SLENZ Update, No 154, December 06, 2009

Where is education going in Virtual Worlds?

An earlier (2008) view of a Duke University  foray into virtual worlds
– just one of  the university’s many virtual projects

With the  Obama Administration  turning to the virtual world to extoll the virtues of a science education through expansion of the STEM Education Initiative and NASA also using virtual worlds to promote engineering education to the next generation of potential NASA employees it seems certain  that educators around the world will not be able to avoid the  MUVE issue although it is  apparent many would wish to.

It  also appears certain that Governments, if they wish to keep abreast of world education trends, can no longer allow their telcos to limit bandwidth or  to  obfuscate the issue of the need for consistent, high speed Broadband  – which New Zealand telcos dont deliver outside  the major centres –  if  all are to benefit from the growing acceptance of virtuality, in all its guises. In future education poverty might be determined by one’s access to Broadband, particularly in the sense of distance education,  as we move away from on-campus learning to virtual campus learning which is available to everyone.

Following President Obama’s announcement early in his term of  initiatives to encourage American students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the White House now  appears to be moving into the Metaverse in an attempt to expand its  flagging science education initiative, according to  Max Burns (pictured left) of the Washington-based Pixels and Policy  blogs .

Quoting a  press release issued by Duke University, Durham, North Carolina,  in which  the Duke Center announced a partnership with the White House to promote the development of virtual learning worlds related to science and engineering  especially in middle and high school by linking into virtual worlds and the digital generation’s undoubted video-gaming experience, Burns said:

  • The third-annual Digital Media and Learning Competition will award $2 million in support to 21st Century learning lab designers  for learning environments and digital media-based experiences that allow young people to grapple with social challenges through STEM-based activities.
  • Digital media of any type (social networks, games, virtual worlds, mobile devices or others) may be used. Proposals are also encouraged for curricula or other experiences that link or connect to any game, especially but not limited to Sony’s LittleBigPlanet™ on PlayStation®3.

“Lifting American students from the middle to the top of the pack in STEM achievement over the next decade will not be attained by government alone,” said President Obama at the event in late November at which he announced the “Educate to Innovate” campaign. “I applaud the substantial commitments made today by the leaders of companies, universities, foundations, nonprofits and organizations representing millions of scientists, engineers and teachers from across the country.”

KZERO’s current virtual world universe – an ever-increasing population.

Moves cannot be seen in isolation

But the  White House moves cannot be seen in isolation.  The University of Texas has already  announced plans to put all its 16 campuses across the State online in the virtual world of Second Life; The prestigious Australian Film Radio and Television School, based in Sydney, has announced  a Graduate Certificate in Video Games and Virtual Worlds starting next year;  the University of California at Irvine has received a US$100,000 National Science Foundation grant to study World of Warcraft;  the creation of  an US Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds by the Information Resource Management (IRM) College of the National Defense University, to ‘ prepare leaders to direct the information component of national power by leveraging information and information technology for strategic advantage’; Glasgow’s Caledonian University has become  the first university  in the UK to offer a complete, integrated module on 3D Internet Virtual Worlds, teaching students all components involved in this relatively new branch of internet design and multi media; the Immersive Education Initiative, a 1000-plus  member, non-profit international collaboration of universities, colleges, research institutes, consortia and companies that are working together to define and develop open standards, best practices,platforms, and communities of support for virtual reality and game-based learning and training systems, is growing apace; and closer to home  the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission’s  NZ$500 000 SLENZ Project to determine the benefits of virtual education  is nearing completion with the formal evaluation process currently taking place;  The University of  Auckland, under the aegis of lecturer Scott Diener has set up a medical centre for training purposes in Second Life; and that university has also seen lecturer Judy Cockeram, gain international recognition for  her virtual architecture study programme which is schedule to accept more than 100 students in the New Year.

But these are not alone.  They  are among  the more than 500  universities and tertiary institutions now in Second Life and other virtual worlds. The launching of both learning and research programmes into  virtual worlds is continuing apace throughout the world, despite  some skepticism  from those who have never been immersed,  who are not  members of the digital generation or not digital migrants. Unfortunately for them virtual worlds, with 690 million participants worldwide, according to the UK-based research organisation KZero, will probably leave them behind as the flotsam and jetsam of  the virtual age.

Probably one of the best recent summations of just where  virtual education in the world is and where it is going   has been given  by Robin Teigland (pictured right), Work Associate Professor in the Center for Strategy and Competitiveness, at  the Stockholm School of Economics,  Stockholm, Sweden.

Her Powerpoint presentation to the Online Education Conference in Berlin on December 2 is well worth taking the time to look at.

And the US National Defense University initiative.

