The SLENZ Update – No 89, May 25, 2009

Distance education with a difference

Otago Midwifery students to learn

about birthing in virtual world

Birthing Centre_002

Today, for the first time,  New Zealand midwifery students began  to enhance their regular study programme with learning in the virtual world of Second Life.

The 27 first year students and 23 second year students were introduced to the Otago Polytechnic’s virtual “model” birth centre (Te Wāhi Whānau), on the Government-funded SLENZ Project’s Second Life virtual island of Kowhai.

The students will be joined by another 15 third-year students in June as the School of Midwifery further develops the “blended delivery tools” it is using in its newly-revised midwifery education programme. Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT) and midwifery students will also join the virtual world part of the programme in June.

The students range in age from their 20s to 40s, with a variety of life experiences and varying degrees of computer literacy.

According to Dr Deborah Davis, the school’s principal lecturer, students will eventually access The Birth Centre from home via the Internet through Broadband links.

In February Otago Polytechnic in collaboration with CPIT began a new “flexible” programme which allows the students to remain in their home town or community while accessing course material on line and working alongside local midwives and women and meeting for face-to-face tutorials. Their virtual world experience will be part of this.

‘Intensives’ face-to-face

“They are supported by a midwife from their area who provides face-to-face tutoring and support,” Dr Davis said, adding that these students travel to the polytechnic for “intensives” (two weeks, four times/year) where they “focus on skills and other learning that is more suited to face-to-face” teaching.

Dr Davis said the virtual Birth Centre would also “provide an important learning opportunity for second-year students, who are currently focusing on the physiology of normal birth.

“While students are currently engaged in real life midwifery practice they may not have the opportunity to facilitate physiological childbirth in a home or home-like environment … we hope that the virtual birth centre will provide them with an immersive experience and one in which they start to feel the sense of responsibility and accountability that comes with being a registered midwife.”

Dr Davis said the virtual birth centre should also provide a useful opportunity for third-year students to hone and practice their midwifery decision-making skills while participating in an “apprentice” style year on clinical placements with midwives all over New Zealand.

The SLENZ Project, which is running two pilot education programmes in Second Life, is funded by the Tertiary Education Commission of New Zealand.

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The SLENZ Update – No 81, May 12, 2009

MIDWIFERY TUTORS ‘ENTHUSIASTIC’

Exciting introduction to SL with bonding  and play

Petal- group with Sarah

Trainers, Dr Clare Atkins and Todd Cochrane with Kate Spencely, Dr Deborah Davis
and Sarah Stuart. (Pictures from Sarah  Stewart)

The importance of a time for “play” when people are initiated into Second Life was reinforced for  the SLENZ Project’s joint leader, Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust), when  she led an orientation workshop for a group of mainly SL “newbie”  midwifery educators from Otago Polytech’s  School of Midwifery.

“I learnt again just how important it is to allow people the time and opportunity for play when they first get into Second Life,” she told a SLENZ Project meeting on the Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology’s Second Life  island of Koru. “They want to play around with how they look and how they can change themselves and what they can do. I’ll never forget them all doing the chicken dance and laughing (in real life). It was very much about bonding and the creation of confidence.

“… nobody, but nobody, is  not concerned with how they  look,” she said, adding that although there had to be time for “play” the learning process had to be focused and based on a clear structure of what had to be achieved in the time frame.

Atkins, of NMIT, and SLENZ developer Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker), of Weltec, conducted the training session  for the eight educators from Otago and Canterbury midwifery schools, in person, on the Otago campus and on the SLENZ island of Kowhai, in what was both a real life and Second Life “bonding and learning” workshop.

Human nature

Cochrane said, “Working with the midwifery instructors was absolutely fantastic.

“I also I learned a lot about, well, human nature.

“They were completely interested in the way their avatars looked and moved,” he said. “Getting the right clothing and the shape of their avatar’s figures right turned out to be the major activity. I had expected this to take some time but not to the extent that it did.

“I was completely stunned when one pulled out an animation that made her avatar walk , in a more than catwalk manner, and that everyone wanted their avatars to walk that way too.”

