SLENZ PROJECT EVALUATION, VLENZ 165, Mar 10, 2010

SLENZ PROJECT EVALUATION RELEASED

SL Research project ‘successful’ but

marred by technical difficulties  …

Full PDF of Evaluation Report available here

Education conference delegates view a Birthing Room

The SLENZ team achieved “a remarkable success in creating and delivering” the core of the SLENZ Project, according to the official evaluation report of the $NZ500,000, Second Life  research programme released today.

This was despite the fact that both the project and student/educator learning  and engagement  had, at times,  been hampered  by  technical  challenges and difficulties during the 18-month long project, said Michael Winter, the independent evaluator of the project. He is  a veteran educator and senior researcher with  CORE Education, of Christchurch, New Zealand.

At the core of the project were two builds – a Foundation Learning Centre and a Birthing Centre – which were used for virtual world teaching as part of the project to determine the benefits or otherwise of virtual world education, and how these benefits, if any, could best be harnessed.

“The creation and effective employment of the two builds is a great success of the team,” Winter said. “In the process, the project team established a valuable corpus of experience in developing and using virtual world resources for tertiary education.”

The pilot programmes, Winter said, had both increased the engagement of learners with a familiar game like environment where learning may intentionally be a product of serious play; had been successful in creating experiential learning situations not available in ‘real life’;  had had only limited success with providing the  opportunity to learn the skills necessary to operate socially, technically, and ethically in an online global virtual world;   but had  provided an opportunity to “experience and practice collaborative, cross-cultural problem solving in social networking environments.

Although the report   appears a little short on hard facts, figures and comparative measurements it contains much  interesting anecdotal evidence from both students and educators and the conclusions reached  by Winter should be helpful to all  contemplating  or launching a new educational programme  within a Multi User Virtual Environment (MUVE) such as Second Life.

Michael Winter

Winter said  that  the “success of the project”, which incorporated Foundation (Bridging) Learning and Midwifery Education pilot programmes, had  largely been due to the project management skills of the real life Project Manager (Terry Neal, of BlendedSolutions) who  had been responsible for managing the budget, interpersonal communications, and ensuring that timelines were adhered to and deadlines met.

Winter  also singled out the  Project Developer (Aaron Griffths, of Fxual  Education Services)  for special mention.  “As far as the design and development of the builds are concerned, the Project Developer almost single-handedly achieved a remarkable success with both builds,” Winter said. “He was able to incorporate the differing needs of both the Foundation and Midwifery educators, and in many cases produced aesthetically pleasing and functional designs. The ongoing process of development generally met the required deadlines, although sometimes at some cost in terms of stress.”

Terry Neal

Winter  made a  number of recommendations for future projects exploring the use of virtual worlds in education, which should be useful to MUVE developers and researchers around the world.  These included:

  • The Project Team, and Lead Educators at each institution should become familiar with the IT processes, and strike up an ongoing working relationship with members of the IT team. This could be greatly facilitated by the identification of a senior manager to act as a champion of the project within the institution.
  • Clear identification of the hardware and network needs required effectively to run the virtual world on the multiple computers within a particular institution. This would include addressing network security and fire walling issues.
  • Clear communication with students who will be using the virtual environment off-site regarding hardware and software requirements to access and make use of all the features of the virtual world.
  • An indication to students of the broadband requirements and hardware specifications to run the virtual world effectively on their own home computers, including connection speed, and the likely impact on broadband usage.

    Aaron Griffiths

  • Give more attention and time to ensure that users become fully familiar with using Second Life. This could involve a more thorough orientation process including working with buddies experienced in Second Life.
  • Clear indication to students of expectations in terms of their participation and learning outcomes when using the builds.
  • Ensure that each stage of the build actively involves and engages learners, and avoids them spending time “just looking”.

Summaries

Foundation Learning pilot

In his  summary of his findings on the Manukau Institute of  Technology Foundation Studies pilot programme, led by lead educator,  Merle Lemon,   Winter noted that  the Foundation build had provided a rich environment for learners to develop their job-hunting skills, despite criticism of its external appearance.

“It provided the opportunity for students to review material they had learned in face-to-face sessions, and to practice dressing appropriately for, and taking part in, interviews,” he said, but “for many participants, the experience was marred by technical difficulties, which highlighted the need for careful planning and good collaboration with the IT department before introducing virtual world learning into on-site programmes.”

The  MIT staff, Winter said,  were generally keen to be involved in future work with virtual worlds, but stressed the need to resolve technical issues.

Midwifery Education pilot

In his summary of the Otago Polytechnic Midwifery pilot programme, led by lead educator Sarah Stewart,  Winter said the two completed stages of the Midwifery build had represented “a significant success of the project”.

He, however,  again noted technical problems involving both hardware and connections to the internet  –  as well as navigation difficulties within Second Life by both  students and tutors -as hampering the results in this distance education part of the SLENZ Project.

On the question of user navigation,  he said,  “It is likely that a longer and more careful period of orientation might help participants overcome these difficulties.”

But he said, “Those students that accessed the build, and who were confident with the environment, reported a high degree of engagement and enjoyment of the experience, especially in working through the scenario with a buddy. They found this experience removed some of the stress, compared with face-to-face role-play. “

Visitors look over the Foundation learning build

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 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).

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.