Dan Holt’s Advice for First-Time SL Teachers

February 6th, 2010

Profdan 1/2
Location: My SL Office

I recently sat down with Dan Holt (Sl: Profdan Netizen) of Lansing Community College to discuss his first term of teaching writing with SL (Fall 2009).

Dan’s an experience teacher for both creative writing & composition (academic writing–a better name–for my U.K. readers).

We had a wide-ranging discussion and I learned a great deal; Dan avoided some of the errors I made my first term, in 2007, in a similar course! Notably, he spent time in-world before bringing in a class of students.

Here are some notable points from the transcript of the interview:

  • Work with students throughout the orientation and first hours
  • Educate yourself and administrators before going in-world with students
  • Anticipate resistance from administrators who think online courses should be primarily asynchronous
  • Find a key ally (as I did at Richmond)
  • Exploit SL’s low overhead costs. These make it attractive for hybrid and online courses at community colleges
  • Address concerns about SL’s content and “addiction.” First to Dan (and me), fears bout SL are no different from concerns about the Web in the 90s. Second, showing off good educational uses and content of the world can convince some doubters
  • Find colleagues. Dan has had a little more success than I have recruiting other faculty. I attribute this to the different environments: Richmond’s publish-or-perish pressure can be a disincentive for tenure-stream faculty to experiment with technologies
  • Measure your class against others not using SL. Dan’s students did a little better in a comparative assessment.

I look forward to talking to other teachers about their first semesters in SL. The complete transcript of Dan’s and my chat can be found here .

Educators from Second Life Branch Out to Other Virtual Worlds

November 24th, 2009

Burial Chamber
Location: Virtual Valley of the Kings

I was amazed that we got 18–or 17, with someone crashing frequently–into Rezzable’s Virtual King Tut Experience. It was our group’s first foray outside Second Life. It will not be our last. We plan visits to Metaplace and Reaction Grid soon.

Our transcript shows a lively and lighthearted group of educators pondering what it will be like to explore multiple worlds. Given our group’s upcoming name-change to The Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable, the change of venue was appropriate.

Readers know that I am less than pleased with how Linden Lab has handled educational issues recently, and now they heap on changes that will hurt small merchants, and educators, using the Xstreetsl market they acquired last year.

Time to shuffle our feet, if not vote with them, in other virtual worlds. Land is cheaper there and, in time, content will be as rich and the community large enough to sustain our efforts. Rezzable itself left much of its SL property over pricing.

Others will, in time too. Princeton has scaled by its SL presence, as Paisley Beebe noted in her interview with jokay Wollengong.

Who will the winners and losers in as these technologies evolve? If you know that answer, time to make some strategic investments.

Bot Technology In Second Life For Medical Training

November 5th, 2009

Location: Waiting Room

I’m impressed with this YouTube video, done my my SL Roundtable colleague Kali Pizzaro. “Colin,” the bot shown, can reply to simple text-chat questions, and as this technology develops, it could provide a good training simulation for medical professionals.

Kali’s original post on this notes how the test demonstrates “our work on connecting “Second Life” avatar-patient-bots with specially written AIML [artificial intelligence markup language] and speech synthesis software. Hopefully we’ll add speech recognition too.”

News from Rezzable: Steamfish, Stonehenge, and Beyond

October 10th, 2009

Location: Second Life® Education Roundtable (picture by Ponderosafish at Olivia Hotshot’s Flickr site for the group)

During our last Roundtable meeting, Jon Himoff of Rezzable covered a lot of ground. I’ve pulled out some call-out points from his talk:

Call-out Points:

