SLENZ Update, No 132, August 25, 2009

Virtual world experiences …

Do SL memories  have same

quality as RL memories?

A “personal” view
sailwith wendy_001A question of memory … sailing on the Dreaming Sea, Daedelus, in SL

There  is no question one can use  a virtual world to learn or train  but there is a question still hanging over what educational benefits MUVES can provide when compared with other educational electronic learning techniques and face-to-face Real Life teaching.

There also is the question whether virtual worlds can be separated from Real Life as a stand-alone teaching aid, particularly in distance education, or whether they are just another useful tool in the education toolkit;  just another classroom/space on the  Real Life campus?

These thoughts were brought to mind  by the recent  blog by SLENZ co-leader Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel)  on “The barriers to using Second Life” and the PookyMedia  machinima promoting midwifery student use of the SLENZ Project’s pilot Second Life midwifery education programme at Te Wāhi Whānau, The Birth Place, on Kowhai, being run in conjunction with Otago Polytechnic.

The conjunction of the two sparked a discussion with my three-year, virtual-world, travelling companion, Wendy Steeplechase (pictured right), who believes that the  “memories”  created in Second Life, because of the nature of virtual world “immersion”,   have the same “feel, qualities and weight of real life memories” when compared with the memories created by more passive  entertainment/information delivery such as reading a book or watching television or a  movie.

This is important when one considers the role of memory in learning.

“For me,” Wendy said, “those more passive forms of information input don’t create the strength of the memories created by Second Life. I would never  confuse a memory I have of reading something in a book  with me doing it in Real Life. But it does happen  to me in Real Life that I sometimes don’t know whether the conversation took place, I saw the place, or the event happened in Second Life  or Real Life.

“Everybody talks about Real Life versus Second Life as though the two can never meet but in actual fact Second Life is a part of Real Life. The interaction between Real People in the virtual world means the  memory you create, the programming that goes into your head is more permanent:  you perform the action or interaction  and it becomes part of you, part of your Real Life memory.”

But that’s because of the 3 Dimensional,  graphical quality isn’t it?wendyA_006

She bridled. “Actually the 3D graphics and animations are a bit of a red herring because the great value of virtual worlds like Second Life lies in the realtime interaction between people/individuals  remotely.”

“In business I have found people very leery about the use of web cams,” Wendy who is “immersed “in Second Life  but also controls large Telecons in Real Life on an almost a daily basis,  said. “People do not like to do live video in a science/business environment. But the level of anonymity and  the artificial, perceived  (safety) barrier one gets with an avatar within a virtual world makes people more comfortable with a virtual world than with video conferencing, where everyone sits rigid and doesn’t really dare to relax or move naturally.

“This comfort level is evidenced by  the relationship situation in virtual worlds where people get so close to each other so quickly. It is also evidenced by the fact that virtual world residents  are comfortable  exploring alternative lifestyles and places  they would never even consider doing or visiting in a million years in Real Life.

“It’s less scary to interact with other people in here (SL),” she said. “They (we) think, “People can’t really see the real me so how scary can it be?’

“The ability to interact with this ‘safety barrier’ in place makes virtual worlds far more compelling and palatable than doing the same thing in Real Life or watching videos or movies,” she said.

The big negative of virtual worlds for Wendy is the fact that avatars, except for walking,  can only move in prescribed animations. For instance they can’t point at things with their hand or fingers; and their arms, except in prescribed animations, cannot  be moved. This, she believes, works against true roleplay learning in Second Life for many applications. For instance, she said, as a pregnant woman having a baby she would want to be able to point to where the pain is and the Real Life midwife would need to understand this.

For her – and she is at pains to point out she is not an educator – one of the most compelling training uses of Second Life is the international border crossing simulation created by Loyalist College, of  Ontario, Canada.

It works, she believes, because the  two partipants in the roleplay are fixed in space and time and do not move very much. She views the interview room of the SLENZ Project’s Foundation Learning pilot, with  its fixed avatar and fixed interviewer, in the same light, although neither Loyalist College nor the SLENZ pilot takes great advantage of the 3D environment for their roleplay.

