The SLENZ Update – No 46, February 16, 2009

Making SLENZ work!

Learning by doing

slenz-workshop-057Learning by doing … Aaron Griffiths, building developer, Terry Neal, joint project leader, and Merle Lemon, lead educator (foundation leaning). Background: Sarah Stewart (lead educator midwifery).

The SLENZ project team has continued to test and modify the design and development processes, despite some on-going communication challenges which are similar to those faced by Linden Labs and Second Life (See  “Right tools for job” below)

“The most challenging part of the process is proving to be getting the midwifery educators together to feedback on these ideas before finalising them,” joint leader Terry Neal said of  one of the three pilots in comments which  could provide value for all those grappling with virtual world/on-line/real world education development issues.

Noting the context had already been written for Otago’s students by lead educator Sarah Stewart, while some ideas had been drafted about the specific activities that the students would do within the birthing unit for stage 1 of pilot, Neal noted  that although discussions could have taken place asynchronously in blogs and Googledocs “in practice the individuals wanted to meet together to discuss the issues online.”

Neal sees this as part of the SLENZ project team learning about how to work virtually across distance taking into account individuals’ preferences.

Earlier Neal had explained that she saw several competing priorities in designing the SLENZ pilot process.

“It is not easy to decide the best way to navigate through although that is what we need to do,” she said.

“We need a process that: allows ideas to develop, because we are all working out ideas as we go because we have not done this before; allows input from others because for each phase there are between two and seven people in the wider project team specifically involved, as well as the wider community who can add value too;  clearly specifies an end point of this developing thinking to pass on to the team for the next phase;  allows interaction between the different phase teams to clarify thinking and benefit from knowledge at the intersection of skill sets/phases;  allows us to capture and share our learning as we go; works over distance (and now time zones with the transfer in real life of Sarah Stewart (lead educator in midwifery pilot) to Australia ; fits as much as possible with individual preferences; fits with the team’s needs to achieve the project aims.

She said to answer these objectives the SLENZ team had decided to “think out in the wider sphere, and then bring  the design back inside the core team.

The team had done this, Neal said, to allow input from others  in the wider team  and work in with individual preferences as much as possible.

The risks  to this approach she said were: the thinking is too spread out and good ideas get lost or hidden and people get sick of following along potentially; team members and others can read something as being the final view point when it has been, or will be, superseded.

“We are still working this through but my understanding is that we will have two defining documents – Sarah Stewart’s Googledoc ‘Learning Design Midwifery Stage 1’ and the technical specifications document that joint leader Dr Clare Atkins with learning designer Leigh Blackall’s help have developed from the  learning design document.

Neal said, “I personally am comfortable with wide sharing of half-formed ideas as long as we know when they are ready to pass on.”

But, she said, the ‘definitive thinking perception’ risk had to be managed properly.

Here’s the RoadMap!

Joint SLENZ Project leader Dr Clare Atkins(SL: Arwenna Stardust – pictured) has made the “SLENZ Project Development Roadmap – Final Draft” available on http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dj2k8bp_22gdmdmpcp&arwenna_002invite=gw9jqw
She notes that there are still “things missing from it – usually because I need others expertise to suggest what is required in different stages” and has indicated  these “gaps” with red questions! Noting that she welcomed “any feedback on the document she has posted details on her blog http://arwennastardust.wordpress.com/

She notes there that “the process (of developing the SLENZ project roadmap) has been tough at times but then the task is complex and there is very little previous experience or best practice reports to draw on.”

‘Right tools for job’

Thinking about communications, I believe one of the major problems facing the collaborative creation of virtual worlds (as opposed to creation by an autocratic individual) is controlling the communication channels – and not allowing any one party to usurp control and/or to lose valuable ideas and material in the process.

The problem today is that besides two realities, virtual worlds and real worlds, there are also a myriad of communication options available to team members, some of which some participants might not be comfortable with and others they will be comfortable with. Dictators have solved this problem in the real world, but democracies have a little further to go.

The problem is what should be a collaboration can descend into anarchic time-wasting if not properly controlled and monitored with all worthwhile ideas recorded in an accessible format.

In the real world in a classroom situation small subgroups, learning to work together on research or other projects, learn that each team must have a discussion facilitator, a notetaker or recorder, and a chairperson or someone who reports back to the main group and/or initiates any group action, rather than each individual doing so, or any one member of team becoming locked into a certain mindset.

The same happens in the real world – even when decisions are taken by consensus. There is a requirement for an agenda to be set to ensure relevancy, someone to chair or facilitate any meeting, a recorder, and someone to either report back or initiate actions.

But the problems of communicating across a large number of channels both in the virtual world and the real world are myriad, with not even the experts able to narrow the field.

