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
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SLENZ Update, No 150, November 17, 2009

The potential: “Daddy, Miss America wont share her toys.”

Obama vision could be crippled

by rich, greedy US institutions

… and commercial interests who want an arm  and two legs.

Birthunitdemo131109_0021. Sharing knowledge – The Gronstedt Group begins tour  of the SLENZ birthing unit.

The more time I spend in Second Life and  other virtual worlds the more I become convinced  that  SLENZ  joint leader Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust) is right: Collaboration and sharing is the key to success in  world education in virtual worlds.

But its not just collaboration within the United States, or New Zealand. It’s collaboration around the world.

The rich, big universities of North America and Europe might be able to afford to go  it alone, but for the smaller and the often poorer tertiary institutions of  the United States,  countries like  New Zealand, and Third World countries – if they even have reliable, affordable Broadband services – don’t have the luxury of NOT collaborating and sharing,  both at an institutional level and at an academic level.

The creation of complex builds, huds, animations and all the other paraphernalia of teaching successfully in a virtual  world, as well as aquiring the skills/knowhow to use them  can cost megabucks: to not share them under OpenSource and Creative Commons license with institutions and academics around the world would seem to be me to be both profligate and selfish. It also could regarded by some , particularly when sold at a high price or with an exorbitant  license fee attached, as both  neo-colonialist and  greedy capitalism of the kind that brought about the most recent crash of world markets.

Second Life behind the firewall

The collaboration thoughts, although first ennunciated  for me by  Dr  Atkins, were brought to mind more recently by  five things: the move by the Lindens, admitted an avowedly commercial organisation,  to  promote Second Life behind the firewall, previously Nebraska, to  commercial, Government and educational institutions at US$55,000 a pop, a princely sum for many cash-strapped institutions around the world;  President Obama’s Cairo vision, proclaimed in June;  a visit by the KiwiEd group to the University of Western Australia, Second  Life site; a Train for Success Gronstedt Group  35-avatar tour of the SLENZ Project’s virtual birthing unit on the Second Life island of Kowhai; and  finally, but not least,  the one-hour keynote address on copyright  by  Harvard University  Professor of Law Lawrence Lessig to  EDUCAUSE09 in Denver earlier this month.

Lessig-certificate-of-entitlement-700x524

2. Sharing the knowledge: Lessig’s certificate of entitlement.

Obama told  the world,  “We will match promising Muslim students with internships in America and create a new online network … ” something  which  Second Life arguably has been  doing for sometime with  the collaboration already  occurring between individual academics and many smaller institutions creating an “online network, facilitating collaboration across geographic and cultural boundaries.”

The problem with his vision is that  US commercial – and often Government –  interests  have almost always  worked against  facilitating collaboration and sharing across geographic  and cultural boundaries. Look at Microsoft software. Look at Apple and ITunes licensing. Look at software regionalisation. Look at the record industry. Look at the book industry, where rich English language publishers in the UK and the US split the world into at least two markets.  Look at the way copyright law has moved into  education – and science.

But its not a new phenomenon. Look at banana republics, created out of Boston,  as a rather ironical and destructive facilitation of collaboration across geographic and cultural boundaries.

Triumphs of reason

On the other hand there are triumphs of reason over idiocy. Look at the rise of the ubiquitous PC, compared to the Apple computer, even though using a proprietary Operating System  the rise from the “underground” of  Moodle, compared to say Blackboard; the slow advance of bilateral free trade agreements, even if not the much desired mutilateral  free trade agreements, instead of the trade siege mentality,  which  affected most of the world in the 1930s (and still threatens); the growing popularity of Linux compared to proprietary Operating Systems; and finally the astounding growth of  Wikipedia compared to Encarta or Britannia.

Despite my misgivings I have been heartened over the years by the surprising degree of co-operation and collaboration that has been happening in virtual worlds. That is despite the actions of  those  few Scrooge McDuck-like educational institutions which have purely commercial interests at heart and appear to run closed shop operations, sharing with none.