The lead educator for the midwifery pilot programme, one of three SLENZ Project pilots, Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky), said she had been “very encouraged by the enthusiasm” of the educators who attended the two-day workshop.

Noting that some had been apprehensive about the move into virtual worlds, she said, “They were extremely enthusiastic, very reassured and very excited at the end.

“It was good to have it face-to-face. There were some ups and downs during the two days but everyone is now a lot clearer where we are and where we have to go in the next few months.”

Stewart, however, noted that while the majority of participants had found the “play” – trying on new clothes, doing the chicken dance etc – “valuable”, there has been some who had wanted to focus only on what needed to be done and felt they didn’t have time for those sort of things.

SLENZ learning designer Leigh Blackall (SL: Leroy Post), who had a major hand in setting up the training session, said proof of the success or otherwise would be in seeing  if and how the midwives came back to Second Life … “we need to observe these midwives,” he said.

From his point of view, though, the workshop  had been “very successful” and he had enjoyed “watching it from a distance … The fact that the midwives were physically together  might have lifted the spirit. It will be interesting to see if it really does translate into persistent use.”

The pilot is scheduled to put its first  real students into Second Life May 25.

Petal Midwives do the chicken dance

The chicken dance – need for a moment for play in orientation.

The SLENZ Update – No 75 , May 1, 2009

The Birthing Unit – Te Wahi Whanau

Video is a great introduction

The SLENZ Project’s Birthing Unit  – Te Wahi Whanau – has been given a great introduction with the release on April 30  of  a  a video  which explains  simply and cogently why and how the pilot midwifery project has evolved.img_0502

“I think it is brilliant and I am just so excited,” Dr Deborah Davis, principal lecturer, School of MidwiferyOtago Polytechnic, Dunedin, said  in announcing the release of the pilot project video on the SLENZ List.  “In just seven minutes a lot of information gets imparted; both about the importance of birth environment and about the project. It is going to be a great little resource and “taster” and I am sure it will make interested people want to find out more.”

The first public showing of the video was scheduled to take place at the Open University in Delhi, where it was to be presented by joint SLENZ Project leader,  Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel). The lead educator for the pilot is Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky).

The video, originally conceived and pushed by SLENZ learning designer Leigh Blackall (pictured below right, SL: Leroy Post), was produced by  Blackall (audio recording and editing) and SLENZ  lead developer, Aaron Griffiths (pictured above right, SL: Isa Goodman) (video images and editing). Blackall is currently  working on a comic to go with the video as part of the  introduction to the Otago Polytechnic project.

The midwifery pilot on Kowhai is one of three pilots being worked on by the SLENZ Project which has been funded by  the Tertiary Education Commission of New Zealand.img_0505

The project has been designed to determine how multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) might benefit New Zealand education and how this can best be done. Using the multi-user virtual environment Second Life, it aims to delineate and demonstrate to New Zealand educators and students the educational strengths or otherwise of learning in a virtual world.

The SLENZ Update – No 64, April 2, 2009

THOSE SLENZ BUILDS

Getting immersive realism on the SL ground

birthisa_002

The “real” thing … the drapes and Isa Goodman

AN essential ingredient of getting the SLENZ Project  off  the ground  has been to ensure the builds have enough realism to ensure a “suspension of disbelief” occurs, according to the project’s lead developer, Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman).

This, Griffiths (pictured) told the SLENZ team recently, was to allow users to become fully immersed in the experience without feeling it didn’t look/feel real. “This is a difficult task when faced with the rigidity that building using Second Life’s 3D primitives have inherent in them, given the hard lines that these building blocks present,”  he said.

It had been circumvented in the past, he added,  through an intense use of multiple primitives to form every bend or curve of an object but this not only loaded a scene with primitives (more download requirements) but also added to the workload in creating and aligning textures to each of the primitives to create a complete object.

Although noting that the creation of organic shapes was now possible in Second Life using sculpties (sculpted prims created with texture maps), Griffths said, the creation of the number required to achieve the desired results within the hours defined by the SLENZ Project budget “just wasn’t a possibility.”img_05021

Therefore, he said, he had been excited to discover within  Second Life Rusalka Writer’s large sculptie sets with what he feels is the desired level of realism to make the build “that much more than a  2D  drawing” one can move through.

