Monday, October 27, 2008

"like the early days of online learning..."

Last Thursday, I attended a gathering of educators hosted by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in SL.

As you can see, there were about a dozen teachers from around the world discussing education in SL. In particular the focus was on SUNY Live, a consortium of New York colleges and universities that participated in a six month project where they explored using SL on Monroe Community College's island. The speaker Marcius Dowding (real life Larry Dugan, director of online learning at Finger Lakes CC), basically told about their experience, especially focusing on what they expected and what actually happened.

The participants expected to focus their attention on making learning objects, things that could be used by instructors in the classroom. They found early on that doing so wasn't that important. They could find/buy the learning objects they needed much more efficiently than making them. Instead, what they found was that the social collaboration and networking between participants was really the focus and benefit of the project, acting as a starting point and "proof of concept" for the different institutions which soon after the project spread out onto their own islands, expanding on what they had learned during SUNY Live. The focus during meetings f2f and in world was hashing out the pedagogical approaches and value of what they could do in SL. For example, presentation of information, such as with Power Point, became much less important than constructivist activity, where students work together to solve a problem rather than being lectured to.

And then Marcius said something that became a blinding flash of the obvious for me: "we look at [the SL project] like the early days of online learning."

His saying that, while my avatar sat on a floating cushion overlooking a virtual ocean, brought me back to 1996, when a handful of LCC faculty met with Chuck Bettencourt (I hope I remember his name correctly!) weekly to hash out what online learning should look like, how it should work, with even the most basic questions creating argument and puzzlement, such as when does an online class start, how does a student find out about assignments, can you email grades and so on, or even what should the link buttons look like!

In other words, the use of virtual worlds for online education leads colleges, universities, instructional designers, instructors to fundamental questions about what education looks like in a virtual world, creating a steep learning curve for all involved, where experimentation, risk taking, dealing with the vagaries of newish software creates a chaos from which both frustration and new pathways of learning both coexist.

Been there, done that. Those working with SL certainly are on the vanguard of online education, as we were in 1996. So, at some level, I know what to expect. But then again--I was quite a bit younger then!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

By the way, here's a video clip from a electronica performance at New Media Consortium (NMC) in SL by nnoiz Papp:


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