  • Next Steps: Following the work pioneered in King Tut Virtual Experience , Rezzable has developed Stonehenge Virtual and a Victorian-themed game, Steamfish, a race against time for players as a population contracts a new disease.
  • Second Life: Rezzable ended most of its work in SL because of the expense and lack of responsiveness from Linden Lab to their needs. At one time they ran 40 sims in SL; Himoff noted that 20 of them, however, were “abandoned” projects.
  • Greenies remains a playground, pure and simple, but the new ventures for Rezzable seek to something different, a educational experience that museums seem unwilling to try.
  • Reception by Museums: Major museums, in fact, appear to have an institutional culture at odds with projects like Heritage Key. Himoff did praise the British Museum for allowing Rezzable access to their collection. Smaller museums have shown more interest in the project. (update Oct. 12: Himoff added in an e-mail that he’s “not sure we are that much against the Museums, [but we are instead] trying to add value to them by providing context and engagement outside their walls.”)
  • Rezzable’s Mission: The company does not see itself as a service provider per se, but “as a content creator for virtual experience” in a variety of media online: 2D Web and Open Sim builds, these days.
  • Why Antiquity? The historical emphasis comes from Himoff’s passion for Antiquity as well as his belief that real sites and guidebooks don’t provide much guidance. As he notes, “you don’t understand what you’re looking at; you can get a tour from a guide or read a book but not a sense of the original creation of it.”
  • Why Antiquity Online? A Heritage Key site, like the King Tut Virtual Experience and Stonehenge Virtual, will allow visitors to do things to enhance a real-life visit, such as reconstruct what might have been at the site in Antiquity or interact with artifacts in ways not possible at the actual site.
  • Builderbot: The controversial Builderbot tool now exists as a resource for builders to port their content from one world to another. Its future is uncertain, “since we’re focused on Heritage Key it’s hard to allocate resources to maintain the tool.”
  • Investors are backing the Heritage Key and other Rezzable projects. Himoff seeks new ways to monetize the experience through premium-level resources.
  • Content at Rezzable: Professional journalists write the Heritage Key copy, and the projects are assisted by professional archeologists such as Zahi Hawass http://www.drhawass.com/
  • Copyright: Educators may use HK materials in their projects, since “everything is Creative Commons, [but] we ask people to provide attribution but can pull stuff off our site.”

The complete transcript of our meeting is now online. Happy reading!

Thinking About UT and Second Life

September 26th, 2009

Location: In the Throes of Campus-Envy

When Pathfinder Linden announced that the University of Texas system would, in a year-long project, be bringing all 16 of its campuses into Second Life, a turning point occurred in the history of virtual worlds. Pathfinder and Dr. Leslie Jarmon (SL: Bluewave Ogee) are shown above (image cribbed from the Linden Lab blog).

Pathfinder’s interview with Jarmon has a few points of real import for educators using virtual worlds. Jarmon notes what SL provides:

[I]t’s what I’ve called an embodied rapid collaboration platform, providing researchers, instructors, students, staff, and administrators access to one another in very new ways across geo-spatial and brick and mortar boundaries. Second Life itself is an open-ended complex learning system, with massive user created content, continuously moving the horizon of what known or understood. Finally, and powerfully, Second Life gives educators and students the developers tools, thereby making Second Life a tool-making tool itself. It has inherent robustness.

Perhaps my recent post about increased stability in SL is not merely personal perspective. I will be watching the UT experiment to see how students with laptops fare in SL, as well as how admins react. Many of them have only heard two-year-old press about lack of scalability and rampant adult content.

Yet Jarmon must have anticipated just such pushback. He salutes the ” foresight and boldness on the part of the Chancellors,” and that may carry the day during this experiment. I’m also encouraged by the systematic approach at the UT system. With IRB involvement, as well as campus leads meeting to plan for the development of their archipelago in SL, it’s a good guess that faculty development will be happening for classes, activities, and student-orientation.

If those pieces are in place, the outlook is strong for UT’s experiment. It’s a far cry for the gold-rush days of 2006 and early 2007.

Saving Isis: Critical Thinking with Rezzable’s Open Sim Tut

September 1st, 2009

The South Wall
Location: Rezzable’s Valley of the Kings in Open Sim

On my first tour of Rezzable’s Heritage Key site dedicated to King Tut, and when the entire project was quite new, I was taken by the South Wall of the young king’s tomb.

It was an immersive moment; I felt that I was as close to the actual site in Egypt as I’d ever get.