“So now, in the birthing room for example, we have rumpled eiderdowns and flowing drapes as opposed to the not so real faked 3D using shadowed textures on rectangles,” he said.

The   Rusalka Writer sculptie sets at her shop in Bahoozamoth, Griffths, a director of  F/Xual Education Services, said, were full permissions and inexpensive compared to most of the sculpties sets he had seen in-world.

Griffiths said that besides the realism/immersion issue he also had been concerned for sometime about the lack of interaction with the build in Stage 1 of the SLENZ midwifery build.

“Yes one can open doors and walk around, draw or open curtains (now beautifully flowing *smiles*) etc., but really in terms of  interactivity this stage of the build is currently limited to clicking on objects and
receiving information either in the form of notecards, dialogs or links out to the web,” Griffiths said. “The realism mentioned above will definitely create a more immersive experience and given that this (build) has been designed as an ideal birthing unit ( i.e. one that generally cannot be experienced in the real world) there will be a learning aspect in terms of sensing the atmosphere that such a unit could bring to the birthing
experience.

“But interactive… well not quite,” he said adding that he had been struck  by the fact that when he had recently met some of the midwives in-world for a walk-through  without exception, when they had entered the birthing room, they had attempted to enter the birthing pool.

birthisa_005

The “real” thing … all the midwives wanted to try the birthing pool.

“Well you would wouldn’t you?” he asked, and added, “… yet this aspect of engaging with the build had not been really considered for this stage despite his and other’s interest in the capability of MUVEs to present the aspect of play in a learning experience.
Building on that observation,  he said he had talked to the midwives about the possibilities and it had been suggested that, as well as clicking on each of the items displayed to present different birthing techniques (e.g. the birthing pool, the leaning mantle, the rope etc) and linking out to information on the  web relating to the theory involved, “we create pose animations for each of the objects that would optionally allow the users to “assume the position.

“Not only would this be instructive in a sense but would insert an element of fun that I feel is distinctly lacking in this stage,” he said, asking for the team’s thoughts on the idea.

Looking forward to Stage 2 of the midwifery build where the SLENZ Project intends to simulate a normal childbirth scenario there had also been a boon in discovering the Rusalka Writer sculptie sets, he said.

“Again in terms of suspending disbelief it is important in my view that we create as realistic a ‘baby’ as is possible,” Griffiths said.

The creation of a prim-based, scripted robot, or an avatar-based bot, logged in specifically for the birth, had been discussed but both had their drawbacks: the prim bot ,though easily manipulated through scripting ,would be hard to make look real, while the avatar would have to be logged in (complete with floating name and title) and manipulated, with the problem of animation permissions to be overcome.

“What a joy then to find amongst the sculptie sets a full set of body part shapes that with good texturing may solve our problems in this respect,” he said.

“All-in-all a good week for the developer with a much better sense that the midwifery unit will immerse, engage and have the end result that we all are heading towards,” Griffiths concluded.

birthisa_004

The “real” thing … a bed that looks soft enough to sleep on.

The SLENZ Update – No 60, March 29, 2009

SLENZ PROJECT

Mid-project workshop, mid-term progress

img_0499

Eyes on the Smartboard … joint project leader Terry Neal (SL Tere Tinkel) and developer Todd
Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker) follow progress on the Smartboard. In the background,
learning designer, Leigh Blackall (SL Leroy Post) and lead educator Merle Lemon
(SL: Briarmelle Quintessa).

A two-day workshop in Wellington  has firmed up the SLENZ Project timeline, sorted niggling build problems and priorities,  as well as signaling the  end of communication problems which appeared to be hindering the early stages of the project.

With stage 1 of the  midwifery pilot to begin operation under the direction of lead educator Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) mid-June and stage 2 mid-July, on-campus tutor/student orientation is due to begin in May. The tutors from the polytechnics involved in the Foundation Learning pilot led by Merle Lemon will begin orientation with a face-to-face meeting in July in preparation for a September/October launch.