Critical  of my view that academics need to be “immersed” before they can “champion” Second Life as an educational tool or teach in Second Life, Wendy believes that not everyone is capable of becoming “immersed” in a virtual world.

“Just as there are different learning styles,” she said, ” there are different styles of being. Not everyone will ‘get’ virtual worlds, no matter how hard they try. I’ve come across many, many residents who have spouses or partners who think it is absolutely stupid and a waste of time, even after they try it, and even if they really want to share the experience.

“It’s unfortunate in those cases but that is the way it is:  for educators/businesses virtual worlds can only ever be one tool in a toolkit which might suit some and not suit others.

“Virtual Worlds are just another room  of Real Life and  a useful adjunct to it, if needed,” she said. “I think considering them separate from Real Life limits their usefulness.” – Johnnie Wendt/John Waugh

rolloZagreb_008

Memories of departure  …  a Rollo Kohime performance
at Wellington Station in SL

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SLENZ Update, No 131, August 24, 2009

The SLENZ PROJECT

“Students can experience the

authenticity of the moment”



Te Wāhi Whānau, The Birth Place, on the SLENZ Project’s Second Life island of Kowhai is a place where midwifery students can experience the authenticity of the moment of labour and birth even if in a virtual world.
A new machinima demonstrating  just how the normal birth scenario works in Te Wāhi Whānau has been produced  by  well-known New York machinima maker, Pooky Amsterdam (pictured right), of PookyMedia,  and directed by Scotland-based Russell (Rosco) Boyd. PookyAmsterdam

Midwifery pilot lead educator Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) and SLENZ Project co-leader, Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel) worked with Pooky and Russell to write the script which Russell, working from Scotland,  and Pooky, working from New York, turned into the machinima.

The delightful Kiwi accents were provided by Terry’s whanau or family.

Terry commented after  completion, “It was lots of fun despite the challenge of finding times we were all awake (because of the different time zones)”

The main target audience for the promtional video, according to Terry, is the Otago Polytech and CPIT (Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology) distance students who will be initially using the pilot.

“However, I also think other staff and CEs etc will benefit from watching it,” she said.  “By doing so they will begin to understand the amazing potential of these immersive learning opportunities.”

SLENZ Update, No 130, August 20, 2009

THE SLENZ PROJECT

First classes of Foundation Learners –

excited , motivated, enthusiastic …

“Even the most unenthusiastic and unmotivated students were “sucked into” the excitement of the virtual environment!”

Merle Lemon, SLENZ lead  educator, Manukau Institute of  Technology, Aotearoa-New Zealand.

foundation pilotpicSmiling Foundation Learning student Aziz Qasimi (SL: a280q Engineer) at
the first class on the Foundation Learning site on Kowhai in Second Life.

By their very nature Foundation Learning classes can be difficult  for students and lecturers alike.

The students are often there because  they have been spat out by the education system somewhere along the way. And the lecturers, although dedicated, are often disheartened by the attitudes of students who have been turned away or who have turned away from getting even a modicum of  necessary normal, modern-day life skills to enable one to survive successfully in an ordinary, mainstream world.

Therefore it was with some trepidation that SLENZ Project lead educator Merle Lemon (pictured) (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa) launched her Manukau Institute of Technology Foundation Learning  classes on the island of Kowhai in Second Life this week.

It’s early days yet but  but with two classes successfully undertaken she  is no longer holding her breath.Lemon, merle2

Speaking of  her second day’s teaching classes designed for students to learn  interview techniques, she said, “The first class today was new to Second Life. The start of the class was slow-moving as four students had no avatars, despite repeated reminders that this had to be done for homework. One student created an avatar in the lab and three students ended up using avatars that were provided for them

“This class was not easy! A couple of students were reluctant to sit down at the computers, but once into Second Life, they became engaged and seemed to really enjoy their activities. Even the most unenthusiastic and unmotivated students were ‘sucked into’ the excitement of the virtual environment!”

