Friday, October 31, 2008

PD kerplunks in SL

The last few days I've been concentrating on participating in educational events taking place in Second Life. For example, the Educause conference that took place this week in Orlando, Florida had a couple sessions that were simulcast in SL:

With the first session, which was on assessing the efficacy of SL for educational purposes, there were some serious voice problems where those of us in world really couldn't hear what was being said in Orlando. And apparently, in Orlando, they had a lag between what was taking place in SL compared to real life (RL), so that what they would say in the conference room would take some time before it was broadcast in SL, so they had to ignore what they saw on the screen and just begin talking.

Also, often there was an echo whenever someone spoke, until the RL presenters realized that when they have more than one mike open, echoes abound for us in SL. Furthermore, the RL participants had visuals projected on a screen using Power Point or some such. SL participants also had a screen from which visuals could have been projected. However, there was instead an intro-to-SL video on the screen that started up any time a participant "touched" the screen, so I had to turn off the video player on my screen every time someone started it in order to hear the speaker.

So with all of that, gaining insight from what the RL presenters had to say was very difficult. They did speak about some of the projects they were working on, such as digital story telling, schizophrenia hallucination experiences (sponsored by UC Davis--it's really disturbing!), and roleplaying for dental students (which I explored a little later--below is my avatar sitting in the dentist's chair--scary thought, huh?):

One comment made by a presenter from CU I found really interesting. When the activities in SL are well integrated with the course objectives, its use is well received by students. When it's unclear why they are using SL, how it enhances the work of the course, then students don't like it.

So overall, the session was mildly interesting, given the technical glitches. One disagreement arose about assessing the use of SL differently, or more vigorously, than other educational venues, such as f2f--which I mentioned in-world was often the case between online and f2f. Not discussed was the political reasons for that difference in assessment approach, which often hides attitudes of suspicion that online instructors are loafing, not as effective, or that f2f education is the be all and end all of education.

The second session was a meeting of the Educause virtual world constituents group. It went more smoothly, though the first 20 minutes text chat is filled with people asking how to hear the RL speakers with volunteers helping. Fortunately, such was easy to screen out. The only other problem was that a couple of the speakers had faulty mikes so they had to be skipped over or speak through another avatar's mike.

I won't go over what was talked about--I won't mention that I forgot to take notes!--it was basically introductory information about what different people are doing. I was especially interested in the moderator's work--AJ Brooks--since he teaches comp in SL. But what struck me as most intriguing is the possibility of expanding professional development and conferences. Online conferences have been going on for some time, including experiments in melding both online and f2f. However, being able to participate in a place, with avatars to your right, to your left and in front of you really does add to the experience that conferences in MOOs ("multi user object oriented" text-based real time places) do not have.

It's still very buggy, though, as I've described. I do expect the problems noted will iron out in the next couple years. I'm scheduled to attend an all in-world conference in mid-November, sponsored by East Carolina University. I'll report more fully when it happens--and remember to take notes!

A couple more points. I found an intriguing explanation on Kapps Notes about the value of 3D environments over 2D for educational purposes:

"In a 3D world, the interaction with the students feels more intimate than with a 2-D distance learning application such as Centra, Horizon Wimba or Adobe Connect. One reason is because I can see the personality of the student but, also, there is a sense of presence and connection because two humanoid people are standing face-to-face with proper social distance having a discussion. We are relating as two people as opposed to disembodied names on a screen.

When students talk to me or sit around a table and provide input to the group, it feels as if we are all actually in the same room. We can refer to elements in our environment that we can all see. It is important because it brings together the students from distant geographical areas to one central location where we are actually seeing the same thing and interacting as if we were all in one physical location. Additionally, it is important because I have students work with each other in teams and the closeness of the virtual world helps foster trust among the students and they work well together virtually because they have a sense of one another."

This sense of place and space is what I've found lacking in online education, and why I do think 3D environments are the future for the development.

Karl Kapp also says elsewhere:

"By the end of 2011, 80 percent of active Internet users (and Fortune 500 enterprises) will have a “second life," but not necessarily in Second Life, according to Gartner, Inc. Gartner’s advice to enterprise clients is that this is a trend that they should investigate and experiment with, but limit substantial financial investments until the environments stabilize and mature. "

Obviously what we see here is pure speculation. But with the popularity of immersive video games, an industry very competitive with Hollywood (and by some measures overtaking the movie industry), it stands to reason that 3D environments will become not only popular, but a norm in the online experience in a few years.

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