Both groups, however, plan to hold a number of “spontaneous” in-world meetings with-in their separate pilot  groups in the lead-up to the formal orientation process and tutor training.   These meetings will also allow them to experience,  in an “avatar hands-on” fashion, the structures/animations created by (and under the supervision) of lead developer Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman) and provide grassroots feedback where necessary.

On the communication front it was noted that  joint project leader Dr Clare  Atkins’ (SL: Arwenna Stardust) resolution of team’s communications into the SLENZ Project Development googledocs – as the official working and final documents – with direct access from the SLENZ Update blog  had obviated much of the confusion which has surrounded the previous proliferation of semi-official communication channels. Atkins stressed again the value of each and every member using the googledocs system to update group thinking.

Cochrane also briefed team members on SLOODLE/MOODLE as a useful on-going in-world resource and tool for educators.

korufoundat_001

“Foundations” – an initial rough concept sketch of
what is needed for Foundation Learning

The team agreed that as the Project was publicly-funded every effort should be made to ensure all documents were open to the public and/or under Creative Commons License   and that all items  commissioned and built for project should be “full perms”. It was noted that the “basic builds” with full functionality and full perms, once completed,  would be available from a “vendor” for free public usage.

Besides her meeting room build on Kowhai Lemon  is investigating using holodecks for specific interviewing scenarios such as, Police recruiting interviews, hospitality industry recruiting interviews, nursing and teacher interviews. She plans to use roleplay as part of her tutor training as well.

There also was some discussion of the team’s direction once the project has been completed and evaluated by year end.

The final meeting of the SLENZ Project Team is planned for August/September with evaluation of the project planned for October/November.

brithcentremar29_002

Birthing Centre and Foundation Learning centre with Kowhai TP point in foreground

The SLENZ Update – No 55, March 11, 2009

SLENZ Project progress

Gearing up for RL

face-to-face …

Gearing up for a face-to-face meeting in Wellington, New Zealand,  in two weeks time ( March 23-24) the SLENZ Project team is  now moving  steadily forward with its three pilot programmes – Foundation learning, Midwifery and Orientation – according to joint project leader, Terry Neal (SL: Terre Tinkel) in her latest project update.

With co-leader Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust)  she expects to be able to post the agenda for  the face-to-face meeting early next week.slenz-workshop-003

Speaking about the individual pilot programmes Neal reported that Foundation learning  lead educator Merle Lemon (Pictured at right, SL: Briarmelle Quinetessa) , of  Manakau Institute of Technology, had written a context and learning design for Foundation Stage 1 (blog, best  in Firefox, describes the foundations students and the issues simply and extremely well: http://briarmelle.edublogs.org/2009/02/26/foundation-education-context/ )with work to begin on the build (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Kowhai/138/177/26 ) shortly. The Foundation pilot group plans  to hold an in-world meeting at 9am on March 17 with the aim of  understanding potential access issues for  fellow educators in the programme and  to give them an opportunity to provide feedback on the learning design and as much of the build as is completed.briarmelle-todd

Briarmelle Quintessa & Toddles Lightworker

Neal said  that work on the in-world build for Midwifery Stage 1 had been delayed by challenges in deciding which items to include in the birthing unit for Stages 1 and 2 and by finding suitable images. As a result team members Deborah Davis  and Leigh Blackall, project learning designer (SL: Leroy Post) had even visited a local hospital to take pictures.

“Then,” Neal said, “we have had challenges in where to put the images and how Aaron [Aaron Griffths (SL: Isa Goodman),  project lead developer], can access them – all part of our process development. Hopefully, these are resolved now and Aaron, Clare and Todd ( Cochrane, SL: Toddles Lightworker and project developer), can make good progress on the build in the next week.”

