"The Next Generation of Digital Learning Spaces: Exploring the Frontier of Virtual Worlds" with Laurence F. Johnson and Alan Levine of the New Media Consortium, and Heidi Trotta of Seton Hall University.
This session is taking place concurrently "in world" in Second Life.
(Note: I'm an idiot when it comes to Second Life, so there's no way in hell I'm going to try to be in both places at once. Plus, I don't have the SL software on this laptop.)
Heidi: Had faculty member interested in using Second Life, a psychology professor trying to use virtual team building.
Possibility for economics instruction because of the virtual economy in Second Life.
Alan and Heidi role-played what it's like when a journalism faculty member asks about Second Life.
How to hold classes in Second Life (FYI, all dialogue here is summarized, not a direct transcription):
A: Where to hold a class?
H: Start with a traditional location in Second Life to establish an appropriate tone with students.
A: How to deal with interruptions from outsiders?
H: Not a problem in our experience.
A: Can I use my PowerPoint slides in Second Life?
H: Yes, on a whiteboard. We can also put those slides in students' SL inventories.
Students can also publish in Second Life. Lots going on in communication in SL.
A: Can I show video clips in SL?
H: You definitely can. That would be a great anchoring activity to start off students' experiences in SL.
A: How do I get more experience? I can barely walk, and my clothes look awful.
H: Good news. We have a faculty orientation planned. We're going to have all the faculty make an account. We'll have them go through orienation, and we even have a gift box that will include some clothes.
A: I already have an account, but the first time I went in there, I met some pretty bizarre creatures.
H: A lot of people explore different parts of their personality in SL. You get the experience of experimenting with whatever you want in SL. You'll find most people in SL are very giving and very generous.
A: How do I keep my students from getting distracted?
H: Provide a time limit on the activity and some structure, just as you would in a real classroom.
A: How to communicate with my students?
H: There's chat, there's IM. You can also save the chat. You can put together group notices so that when your students go into SL, they'll receive a group notice.
A: Do I need a super fast connection and computer?
H: It works best if you don't have any other programs running and if you have an ethernet connection. The university-issued laptops can handle SL.
A: Is the tenure committee going to take me seriously?
H: We're just exploring the uses of virtual worlds on campus now. We have had a lot of support to continue our investigation for its use.
Q from audience member: How did you get your location set up in SL? How did you get from dirt to here?
A: Everything in SL is built on prims--cylinders, cubes, etc. You build them up on a flat screen. We hired some SL specialty builders to build the first campus on the NMC subcontinent.
Larry: NMC has its own island, or space on a server. Buying an island is renting space on a web server.
We've been very careful in developing the NMC campus. We call it a sim, not an island. We want to let people know that what we're actually experimenting with is a grid that's a virtual world. We chose Second Life for this because it's the most advanced platform today. We spent about six months doing a pilot. We built a museum and collaborated with actual museums. We do something every day on the NMC campus.
NMC campus set up a simple web form that sends an invitation to your avatar to visit the campus. Join the group NMC Guest, and it lets you teleport to the actual complex. Also the Second Life Educators listserv.
Q: What are some good guidelines or ground rules that you have to keep, say, a class of 20 students under control in, for example, chat?
H: I think it really depends. You have to look at your goals and objectives when you set up the activity. We had a finite period of time. In this case, with the journalism class where you send them out into the SL community, they could get waylaid, but that could happen anywhere online. But you can control it by keeping it to a finite period of time, by doing it in a lab where you're all there.
We found students need scaffolding. They needed more support than we thought they did. During our second pilot, we were in world the same time they were. And students still had difficulty completing the assignment in a required amount of time.
A: SL is a scripting environment. So there are gadgets that help people organize classes, such as a hand-raising chair that, if students sit in it, makes it easy for them to raise their hands. And there's a speaking stick that avatars can pass around, where only the avatar holding the stick can speak.
Q from in world: I had trouble installing the software and getting it to work.
H: We had trouble the first time when we had students install the software on their own laptops. The second pilot we had them in a computer lab. Also, 2 hours into a 3-hour-long activity, we had to reboot the video cards.
A: Lots of updates in SL, usually happening on Wednesday mornings for about 5 hours. And then you have to download the updated client before you can get back into SL. Also occasionally issues, such as inability to teleport, loss of inventory. Chaotic things do happen there.
Q from in world: Is NMC looking to invest some time in developing SLOODLE (SL + Moodle).
L: Not a priority, but we'd be happy to work with someone who's interested. We seek to provide fertile ground where ideas can be planted.
Q from audience: Big learning curve in SL. What kind of faculty orientation do you provide? How many sessions?
H: Best advice I can give you is not to do it alone. You always need one or two helpers. We have an agenda. We get them to sign up for an account. Faculty take extra time to select a name (10 minutes or so) and tend to be concerned about what they look like. So we show them how to take clothes on and off.
