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

VLENZ Update, No 161, February 02, 2010

VLENZ PROJECT

Steering Committee named

for  new VLENZ Group

A new steering committee, which includes some of  New Zealand’s  leading virtual world researchers and educators,  has been named to head  the Virtual Life Education New Zealand (VLENZ) group, formed after the finish of SLENZ Project.

The  new leadership group is:  Dr Clare Atkins, of Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology, Terry Neal, of BlendedSolutions, Dr Scott Diener, of the University of Auckland, Merle Lemon, of Manakau Institute of Technology, and Aaron Griffiths, of Fxual Education Services.

Dr Atkins and Terry Neal (pictured top right and left) were joint leaders of the NZ$500,000 Government-funded SLENZ Project;  Dr Diener(pictured middle right), the Associate Director, IT Services (Academic & Collaborative Technologies) at the University of Auckland, has led the development of the University of Auckland’s  much-lauded medical simulation project in Second Life,  is active in many international groups related to the use of virtual worlds in higher education, and  is a key player in the New Zealand Virtual World Grid (NZVWG);   Lemon (bottom left),  an MIT lecturer, was a Lead Educator (Foundation (Bridging) Learning) for the SLENZ Project; Griffiths (bottom right) ,the founder of Fxual Education Services,  was the Lead developer for the SLENZ Project. Atkins and Griffiths initiated the SLENZ Project two years ago.

The VLENZ meeting early last week, which set up the steering committee, agreed  to the VLENZ name for the group,which will be a consortium of

individuals rather than institutions. It currently has 32 members drawn from education and virtual world research across New Zealand.

It will continue with this blog at slenz.wordpress.com, as well as becoming a sub-domain of the previously registered edumuve.ac.nz domain as vlenz.edumuve.ac.nz. It has a  Second Life Group  called VLENZ as well as a google group under the same name.

It is likely that the formal group will operate as a non-profit trust although this has not yet been finalised.

The group’s purpose and objectives are to be discussed  at meeting on the NMIT Second Life island of Koru at 10 am on Monday, Feb 8 (New Zealand time),  with the objective of finalising the  group’s  mission statement and initial goals.

SLENZ Update, No 141, October 6, 2009

THE SLENZ PROJECT

SLENZ teams finds new ‘acceptance,

enthusiasm’  at    education  gabfest

… Need seen to retain team skills, post-SLENZ Project

IMG_0846Almost full house … Aaron Griffiths details a Developer’s work.
as the SLENZ Lead Developer/builder.

Growing “acceptance” of Second Life as an education medium  and a new  “enthusiasm” for  virtual world education  was demonstrated in Palmerston North, New Zealand, last week by the  number of mainstream tertiary educators  who attended five  SLENZ team workshops at  the  annual, national Teaching  and Learning/eFest 2009 conference .

The growing interest in virtual worlds also was demonstrated in an unscheduled,  eFest unconference workshop before the conference proper and the fact that the  eight members of the SLENZ team who attended the conference were constantly pulled aside by attendees, wanting to learn more about virtual world education  or wanting to know how to become actively involved.

It was the third annual mainstream conference at which  the SLENZ Project  has been promoted but  its acceptance was very different from previous outings.

IMG_0843As Lead developer Aaron Griffiths (pictured) (SL: Isa Goodman), of F/Xual Education Services, said, “It was  like a coming of age. At the first two conferences we could only tell them what it  could be like. With this conference we really had something to show them. We could show that education in virtual worlds can work and be both economic and effective.”

The success was such  that a number of educators  attending the workshops and  in private conversations later suggested that the SLENZ Team,  due to complete  the SLENZ Programme  by year end,  should be retained  so that  the  skills learned and honed on the project would not be lost to  the New Zealand education community. The suggestion was even made that the project should be set up on a permanent, collaborative  basis with funding from New Zealand  tertiary institutions who wished to employ the team’s skills in setting up their own virtual education units.

Commenting on this, SLENZ Project  joint co-leader,  Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust), of NMIT,  said it made sense for  New Zealand’s tertiary institutions, and particularly its Polytechnics to  co-operate and work collaboratively in virtual worlds, rather than individually. In that way they could make effective, economic  use of the available advice, skills  and lessons already learned as  well as ensuring  that each was not going through the costly exercise of trying to reinvent the wheel, independently.

After the conference, co-leader, Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel), of Blended Solutions, said  that the Project would consider setting up a virtual world roadshow  for those Polytechnic educators and administrators who had expressed  interest in learning more about education in Second Life and other virtual worlds.

The Polytechnic educators at  the four-day conference at UCOL who appeared most interested  in virtual world education for their students included  those involved in  nursing and paramedic training, anatomy and physiology lecturing, foundation (bridging) learning,  trade and industry training and  agriculture, including viticulture,  all areas which the SLENZ team has worked in  or has looked  at working in.IMG_0813

Dr Clare Atkins and Terry Neal .. working effectively in a virtual team.

The SLENZ Project team members who presented at the conference  included, Dr Atkins and Terry Neal; Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa), lead educator  for the foundation learning pilot at  Manukau Institute of Technology, and  Oriel Kelly, manager of MIT’s  Learning  Environment Support Technology Centre;  Aaron Griffiths;  and   Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker),  a SLENZ developer  and lecturer at WelTec.

The SLENZ workshops, which will be the subject of a separate posting, looked at, “Working effectively in a virtual team,” “3D as an everyday medium for teaching, ” “MUVEing towards collaboration – the benefits and pitfalls of working as a collaborative teaching in a Multiuser Virtual Environment”, “In-world, meets the real world – the trials and tribulations of bringing Second Life to an ITP, “From  Real World to Virtual: Actualising Virtual World Education.

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