Commenting on another class, entering Second Life for only the second time , she said, ” This lesson went like clockwork, and students were fully engaged … the students are all ready and anxious to begin interviewing practise in Second Life … “

Her first session three days earlier had had “good and bad moments”, some of the problems caused by campus logistics, lagging, visitors to the new class, observers and absenteeism.

But even so  student motivation appeared ” extremely high”.

“… it was so high it was hard to hold them back in any way,” Merle said. “They wanted to try the next thing, learn the next skill, just continually moving forward at a break-neck pace.”

Describing her personal feelings now that her pilot program has been launched, Merle said, “I believe (the first week of classes) a success.  Second Life proved to be motivating and fun.  It was very rewarding seeing students making such huge progress in a single session of learning in Second Life.  I can’t wait for the interviewing to begin.”

kowhaifoundationThe Foundation Learning area on Kowhai

SLENZ Update, No 129, August 17, 2009

Aussie vid makes case:

IMMERSIVE LEARNING:

IT’S  REALLY GAME ON

There comes a time  in the life of every dreamer/ideas person/creator of change  in education when  one has to go cap in hand to people  who might  have little or no understanding of  what you are attempting – and care even less.

They are the administrators  who control the academic purse strings.

If your “thing” is virtual world education, however, a new  machinima created by Australian resident  Kerry Johnson (right) might help you lay a foundation for your arguments about the possible benefits of virtual world training and education. Johnson, Kerry

The machinima,  “Immersive Learning: it’s game on!”,   has been specifically  designed by Johnson to introduce educational administrators and policy makers to the uses of virtual worlds in education and training.

Produced for Australian Government-funded education.au’s Immersive Learning Unit it includes case studies from Second Life, Quest Atlantis and World of Warcraft and includes interviews with students and educators.

But its not all “pie-in-the-sky” stuff.

Presenter  Greg  Black, CO of Education at education.au, after demonstrating just how mainstream virtual worlds are becoming,   stresses that  for education/training to be successful and beneficial  in virtual worlds  it must be based on sound education design principles.

If you have time and you are involved in education  its probably also worthwhile looking at KerryJ’s Neotenous Tech blog pages as well as other videos she  has worked on linked on this page

SLENZ Update, No 128, August 16, 2009

THE SLENZ PROJECT

There is a difference between

immersion and  activity …

foundation_utdsom2Learning in Dallas …  Snowflake Lannock has a giftbox  for Aotearoa-NZ learners.
foundation_utdsom6Learning in Dallas  … virtually  speaking. [All Pictures: Merle Lemon]

Sometimes one listens to the  presentations  and reads the publicity  about  a person’s role in the world – any  world, real or virtual – and fails to  see  the difference between commitment  and involvement, between  being immersed in life  and just being active … and often noisy.

Those who play a full role in life – real or virtual – might  identify with  the old story of the breakfast plate  loaded  with bacon and eggs: the pig who “donated” the bacon was committed, the fowl  who laid the egg might have been active, but was only involved.

I believe there  are many “involved” in  virtual worlds –  builders, technicians, academics  and educators, making names  for themselves as “experts” and who appear to be able to talk-the-talk  and use the right jargon – who are not “immersed” and not committed to virtual worlds and in actual fact never will walk-the-walk of real virtuality, and do not understand  what being “immersed” in a virtual world really means.

They only pay lip service to the idea of  virtual immersion – only entering virtual life  for “work”, rather than “learning” to live  within it.

They are there because they see that being on the virtual world band wagon provides a career-enhancing opportunity. They will invariably move on to the  next career-enhancing fad as soon as it comes into their view, and is greeted with wonder by the chattering classes. They will then become the critics, the doom sayers of the old wave, and the “promoters” of another new wave.

foundation_janedaughterGetting into a virtual world  … educators Jane Field and daughter.

