions with the mother from the first phone call into the unit through to the actual birth.

“The scenario goes beyond a simple role play of mother and midwife to include the numerous clinical requirements of the process such as blood pressure and temperature readings, preparation of medical equipment and medications, good practice requirements, e.g. use of sterile gloves in examination, washing of hands etc.

“Stage three was intended to extend the scenarios to include not only a partner (or whanau depending on ethnic considerations) but more difficult births such as postpartum hemorrhage, i.e. birth scenarios typically not experienced by midwifery trainees.

“… deadlines and budget restrictions (read as we used it all up by the end of stage two – 300 hours for the Birth Centre build)  have meant that further developments will not happen under this project’s funding.” he said. “That is not to say they wont happen. As the resources provided are Creative Commons they will be packaged with as much instruction as I have time to develop so that others may carry on taking the scenarios further.”

Finally to put some perspective on the task Aaron has completed with the midwifery pilot (all originals to allow for full permissions under a Creative Commons license) the build now has more than 2600 objects, more than 250 scripts, not including HUDs worn by the mother and midwife, 16 animations and poses, and more than 100 textures.

If there are  Oscars for the creation of virtual world education builds, Aaron should be  in line to get one for his midwifery pilot, if not for both his midwifery and foundation learning builds.

birthingfinal_001The finished Birth Centre … exterior back.
birthingfinal_004
The finished Birth Centre … exterior front.
birthingfinal_005… and Isa Goodman/Aaron Griffiths’ Foundation Learning build.
*Yakka: Australian venacular for very hard work.

The SLENZ Update – No 119, July 25, 2009

THE SLENZ PROJECT

Midwifery tutor passes on

‘lessons’ from 1st SL  class

Lead educator for the SLENZ Project’s Midwifery pilot for Otago Polytechnic and Canterbury’s CPIT, Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) (pictured),  after running her first  teaching sessions in Second Life, has come up with  nine interesting and valuable  lessons for  any neophyte virtual world teacher.

Although most seasoned Second Life educators will have already solved these the issues she raises  they are worth thinking about again as one reads her blog, Sarah’s Musings.Stewart, Sarah

Stewart’s sessions were based on the second learning activity that has been designed for junior midwifery students as part of the SLENZ Project’s midwifery pilot.
Her key lesson appears to be: “If you are new to Second Life as a teacher, have someone with you who can help out until you grow more confident in your abilities. I am still learning about Second Life myself so found it really useful to have Leigh (Blackall) with me to support me.”

Although disappointed at the lack of discussion and apparently interaction that took place with the small number of  students Stewart  enjoyed taking them around. Her final word to herself, however, says it all: “… be very organised with what I do and say, and make sure I am as prepared for eventualities as I can be.”

While reading  Stewart’s blog its also worth while looking at her  two explorations/ examinations  of  “birthing places” in Second Life, no matter how unrelated to real life some of those birthing places are and how whimsical they may be.

The blogs are here and an earlier one, here.

The SLENZ Update – No 103, June 24, 2009

SLENZ PROJECT PROGRESS

‘Machinimas’ show the benefits,

comfort in learning  virtually

It’s often difficult for an outsider – especially one with little experience in virtual technology –  to get a real impression of what happens in an education environment in Second Life and just what the benefits can be.

As part of the on-going SLENZ Project, Midwifery Pilot lead educator Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) and Foundation Learning Pilot lead educator Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa) have attempted to show  those benefits  with the recent release of  two machinimas, which are worth looking at.

The first, Te Wahi Whanau 2 ( the second video from the Midwifery Pilot team) demonstrates  the benefits both in Second Life and Real Life of building  and using an architect-designed “ideal”  Birthing Centre like that  on the SLENZ island of Kowhai.

Uploaded to YouTube by “Debdavis5″ (Dr Deborah Davis, principal lecturer in Midwifery at Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand)  the machinima displays the build  of “Te Wahi Whanau: The Birth Place” by Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman) .   “The Birth Place” is used in the Bachelor of Midwifery programme at Otago  and also aims to inform Second Life residents about the importance of space/place in facilitating physiological birth. The machinima is also on the SLENZ Project website here.

The second video,  Bridging Education: Interview skills @ SLENZ,   by Merle Lemon, of the Manukau Institute of Technology, is somewhat different in that it is designed specifically to show Foundation Learning  tutors why  their students will benefit from the use of Second Life to improve their interview skills.

The video, which is also available at the SLENZ Project website,  illustrates the difference between a real life practise interview situation and a Second Life interview situation.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.