SLENZ Update, No 157, December 22, 2009

ascilite 2009 – AUCKLAND, NZ

Virtual worlds might not be quite  there

but ASCILITE shows  the way forward

Second Life – ‘This will change everything…’ Scott Diener

The Auckland University-Boise State collaborative post-partum haemorrhage
nurse training scenario, presented by Scott Diener (Pix: Merle Lemon)


When Scott Diener (pictured right),  associate director, IT services, Academic Services, at The University of Auckland, first saw  the NTSC  internet browser Mosaic, he had an ephiphany. “This will change everything,” he thought. And it did. Without it there probably would be no WorldWideWeb as we know it today.

He had the same epiphany when he  first saw  and used  the virtual world of Second Life, he told educators and researchers from around the world who attended the  ascilite 2009 conference held in Auckland early in December: “This will change everything,” he thought, especially in higher education.

Arguing that  higher education had not changed since the 14th century and before – it still takes place in a protected environment with protected knowledge based on  the notion of scarcity with students, although the chosen few, often not engaged – he asked, rhetorically, “What if we had Global access to all knowledge?” And then after praising the Google goal of releasing  all books in all languages on the net but noting the futility of tertiary institutions repeating  the same basic courses with the same knowledge ad infinitum in the age of the Internet, he said,   “… we don’t need to redevelop education. We need to share.”

Sharing, he said was the only way  to solve the tertiary education needs of the world’s burgeoning population. The  provision of tertiary education even now  could not keep pace with the population trends. Today the world with 7 billion people needed to create 2500 universities the size of Auckland University (40,000 students)  every year, year on year to keep up with demand. Within 20 years, he said,  it would need another 200,000 universities, another 400 million university teachers and 40 million lecture theaters of the same size as the giant Owen G. Glenn Building auditorium at The University of Auckland, would be needed.

“It’s impossible,” he said, adding that the challenge was how  to provide education to the world differently.

The only practical solution, he suggested, was virtual education in virtual worlds such as Second Life and the 200 plus other virtual worlds or some derivative of them.

Describing the benefits of virtual worlds such as Second Life for tertiary education, Diener said,  their major difference  to other on-line learning methods, was that they provided a real sense of self and the suspension of disbelief, a sense of place and sense of emotion.

Virtual worlds which immersed students enabled educators to adopt problem-based learning approaches which worked, he said, adding the challenge was realise the benefits through the emergence of these constructivist pedagogies into main stream teaching.

He urged the  conference participants to focus on the emerging new spaces in virtual worlds, but not  to replicate  the architectural spaces they had in the real world into new virtual spaces.

“Don’t fall into the trap of shoveling the same old stuff into the new spaces,” he said.

Urging innovation in virtual worlds, he said, their uptake by mainstream tertiary institutions  could change everything in education as it was known today and provide  possibly the only answer to the world’s future tertiary education needs for all.

But, Diener warned, the educational benefits of virtual worlds could be  locked away from the rest of the world and in fact were being closed-up by some  large tertiary institutions which had already  “locked their builds down”  returning virtual worlds to the world of 14th Century education, when learning was only for the  privileged.

“Please don’t lock the systems down,” he said, noting  his UofA project and the New Zealand SLENZ Project builds were released under Creative Commons license.” Share them with others,” he said. ” Open them up to collaboration with others.”

Later in another presentation  Diener, along with in-world and real world collaborators from Boise State University, Idaho, and Wyoming, demonstrated the  University of Auckland’s  innovative Second Life presence and medical centre teaching system on the Second Life island of  Long White Cloud.

The post partum haemorrhage  simulation real-world presentation team.
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SLENZ Update, No 143, October 8, 2009

THE SLENZ WORKSHOPS AT

Teaching and Learning/eFest 2009 -2

MUVEing towards collaboration – the benefits and pitfalls of working as a collaborative teaching in a Multi-user Virtual Environment,” and “In-world, meets the real world – the trials and tribulations of bringing Second Life to an ITP,” presented by Merle Lemon, lead educator in foundation learning, and lecturer at Manukau Institute of Technology and Oriel Kelly, manager of MIT’s Learning Environment Support Technology Centre.

SL foundation learning students

“do better” than f2f learners

Real Life assessment finding
IMG_0836Merle Lemon is her SL alter ego on screen at Teaching and Learning/eFest 2009

Foundation Learning students who used the SLENZ pilot foundation learning programme in Second Life to hone their interview skills  did  better in real life assessment interviews than  those students  who had not been through Second Life, according to SLENZ lead educator and senior Manukau Institute of Technology lecturer Merle Lemon (SL: Briamelle Quintessa).

The  result came from  all foundation learning classes in interview techniques – both from those students who  used Second Life and those in face-to-face classes – being assessed in real life interviews by an assessor who did not know who had attended which classes.

Although Lemon is the first to admit the test was “not scientific” and that the results “might have  been confounded by individual class teacher ability” the results point to the benefits of  a properly- designed  virtual world  learning programme used by itself or as a valuable  adjunct to face-to-face learning.