This was brought to mind by award-winning, SLED lister Anne Ogborn (SL: Annie Obscure), an independent software engineering consultant working primarily with educational institutions in Second Life (She is currently developing the Pathways to Knowledge educational system within Second Life and ScoolFaces student feedback tool).

Providing a striking although rather tongue-in-cheek confirmation of the ‘right tool for the job’  when it comes to virtual world communications Ogborn noted that Linden Labs itself operates no less than 12 communication systems besides Second Life: 1. A large, active website to distribute ‘knowledge’ about SL; 2. A large, active bulletin board to help communities of interest hold more persistent discussions about topics in SL, and a set of rolling boards for communications like ‘Fifi’s is hiring pole dancers’; 3. A jira for communicating and tracking technical issues; 4. Corporate email for ‘I really want to talk to Jack Linden’ comms;  5. An internal wiki for maintaining uniform responses to AR’s; 6. An external wiki as another method of communicating ‘knowledge’ about SL; 7. A corporate telephone system; 8. People presumably meet face-to-face and talk to each other and hold meetings at LL; 9. Premium and concierge members have access to the chat support application; 10. Linden Labs has a phone system; 11. Linden Labs sends and receives snail mail and packages; 12. People visit the premises.

“All of these have their place,” she said. “The best way to send the $7 million contract from Linden to the data center’s offices is to mail it. The best way to keep up on what’s up on the technical front is to attend Zero’s office hours in world. The best way to meet some really competent SL users and enlist their help is to hang out at NCI Kuula.

“Second Life is not the answer to all things – certainly not to holding an in depth, thread picking discussion on a complex topic,” she concluded. “It is, however, a tool for some things.”

‘Top’ VW research

Asked recently for the top three research articles on education in virtual worlds Second Life education guru Jeremy Kemp (pictured), of  San Jose State University, School of Library and Information Science, told SLED listers he referred often  to:

Jennings, N., & Collins, C. (2007). Virtual or virtually U:Educational institutions in second life. International Journal of Social Sciences, 2(3), 180-187. Retrieved from http://www.waset.org/ijss/v2/v2-3-28.pdfkempjeremy21

Kirriemuir, J. (2008). Snapshot of UK HE and FE developments in SLEduserv Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.eduserv.org.uk/foundation/sl/uksnapshot102008

Livingstone, D., & Kemp, J. (2006). Proceedings of the 2006 second life education workshop, part of the second life community convention. Paper presented at the San Francisco, CA. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/recordDetail?accno=ED493670

Luo, L. & Kemp, J. (2008). Second Life: Exploring the immersive instructional venue for Library and Information Science education. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 49(3), 147-166.

New Media Consortium. (2008). Educators in Second Life Survey. Retrieved from http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2008-sl-survey.pdf

EVENT

hulserrichard2March 16,18,  20, LIANZA – CPD – Second Life & Technology Strategy Planning workshops, Technology Strategy Planning  9am-12 noon, Library Services in SL, 1pm-4pm::  Presented by US-based world authority on SL and technology strategy planning for libraries, Richard Hulser (pictured).  $110 (member) and $160 (non member) for each workshop If attending both workshops $200 (member) and $300 (non member). Auckland – March 16, Whare Wananga room, Level 2, Auckland Central Library, 44 Lorne Street, Auckland (http://www.lianza.org.nz/cgi-bin/calendar/viewevent.pl?id=468); Wellington – March 18, Lion Harbourview room, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington (http://www.lianza.org.nz/cgi-bin/calendar/viewevent.pl?id=469); Christchurch – March 20, Sydenham Room, South Learning Centre, 66 Colombo Street, Beckenham, Christchurch (http://www.lianza.org.nz/cgi-bin/calendar/viewevent.pl?id=470) Information: Maree Kibblewhite  maree@lianza.org.nz mailto:maree@lianza.org.nz; booking enquiries Anna O’Keefe  anna@lianza.org.nz <mailto:anna@lianza.org.nz>

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The SLENZ Update – No 21, November 02, 2008

How ‘real’ are VWs?

A research team, led by North Carolina State University’s Zelnak Professor of Marketing and Innovation, Dr Mitzi M. Montoya, has developed a new way of measuring how “real” online virtual worlds are – an important advance for the emerging technology that can be used to foster development of new training and collaboration applications by companies around the world. ( http://news.ncsu.edu/news/2008/10/wmsmontoyavirtual.php)

The research was focussed on developing the measurement tool specifically for business applications in the virtual world because the productivity and effectiveness of workers interacting via online environments is closely linked to how well the workers are able to feel as if they are actually in the virtual realm.

“This is an important issue,” Montoya said, “because we believe that if users feel they are ‘present’ in the virtual world, they will collaborate better with other members of their team – and the more effective the virtual world will be as a setting for research and development or other collaborative enterprises.”

Additionally, Montoya said “an increased sense of presence in the virtual world leads to better comprehension and retention of information if the technology is being used for training purposes, and trainees are happier with the process.”