Anubis and Hathor greet Tut as he enters the other world, but Howard Carter had to destroy a figure of the goddess Isis (to the left of Anubis, in the image above) as he and this team made their way into the tomb. This struck me as a tragedy that might have been avoided.

With modern technology, we might have been able to plunder (there’s no kind word for it) the tomb without destroying Isis’ image. So I’ve decided to let my writing students have a crack at this. They’ll work in teams to solve the problem, if they can. And to make their writing “count for something” beyond a grade, I’ll have readers I invite vote for the strongest solution to this archeological dilemma.

Read the assignment here. Projects are due Oct. 29 and I’ll provide updates and may open up judging the projects to readers here. Meanwhile, my Heritage Key avatar will be bumbling around virtual Egypt, trying to look like the poor man’s Indiana Jones…

Room of Swag

Case Study from Loyalist College

July 18th, 2009

Location: Linden Lab Blog

At our most recent SLER discussion, participants noted how many colleagues and senior administrators ask for case studies when wondering how effective virtual worlds are for education.

Linden Lab trotted out this post July 10, and since I don’t keep up with their blog on a regular basis, I missed it. Have a look at “Virtual World Simulation Training Prepares Real Guards on the US-Canadian Border: Loyalist College in Second Life.”

More on how to get it, from LL:

To learn more, check out this video on YouTube, read this article on the program in the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, or download our case study PDF.

Border security training seems a reasonable use for simulations. It may be harder to use that particular case to justify a writing class. That said…

Fred Brecher, who’s helping organize the House of Usher project at Richmond, noted in our discussion that many educational technologies have not been subjected to rigorous assessment or case-studies. I suppose virtual worlds are more suspect than, say, a course-management system, since VWs appear game-like.

In time we’ll get more and more such studies of what works and does non in VWs. My own project, under review by readers, is not quantitative but does show what worked well in SL last year, with my writing students.

Dealing with Skeptics on Campus

July 17th, 2009

Location: SLER weekly Roundtable

Poor AJ Brooks! Our intrepid moderator had a raucous crowd on hand for the discussion of “Non-VW issues” last night. These should have included staff management, budgeting, project-planning, and so forth.

The moon was not full, but it might as well have been. AJ had a chatty and chaotic group of around 40 of us, and we resolutely stayed off-topic until near the end. Some excellent discussion did emerge (I’m combing through our transcript now). A major bone of contention (a fine metaphor, that) was how to convince campus skeptics about SL’s value. These ideas emerged from the swamp of discourse:

  • Objections to SL are not limited to “SL means sex.” See an old post here for more on that! Faculty may see it as merely a “game,” as too complex to invest their time, as only for distance education
  • My Scottish bud Kali, who works heavily with Blackboard, noted that the popular course-management system went through the same process of gaining credibility. Other participants noted how the Web itself, even e-mail, had a bumpy start with faculty and admins
  • The “SL is dying” meme hurts adoption. I suggested that the skeptics look at Tateru Nino’s figures at Massively, where she runs regular updates about usage of SL. I also pointed folks to this site by Virtual World Watch. Kali recommends a study (PDF format) done in the UK about investing in virtual worlds for higher ed
  • The urge to evangelize when we enjoy a technology hurts. As Kimbeau Surveryor put it, “I learned that VW evangelism is worse than being a door-to-door Christian.” Instead, several participants wanted to have case studies in hand to show how SL has helped with learning outcomes. I think I’d point skeptics to the project that Profesora Farigoule’s students completed, combining architecture and social change or other work that could not be done as cheaply (or at all) on the other side of the screen. By the way, I’d show colleagues the work on the flat Web first, before taking them in-world, even “over my shoulder.” That way, they see the potential in a format they respect, and not in something game-like.

Comment of the week goes to CathyWyo1 Haystack:

those who have the most success with using sl are enthusiastic with their students and encourage fun at the same time as learning.

Update for July 17: The entire transcript can be found here.

Thanks to everyone who participated.

Educators Ponder: Are We Our Avatars?

July 6th, 2009

Location: SL Education Roundtable Weekly Meeting
Photo Courtesy of Olivia Hotshot

I wasn’t able to make this meeting, but I like the topic. I think readers will, too, though as usual, the transcript is a long slog if you are not used to reading them.