Manukau Institute of Technology lead educator for the SLENZ Project, Merle Lemon (pictured  right) (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa) is not like that: since joining the SLENZ Project team less than 12 months ago she has quietly immersed herself in Second Life and become one with it. For her the suspension of disbelief is part and parcel of immersion and  an integral part of learning, and the best way of providing the best learning opportunities possible in a virtual world.Lemon, merle2

It is very difficult to get her to promote herself or her role but  tomorrow (Monday)  she will launch a Foundation Learning programme which will  eventually see  about 150 New Zealand students, ranging in age from 18 to 45,  “virtually” acquiring some of the skills needed to get a job or further education and training in the “real world”.

To this end  she staged an all-day  face-to-face training exercise for the  Foundation Learning team in the Learning Technology Centre at MIT South Campus early this month and has written about it, albeit probably reluctantly, on her blog, Foundation interviewing with SLENZ.

foundation_teresusietaniaSomewhere in a world … Terry Neal, Dr Susie Jacka and Tania Hogan.

The training workshop which began with a Karakia  (traditional Maori prayer that both welcomes and brings everyone together) was attended by SLENZ Project co  leader Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel),;  Maryanne Wright (SL: Nugget Mixemup), and Tania Hogan (Tania Wonder) from MIT; Jane Field (Morgana Hexicola) from Otago Polytechnic with her daughter; Vicky Pemberton (Sky Zeitman); Martin Bryers (SL: Motini Manimbo) from Northland Polytech; and Dr Susie Jacka (SL: Littoral Farshore) from Unitec.

The presenters from around the world included:  Jenny Wakefield (SL: Snowflake Lannock) of the Dallas School of Management at the University of Texas,  who gave instruction in communication skills, use of contextual menus, handling the inventory, more complex movements, location and SLurls, camera controls, and security issues;  Second Life’s Pacifico Piaggio, a faculty member from the University of the Pacific, and Second Life resident Doran Horngold, an elementary school librarian from Houston, Texas, who  passed on her collection of note cards with teaching resource SLurls and information.

“The workshop provided a great opportunity to gel as a team, to learn skills and to share ideas, ” Merle says. ” The day was tiring but rewarding. It provided all collaborators with the reassurance that they would never be on their own, and that there is a support structure soundly in place.”

Merle could have added that she, with her  hard-won knowledge of virtual world immersion, is one of the major  foundations of  that sound support structure.  But that is not something she would say.

foundation_vickymartin

What was the  question?- Martin Bryers  listens to the real world
answer from Vicky Pemberton

SLENZ Update, No 127, August 13, 2009

SLENZ Project

Arwenna, Petal find the  light

at the end of the SL Tunnel …

Sarahmidwif“Authenticity of the scene” … inside the Birth Centre. (picture Sarah Stewart)

“The first words I heard were, ‘This is so much FUN …’

The listener was Arwenna Stardust (RL: SLENZ Project co-leader Dr Clare Atkins) and the words were from one of the midwife trainees “learning real lessons” at the Otago Polytechnic  Birth Centre on the Second Life SLENZ  island of Kowhai:  they summed up just what learning in a virtual world should be.

Arwenna, in the blog that  she doubted she  would ever be able to write “many times over the last few months””,  details how she was able to watch and listen in as the first of the midwifery students used the birth centre.

Her post entitled  “Finally – it all comes together! Midwives and SL” is  inspirational.  It demonstrates  again there is really light at the end of the virtual world education/training  tunnel.

Coupled with  lead educator Sarah Stewart’s (SL: Petal Stransky) post, “Students’ first experience of the Second Life normal birth scenario,” Arwenna’s post shows that, in Clare’s words,  “this is perhaps the closest (student midwives)  will get …  to the ‘real’ world  (for some time) and for them it seemed real but it also allowed them to make mistakes, ask for reassurance from Sarah and … to learn from her instruction and guidance.”Stewart, Sarah

For her part, Sarah (pictured right) says, “They were able to engage with a scene that will face them many times as a ‘real life midwife’ …  the beauty of this scenario and role play in Second Life is that students can experience the authenticity of the scene and learn from it, but are unable to do any harm to the woman. And because they have supporting visual tools and resources the role play is a lot more immersive than it would be if they were carrying out the role play in the classroom.”
But read both posts for yourself. I think you will find them worthwhile, particularly if you are feeling disheartened by the perceived difficulties with launching  an education or training programme in a virtual world. There is a light at the end of the virtual tunnel.

