SLENZ PROJECT – final F2F
SLENZERs celebrate ‘completion’
of virtual world work …
now team awaits official evaluation
The 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.
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.
“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.
Filed under: Distance education, Education, Education in Second Life, Education in virtual worlds, Second Life, SLENZ Project Tagged: | Clare Atkins, CORE Education, Foundation learning, midwifery, SLENZ Project, Terry Neal, Tertiary Education Commision, Virtual Worlds