We spend at least an hour and a half if not two hours. Plus we know everyone will be about 15 minutes late.
Again, don't do it by yourself. One of us will be covering things and the other two people will be circulating around. It takes a while for faculty to get their feet wet. We've reached out to faculty and asked them if they're interested. We've been working to get faculty buy-in.
A: There's something incredibly important to establish your identity as an avatar in SL. There's a lot of vanity, but it's important, and you should allow time for that.
First place you go in SL is Orientation Island, and from there you get dropped into a carnivalesque/bazaar-type area that's very disorienting. NMC is working on getting an alternate post-orientation location that's more friendly to faculty, a faculty-specific orientation.
L: Virtually everyone we work with at NMC is a faculty member. We started with about 20 people and the membership on the NMC campus is now about 2,000. I don't think it's necessary to train faculty on how to use SL. Most of you just need time in there to get comfortable in the environment. I think the most effective approach is simply to let people do that on their own time. Let people know it's going to take a couple of hours to learn to navigate. (trillwing note: I spent about 6 hours in world and still couldn't walk straight.)
You need a lot of bandwidth. Anything you've got on your campus is better than anything you're going to need. Wireless networks don't work as well. The graphics card in your institutional laptop or desktop computer may be a problem because some of them are loaded with cards that don't really allow for game playing. I bought a $600 Dell and it came with everything I needed.
Q from audience: I have a question about pedagogy. In the skit you did, I was thinking to myself, "Is there something inherent in the lesson and course goals that made SL the best tool?" rather than starting from SL and saying, "Here are some SL tools. How can I use them?"
H: I think where the strength is is that SL offers a bridge between the classroom and an internship. It offers students an opportunity to act and do before they go into an actual internship. They could, for example, act as a photographer and see what that's really like while you're still there to support them on campus. It offers students the opportunity to do something without leaving the classroom.
A: It takes your students from a highly structured environment (the classroom) to a place where students have to take on more responsibility. And it's incredibly social. You can do some of the role-playing in SL that you can't do in your First Life.
People use it as a virtual meeting space. Obviously, there are other virtual meeting spaces, but in SL you can still pull up documents, share them, etc. There are folks in the architecture field who use it for modeling.
Same audience member: Could I simulate an archaeological dig?
H: People use it to simulate things that may be dangerous if enacted in real life. So BP uses SL to model what happens underground beneath a gas station.
You can also set students up with students in another part of the country to collaborate and create things.
A: For example, a virtual theater with virtual lighting, set production, etc.
Q from audience member (freshman English class, UT Austin): One of the classes we piloted in SL was difficult because some students were under age 18. Because of concerns from parents, we had to take those students directly to our own island, bypassing Orientation Island, and they can't go anywhere else unless we authorize it. The instructor tied a particular portion of the course grade into the quality of things produced in SL. Students then focused more on creating things than on ideas and course content. We have assignments now that students turn in. They sign a statement saying that any objects they produce through their avatars, because we own those avatars, would belong to us. Are you aware of any intellectual property concerns as far as where students are concerned?
A: If students are under 18, by SL policy, they're supposed to go the teen grid on SL. So the people at UT Austin had to set up their own island.
L: Some very erroneous assumptions being made there. Under the terms of service, everything in SL is owned by Linden Labs--avatars and objects, everything. Linden Lab (creators of SL) is a for-profit company. When LL opens up the ability to host islands on your own servers, organizations like ELI and NMC are uniquely poised to host islands and make good things happen.
The teen grid and 17-year-old problem should go away as we begin to host our own islands. The bigger question then becomes, how do we best provide learning for people of all ages? We were told, for example, we needed classroom space on the NMC campus. So we built it. But what's the building on the NMC campus that's never used? The classroom building.
H: One other thing we want to do is to find out how we can use SL for exploratory learning. We have an instructor who is looking for more exciting ways to teach students about vertebrates. So we're using SL to develop environments where it's much more engaging to learn about, say, flatworms. So we're developing a reef that students can explore to identify vertebrates and then write a field journal.
L: We're hoping that NMC is a campus that people will really come and use. And people do every day, whether it's an art exhibit, or a SL/real life event like this, or a class visit.
The campus is huge. Each portion of this grid (points to map of NMC campus) is 16 acres. So this place is huge.
We've built a film and performing arts school. There are rehearsal spaces. There's a performance hall.
There's a life science school. We wrote a script that lets you rez any protein in our DNA database.
We're going to rent out space for between $100 and $800 per year, depending on plot size.
We announced NMC Virtual Worlds last week. It's a service arm of NMC that helps colleges and universities build whatever they want in SL.
NMC Campus Observer is a blog that documents everything we've done in SL since April.
Our approach to this entire project, which was originally funded by the MacArthur Foundation, was to make it open source. We've kept it an educational community, too, by requiring people to join the group.
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