The midwifery team, Neal said, had organised an interview session for the video that  was being made “to engage” tutors and learners before they entered Second Life, while Sarah Stewart (Pictured lower right, SL:  Petal Stransky and midwifery pilot lead educator) and Blackall had begun developing lesson plans. At the same time Davis and Stewart had devised labels  for the various objects which would be in the birthing unit. A feedback session for the pilot’s educators  has been organised for March 2o.

birthcentre1_004

Birthing unit … decisions on wall colours/covering and furniture

Commenting on the Orientation pilot, Neal, noting that Blackall had put up a wiki with a list of agreed skills for orientation,  asked SLENZ team members again  for links to other good orientation packages. The
place to do this is the Googledoc for  orientation linked from the one stop shop SLENZ blog  as the Context Summary Document-Orientation ( https://slenz.wordpress.com/slenz-project/project-processes).sarah-op-2007

Neal said the protocols for the evaluation of the project were still being determined.

Concluding, Neal hoped the introduction of  the “one-stop shop page (for “understanding our process and accessing the various documents we are creating to communicate with one another”) in the SLENZ blog would help  team members all feel they could navigate “through our many files more easily and help us differentiate between ‘thinking out loud’ and ‘decisions’.

“I want to echo Clare’s ‘thank you for your patience’ message,” Neal said. ” We have  some minor tweaking still to do, such as linking to images effectively, but we have made a lot of progress beyond where we were
two months ago. Clare and I both believe our discussions to date have  helped us create something that will work well for the rest of our project, and beyond.

The SLENZ Update – No 47, February 23, 2009

A pattern of  NZ  islands?

longwhitecloud_002

Long White Cloud

The original initiators of the  SLENZ Project, Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust), joint project leader,  and Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman), lead developer,  have always dreamed of creating  an Aotearoa -New Zealand education archipelago within Second Life.

It now seems that their dream is about to come true with the movement of the University of Auckland’s land of the Long White Cloud ( http://slurl.com/secondlife/Long%20White%20Cloud/128/128/2 ) to just north of the SLENZ project sim of Kowhai, which is adjacent to the original Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology island of Koru (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Koru/150/124/27) .

“In the early days Isa and I used to talk about how good it would be to have a New Zealand education archipelago, and now it’s beginning to happen,” Atkins said in a joint announcement with Land of the Long White Cloud’s creator Scott Diener (pictured) (SL: Professor Noarlunga) (http://scottdiener.edublogs.org/)  at a SLENZ meeting on Koru. Diener is currently the Associate Director, IT Services at the of University of Auckland, and is responsible for the Academic and Collaborative Technologies Group at the University. He also teaches in a large stage III research methods course in the Psychology department.

The scenically attractive University of Auckland (http://www.auckland.ac.nz/uoa/)  island, houses a dedicated medical centre simulation that includes a project run in conjunction with Boise University, USA.  This island is soon to be joined by another Auckland U island sim, named Kapua, which will be initially dedicated to architecture studies under the direction  of Judy Cockeram (SL: JudyArx Scribe) a senior lecturer in the university’s Faculty of Architecture and Planning. She also hopes to establish an architectural community of scholars in Second Life that stimulates Real Life architecture.

Atkins and Diener said that  it was planned to join the Koru-Kowhai sims to  the Long White Cloud sim by a “void” ocean sim.

Diener, who will be presenting at the EDUCAUSE Australasia Conference 2009 – Innovate, Collaborate & Sustain, in Perth, Western Australia,   May 3 – 6, also disclosed that his  Auckland group  is in the process of entering into a virtual world consortium with  Australia’s  Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Wollongong University and other educational institions  to  establish a high performance virtual world environment group.

He also noted that the Boise end of the  nursing student pilot study being done in conjunction with Auckland had been  receiving considerable good press in the United States over the last few months.

Meanwhile the SLENZ Project’s specialist midwifery pilot  has made further progress with the virtual completion of the Learning Design stage.  Lead educator Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) has said in her blog, Sarah’s Musings, of February 21 (http://sarah-stewart.blogspot.com/2009/02/linking-objects-to-information-in.html)  that she is feeling “at last I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for the first stage of the Second Life Birth Unit project.

“My feelings of frustration are changing to optimistic excitement,” she said. “Yesterday, Leigh Blackall (SL Leroy Post), Deborah Davis and I had a meeting which has led to an agreement to the learning activities and time lines for Stage 1 of the Project.”

birthunit

Picture: Courtesy Sarah Stewart