SLENZ Update, No 147, November 2, 2009

Kiwi ‘speaks on ‘  Obama world vision panel

Machinima role recognises

Cockeram’s  SL/RL  standing …

The University of Auckland’s Judy Cockeram (SL: Judy-Arx Scribe) (picture, right)  has been recognised  as a leader in  virtual world architecture  by being selected  as one of  four real world architects – from the US, New Zealand and Egypt –  to “star” in a US State Department  machinima discussing  the Obama vision enunciated in Cairo and how it is already being implemented in  Second Life.

President Obama recently promised in his Cairo speech  an online network, facilitating collaboration across geographic and cultural boundaries, something that Draxtor Despres (RL: Bernard Drax), a real life winner of the international ” Every Human Has Rights” media award in France in 2008 and director/producer of the machinima, “Cross Cultural Collaboration In Second Life”,  argues SL has been  doing for some time.Cockeram,Judy1

The quotes by the four architects, along with  excerpts of their Second Life work,  were taken from a recent panel discussion in Second Life on Architectural Design and International Collaboration in a Virtual World (CNN Report).  The event was hosted by the US Department of State on Public Diplomacy Island.  Besides Cockeram, the panelists were:   Amr Attia (SL: Archi Vita) (picture left), architect, Urban Planner and professor of architecture and urban planning at Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt; Jon Brouchoud (SL: Keystone Bouchard) (picture, lower right), owner, The ARCH Network and Founder of Studio Wikitecture, based in Madison, Wisconsin; and David Denton (SL: DB Bailey), Architect and Urban Planner located in Marina del Rey, Los Angeles, California.

Cockeram, a senior tutor in architecture, with the School of Architecture and Planning, at the University of Auckland, was speaking  from experience when she told the  Second Life audience drawn from more than  12 countries, that working and learning together in a virtual world “generates empathy” across cultures.Amr Attia

Cockeram first entered Second Life after hearing a presentation by The University of Auckland’s Dr Scott Diener in November last year, which “rang true” for her because  of her experience of having students entering university with good modeling  and drawing skills but little hands-on digital experience, even though members of the so-called “digital native” generation.

The first project Cockeram and her students engaged with  involved support from the US-based  virtual community of practice for nonprofits to explore the opportunities and benefits of Second Life, the  NPC  ( Non- Profit Commons) organisation.

“Right from the start the experience of Second life has been about reaching out and getting away from the introspective, ego-driven architect, ”  Cockeram explained. “The work done in that first project looked at virtual office space and proposed things that were understandable but were not four walls and a flat ceiling.

“When you are building a wall together, rubbing shoulders with another’s  avatar it changes your decision-making. We tend to realise our similarities but we can observe differences and it generates an empathy for each other.”

“Working with such things as sculpties,” she added, “gives them a  different way of thinking about the surface of architecture.”

Second Life also led to  a big change to Cockeram’s  teaching methods.

“Previously I had always insisted on working with computers in the rich environment of  the studio,” she said. “With Second Life the much richer environment for students to respond to means that anywhere is a studio. Second life has led to them understand design decision-making from contextual information.

Today Cockeram has  more than 120 plus students from her classes participating in Second Life on The University of Auckland Second Life islands of Putahi and Kaiako.

And, although her Second Life student body is already cross-cultural with 45 percent Asian, 40 percent Pakeha (New Zealand-born Europeans) and Europeans,  and five percent Maori and Polynesian, Cockeram intends to continue extending the exchanges her students have to include more students and clients from Pakistan to America.

“I believe we are seeing an improvement in the quality of a students ability to lead with design rather than react because of what is easy in a computer package,” she said. ” The virtual world has not interfered with their design decision-making in the way some of the more complex design packages do for early learners in the field.

BrouchardJon

“Cutting edge … design”

Problems she has  overcome include  inappropriate student behaviour in-world  – a number “went absolutely nuts, with no idea how their behaviour was impacting on the rest of the class” at an initial  class with a guest lecturer;   identifying that a student’s work is his or hers, and that the student  in Second Life is the authentic student; and the problem of students leaving “unlabeled objects” littering the landscape. The first problem had been solved, she said,  by establishing  a similar ettiquette in-world to that prevailing on a real life campus, the second had been solved through  use of oral testing, and the third, through policing the issue and stressing the need for labeling in all worlds.

The “unlabeled object” problem has also led her to plan the creation of  an “unlabelled object” finder, which she hopes to include in a Toolbox she will be creating over the southern summer vacation.

Cockeram says that she does not think  that virtual worlds such as Second Life  should be seen only as developing early learner skills.

“Part of my summer  will be spent developing a collection of scripts so we can spend time developing some of the cutting edge of architectural design as well, ” she said.

Next year Cockeram plans  to take 10 to 12 fourth year students, 115  first years, and 115  second years  into Second Life.