The most interesting points to me are a discussion of how professionally we should dress when we are around our students and colleagues. Some participants at culturally “conservative” institutions in the States or abroad felt that one must wear professional dress, on a human avatar. Others fiercely defended the rights to look as one pleases, as long as the attire stays decent.

Quotation of the meeting goes to AstroGrl Enzo:

I would suggest to someone for a “professional” avatar to have fun with it. Be respectful, don’t have your “parts” hanging out, just have fun with it. Keep your personality and that will come through.

Good advice: I’m a nutcase in both worlds, but I’m fond on a well made European-cut suit, a Brooks Brothers shirt, and a hand-painted silk tie. If the weather were not so hot in Richmond, I’d wear that look year round. To me, that’s both professional and fun, while showing respect for those I meet during the workday. All attire is costume, after all.

I may have to dress the avatar up more now, just to be contrary to the “dress down” sentiment I come across so often in SL. But I like being contrary.

Team Tut: Ideas for Assignments

June 22nd, 2009

Nile Post Card
Location: Rezzable Kings Region, Second Life

Tuxedo Ninetails and I toured of a good bit of the Nile section of Rezzable’s build in Second Life. We clowned around, striking poses while enjoying the stunning vista of the virtual Nile and the hippos that, luckily, did not live up to the ferocity of their real-life counterparts.

The ideas that follow are Tux’s; I’m just doing my best, like Thoth, to act as scribe!

An Engineering Problem on the Nile

Tux first suggested that some sort of puzzle might enliven the granary area pictured just below. She thought that were the activity timed, with a penalty for not repairing a working mill from materials on-site. Thus students would learn about Egyptian technology and how the Nile was the “breadbasket” of the ancient world.
Eqyptian Granary

A later tour of the OpenSim Nile area with Viv Trafalgar led to us speculating about visitors doing the bidding of one of Pharaoh’s ministers, who is trying to avert famine by getting a new mill into operation. The minister might lose favor in court if his servants–the visitors–could not repair the mill in time.

Plans for Tourism and Hospitality Students and Faculty

I stupidly deleted Tux’s and my chat log, but she sent along these remarks after our tour. I have only edited them slightly.

Something else that makes sense to me as an authentic use of the Tut exhibit for those training for the tourism and hospitality industries:

  • Plan tours and role-play virtual historical tour guide and museum docent roles. This might be very simple stuff, or they might have to plan and research a whole bunch of things like how to move groups of people around in virtual spaces, how to keep them interested, planning little activities for them so they aren’t just looking at stuff.
  • Using the existing audio texts as models, write, record and upload further scripts to add to areas or objects that don’t currently have them, such as many of the objects in the museum and cosmic gallery.
  • Add these audio texts to builds undertaken by class members, such as the granaries area we toured.

If Rezzable can’t see themselves having student work incorporated permanently into their build, then maybe learners could ‘buy’ copies of some of the artifacts, and add audio to their own copies. Maybe each school could have its own gallery where they have augmented versions of the objects on display with the students’ voice-overs attached. Rezzable might run competitions for visitors to develop commentaries for different objects, and include the best ones into the exhibit.

Media-Creation by Visitors

Learners could:

  • Set up a ‘postcards from Kings Rezzable’ business, collecting (or creating) a bunch of good poses and animations so that people could get really good photos of their visits rather than the normal not very good ones that most of us tend to take. Learners could also make a video documentary about the site, using stills with voice-overs and nice transitions in MovieMaker or iMovie.
  • Make a machinima documentary about the site, a la Kenneth Clark in ‘Civilisation.’
  • Write a play and perform it, using the Tut build as the location. The performance could either move around the sim, or scenes could be rezzed in a holodeck setting so the audience didn’t have to go anywhere. The performance could be promoted across SL the same way the SL Shakespeare Company does.

Closing note by Iggy: I hope that several of these assignments, and more developed by Team Tut, can be fleshed out in a wiki so Rezzable can link to them from an Educational Kiosk on the SL and OpenSim sites.