The Midwifery Pilot, as part of the Otago Polytechnic’s School of Midwifery, is one of three pilot programmes being run by SLENZ Project, which is funded by the Tertiary Education Commission of New Zealand.

SLENZ Update, No 126, August 12, 2009

SLENZ PROJECT UPDATE

Foundation students to learn how to

get jobs – in virtual ‘classroom’

interview room_001_002

Students at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) are set to become the first in New Zealand to learn how to succeed in getting a job in real life through training in a virtual world.

The initial 31 students in the Foundation Learning Future Focus career planning classes will enter the virtual world of Second Life with their lecturers on Monday (August 17). They will later be joined by other Foundation Learning students from MIT as well as NorthTec and Otago Polytechnic.

The pilot programme, which is part of the Second Life Education New Zealand (SLENZ) Project, will eventually see more than 160 students ranging in age from 18 to 45 doing some of their classes as avatars in Second Life, a virtual world which has been in existence since 2003.

The research project is being funded by the Tertiary Education Commission of New Zealand under its Encouraging and Supporting Innovation funding programme. The SLENZ Project is also running a distance education pilot programme in midwifery with Otago Polytechnic.Photo Terry-1

Expressing excitement at having two pilot programmes under way, Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel) (pictured top right), joint leader of the SLENZ Project, said, the Foundation Learning pilot was quite different from the midwifery pilot where the project team had been learning how to motivate and encourage distance learners to engage with Second Life.

“The Foundation learners will be in a computer lab with their teacher so we do not have the same challenges getting them there,” she said.

“The team has designed a highly interactive experience which we hope will   be lots of fun as well as effective.

“One of the key benefits is that the whole class can be involved in learning at the same time rather than sitting watching their peers stumble through role plays,” she said. “ I know from my own experience walking  through what we have designed  that I can laugh and learn at the same time, and seeing ‘myself’ on  screen brings it alive much more than standing in a classroom trying to  imagine a situation.”

In the MIT programme, led by SLENZ lead educator and MIT lecturer Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa), the students will learn interview techniques through role-playing for possible positions in travel and tourism, business, engineering, social work, teaching and nursing training.

Second Life had been chosen for them to learn interviewing skills, something they all need but which is not easy to practice in a classroom environment for a variety of reasons, she added.

‘Motivating and exciting as possible’

“Second Life gave us an opportunity to deal with more students at the same time as well as making the learning engaging,” Merle said. “We are trying to make the learning process as motivating and exciting as possible to overcome any previous negative experiences in school.

“Second Life engages the students actively in the process of learning and offers them everything they need to succeed,” she said.

Tina Fitchett (pictured bottom right), Dean of MIT’s Faculty of Education and Social Science, believes that virtual learning may hold the key to learning success for foundation students.fitchettT

“Research indicates that both academic and social engagement are important factors in foundation learners’ success,” Tina said. “The utilisation of technology like Second Life to support student learning brings together both of these elements. It offers an engaging, dynamic and stimulating environment for students to operate in and provides another useful tool for them to hone their practical interview skills.”

“This is also a great example of tertiary providers working collaboratively together to enhance their students’ learning,” she added.
Merle has collaborated closely with the  head of the MIT Learning Technology Centre,  Oriel Kelly (SL: Noumea Sands)  and  SLENZ Lead Developer and contract SL builder, Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman)  in the creation and development of the virtual world learning programme, stage 1 and Stage 2 on the SLENZ island of Kowhai.

Other lecturers for the foundation programme  include Maryanne Wright (SL: Nugget Mixedup), Tania Hogan (SL: Tania Wonder), NorthTec’s Martin Bryers (SL: Motini Manimbo), Vicki Pemberton (SL: Sky Zeitman) and Clinton  Ashill SL: Clat Adder) and  Otago Polytech’s Jane Fields (SL: Morgana Hexicola).