The result, even if anecdotal in nature, was across the board with students four  the  four SL classes  doing better in the real life interview assessment  than those from six face-to-face-only classes.

Lemon reported the result as an aside to virtual world teaching workshops she conducted  at last week’s annual, national Teaching and Learning/eFest 2009  tertiary education conference  at UCOL in Palmerston North, New Zealand.

IMG_0838Introducing “MUVEing towards collaboration – the benefits and pitfalls of working as a collaborative teaching team in a Multiuser Virtual Environment”,  Lemon  paid tribute to the SLENZ team and  to the support she received from her foundation learning pilot members and fellow educators –  MIT’s Tania Hogan (SL: Tania Hogan) and  Maryanne Wright (SL:Nugget Mixemup); NorthTec’s  Martin Bryers (SL: Motini Manimbo), Vicki Pemberton (SL: Sky Zeitman) and  Clinton Ashill (SL: Clat Adder), as well as Oriel Kelly (pictured right),  manager of MIT’s Learning Environment Support Technology Centre and MIT’s IT support staff  “although they were somewhat reluctant at first.”
“We tried  to get the  educators into Second Life as quickly as possible after the project started,” Lemon said. ” We tried to keep everyone on the same page all the time and largely succeeded.

“But  we had to keep the lecturers motivated. They had to realise they were not going to be alone when they were going into SL.  For this we used mentors and we linked up for meetings together in SL and with other educators in SL. Volunteers from ISTE ( International Society for Technology in Education) and the University of Arizona helped out a lot in SL.”

Highest praise for ISTE, Jo Kay

On an international collaborative basis she paid tribute for outstanding help – I publish her list in the belief it may be a help to other educators –  to  Second Life’s MNC  (New Media Consortium), CCSL (Community Colleges of Second Life), Google Teacher Academy,Second Life Mentors, Second Life Education, and Second Ability Mentors (for the disabled).

She also found the  VWBPE (Virtual World Best Practices in Education  conference) run virtually in  February  this year as being invaluable both from a  learning and networking point of view and received help from  the Education Coffee House, Virtual Pioneers and Media Learning – Danish Visions, the Kiwi Educators group, and COM Educators in Second Life.

She reserved some of her highest praise for   The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) which she described as “the trusted source for professional development, knowledge generation, advocacy, and leadership for innovation” in in-world education and Australian Second Life educator and researcher Jo Kay, of Jokaydia, the Jokaydia annual Unconference , Jokaydia News and Info and   Jokaydia Educators-in Rez.

“Inadequacy,” “panic”

Lemon said among the difficulties experienced by her  team  were: wavering support and/or a lack of commitment;  exacerbated by feelings of  “inadequacy” and sometimes “panic”;  communication problems and the loss of some team members as the pilot progressed. There  also was a problem initially with student non-attendance and  a lack of computer literacy but this had been overcome with the establishment of a “buddy” system. This had sometimes turned into a problem of keeping track of students: “Make sure they are in your group and are on your friends list,” she said.

However, in the five classes taken into SL, there had only been one student who had “resisted” the idea, not for computer or virtual world issues, but because of “privacy” in connection with the other students.

In deciding to move learning into Second Life, Lemon said, educators, rather than  initially spending lots on their developments etc, without proper research,  should consider the existing resources within Second Life and  whether they could use these  resources, and what needed to be added to them to make them useful for a particular purpose.

She recommended, based on her experience, that the lead educator or “champion” of any on-going  education project in Second Life should  Motivate, Motivate, Motivate team members.  She noted that in the Second Life context “knowledge is power”.

She added that any  education team should  hold regular meetings in world and members should lock  themselves into the relevant Second Life groups. But, she added, team members must take time to have fun in SecondLife.

Technology issues

On Technical and Learning Technology Support Issues, Oriel Kelly, who presented  this paper with Lemon, said at MIT, they had  found,  that Second Life barely ran on a computer with an Intel Core 2 Duo; Motherboard: Intel DG35EC (G35 Express); CPU: Intel E8400 (2Ghz); Memory: 2GB (800mhz) RAM; GPU: NVIDIA GeForce 9500 GT. On the question of network and bandwidth,  latency was an issue  with computer lab  sessions needing 416kb/machine. Firewalls had also been problematic because Second Life’s  SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) is non-standard  and needed to be passed without being shredded by SIP aware firewalls or declared an  “illegal operation”.
On the question of access MIT  had had problems with  single IP NATs (network address translation) registering more than two avatars.
“We had a lot of technical problems, ” Lemon said,  adding that the major complaints from students had involved  technical issues.

Many of the problems, Lemon said, could be overcome by involving the technical staff in-world in the Second Life experience.

“Once in there and involved in the experiences they are sucked in,” she  half joked,  adding that previously the technical staff hadn’t been able to see why anyone would want to teach in-world.