I was even more cheered recently by a visit to the University of Western Australia when I found that  university, which is in the forefront  of Australian virtual world education, was entering into bi-lateral  virtual “free trade” and/or “free exchange”  agreements with  the likes of Stanford University and others. This mirrors the agreements put in place  by  Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga) at the University of Auckland with the University of Boise; and Judy Cockeram (SL: Judy-Arx Scribe) and  her work with architects around the world;  and those “handshake”   agreements  or informal sharing arrangements put in place by a myriad of other relatively smaller institutions who have already recognised the benefits of world-wide collaboration.

3.Sharing the knowledge – KiwiEd group tours University of Wester Australia site.

And then there is the SLENZ Project, which 18 months ago adopted as its ruling credo,  complete transparency, with OpenSource under Creative Commons license for all its virtual educational products, developments and knowledge in the hope that others would be able to build on the team’s work. Even though the adoption of this credo was probably due more to the persistence and bloody-mindedness of a then non-Second Life “immersed” and relatively sceptical SLENZ Learning Designer Leigh Blackall than anything else, it has worked and is working.

One has to  agree now that Blackall was right, even though  there is obviously a place for fair payment to commercial (virtual world creators, builders, developers etc) interests, something Linden Labs has recognised  with its protection of its own virtual world product lines (and  unfortunately those created and developed by its residents, even if Creative Commons, full permissions and OpenSource) behind  the walls of Second Life.

Linden Labs is not alone, however, in usurping user/creator rights.  The way  they have covered the issue in their rather draconian and very American Terms of Service is little different from other major US on-line social networking services: if you put it up on their service, they own it.

Virtual World Free Trade/Exchange Pact?

This is despite, or perhaps in spite of “renegades” like the  onetime Arcadia Asylum, making all her magnificent “builds” available to “anyone to use anywhere,  how they like, even blowing it up.”

Like  the tyrants behind the old Iron Curtain the Lindens realise that keeping  control of their residents’ creations inside  their world (and keeping them there), guarantees that they will have to stay there unless they want to pour their creativity, time and work down the drain and start a new virtual life elsewhere.

This leads  me to the thought that President Obama, although paying lip service to “collaboration across geographic and cultural boundaries,” needs to put his Government’s money  where his mouth is and promote a world-wide free trade/exchange agreement for  virtual world education if not for virtual worlds themselves, guaranteeing rights of both personal ownership of  individual products when created or bought in a real world sense,  but also opening up US educational institution virtual knowledge and creativity for the rest of the world to freely add to, and build on.

The President  has the vision  for a better on-line world – which could lead to greater understanding between peoples through education.

If he does nothing except talk. Nothing will happen.

And, I believe, we will find the major educational institutions moving more behind their Ivy Walls – if they are not already there – and American educational institutions (and others in UK, Germany, Brazil etc) adopting  a siege mentality   even though  virtual worlds (all virtual worlds, whether emanating out of the US or China or anywhere else) will only fulfill their true potential of levelling the playing field for all educationally if they are free and open to all.

That is something America can do for the world – all worlds.

The SLENZ Update – No 119, July 25, 2009

THE SLENZ PROJECT

Midwifery tutor passes on

‘lessons’ from 1st SL  class

Lead educator for the SLENZ Project’s Midwifery pilot for Otago Polytechnic and Canterbury’s CPIT, Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) (pictured),  after running her first  teaching sessions in Second Life, has come up with  nine interesting and valuable  lessons for  any neophyte virtual world teacher.

Although most seasoned Second Life educators will have already solved these the issues she raises  they are worth thinking about again as one reads her blog, Sarah’s Musings.Stewart, Sarah

Stewart’s sessions were based on the second learning activity that has been designed for junior midwifery students as part of the SLENZ Project’s midwifery pilot.
Her key lesson appears to be: “If you are new to Second Life as a teacher, have someone with you who can help out until you grow more confident in your abilities. I am still learning about Second Life myself so found it really useful to have Leigh (Blackall) with me to support me.”

Although disappointed at the lack of discussion and apparently interaction that took place with the small number of  students Stewart  enjoyed taking them around. Her final word to herself, however, says it all: “… be very organised with what I do and say, and make sure I am as prepared for eventualities as I can be.”

While reading  Stewart’s blog its also worth while looking at her  two explorations/ examinations  of  “birthing places” in Second Life, no matter how unrelated to real life some of those birthing places are and how whimsical they may be.

The blogs are here and an earlier one, here.