The measurement scale, called Perceived Virtual Presence (PVP), factors in how users interact with the virtual environment, with their work in that environment, and with other users.

“Now that we have developed the PVP scale,” Montoya said, “it can be used to determine which PVP levels are most conducive to training, collaboration or other applications.” Effectively, the PVP scale can be used to design a virtual environment that has the degree of reality that will best cater to a company’s specific needs.

Montoya developed the PVP metric with Dr Anne P. Massey, Dean’s Research Professor of Information Systems at Indiana University.

Distance Education Event

November 10-14, 2008 – The US Distance Learning Association is sponsoring National Distance Learning Week (NDLW)  to promote and celebrate the growth and accomplishments occurring today in distance learning programs offered by schools, businesses, and governmental departments (USDLA). In support of this initiative, and highlighting the global reach of virtual environments, several organisations are collaborating to present and celebrate the tremendous potential of the virtual world of Second Life for distance learning. November 10 (Free in SL -12:30 am SLT and run through 8:00 am SLT): a full-day conference will include presentations from within Second Life and in real life at the University of Paris IV-Sorbonne (audio capability and the latest version of Quick Time required) . http://slurl.com/secondlife/Selmo%20Park/67/174/26

The first presentation will be at 12:30 am SLT from students of the L’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs de Paris presenting “Eden of the Lost Animal.”

Other featured speakers include Bryan Carter, University of Central Missouri; Ed Lamoureaux, Bradley University; Jeremy Kemp, San Jose State University; Claudia Linden from Linden Labs; AJ Kelton from Montclair State University; Tim Linder, Meramec Art Department; and Beth Ritter-Gluth, Literature Alive.

Collaborating organisations include: University of Central Missouri, the Alliance Virtual Library in Second Life,  the Bibliotheque Francophone, and the L’Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs de Paris. Info: Bryan Carter at: bc&@mac.com

Healthcare training

Margaret Hansen (SL: Maggie Waechter), of the San Francisco School of Nursing, has provided a lot of the answers on what virtual training in healthcare in worlds like Second Life can achieve and at the same time pointed to the directions virtual healthcare training should take. (http://www.jmir.org/2008/3/e26)

Entitled “Versatile, Immersive, Creative and Dynamic Virtual 3-D Healthcare Learning Environments: A Review of the Literature.” the Hansen overview comes to the conclusion that Virtual worlds  “may change the way people learn and live in the future”.

“The major strengths associated with virtual worlds are one’s ability to design and construct unique environments and then share them with others in a collaborative fashion,” she said in her report. “Educators may write specific learning goals for students to complete while learners actively build and interact in environments that promote creativity and social networking.”

Other advantages include  “virtual training approaches that yield results and are invaluable for healthcare professionals, and improvement in students’ access to places otherwise difficult to reach and heightened student engagement because the real-time social interaction and gaming aspect spurs chances for “discovery-based and goal-oriented learning”.

She, however, does not shirk from the challenges faced by healthcare education in 3D worlds, detailing what criticism there is.

She concludes in part: “Virtual 3-D learning environments may encourage active learning while students create and explore activities similar to those of a “field trip”, versus the experience of a static classroom setting. This reaching out and meeting new avatars and practicing communication skills in an aesthetic environment may help maintain today’s students’ interest in learning and provide valuable experiences that may enhance student engagement, promote participation, and motivate self-directed learning.”

Picture below: Maggie Waechter (the avatar of the author) visiting the Sexual Health sim in SL.

OpenSpace Land revolt

An avatar/resident revolt over Linden Lab’s signal of  a 67 percent  hike in the purchase price and maintenance fee of “OpenSpace” SL sim land has led to headlines,  avatar self-‘immolation, forum and blog protests and the threatened exodus of  hundreds of avatars for other virtual worlds.

The proposed price rises have also  worried educators who have used “cheap” “OpenSpace” sims to make their regions more attractive as well as ordinary residents who have used the “void” spaces for a multitude of purposes other than just decoration.

The most balanced coverage of the events so far has probably been provided by noted Second Life journalist Wagner James Au (pictured). http://gigaom.com/author/wjamesau/
He notes, however, that there have been protests like this throughout the world’s five-year history, but without a competing virtual world offering all the unique features of Second Life, angry customers have largely stayed put, despite their grumblings.

“Now, however, there is an increasingly viable alternative: OpenSim, an open-source platform for developing virtual worlds, that was, ironically, made possible after Linden Lab released its viewer code,” he said. “Though still in beta mode, OpenSim has attracted developers with IBM, Microsoft, and numerous startups, so it’s bound to rapidly improve.”

Given the fact that registrations for one OpenSim jumped dramatically in the days after the Linden announcement it might be wise this time for the Lindens to take notice before more residents start voting with their tiny avatar feet.

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