Friday, November 14, 2008

Notes from a conference

Earlier this week, I attended the East Carolina University conference, "Virtual Worlds in Education," which took place in SL. What follows are some notes I took while participating, notes in various states of development and commentary, along with a few snapshots.

11/10--first session on Digital Cinema, waiting for it to start 16 minutes in. Finally someone shows up and puts a slide up on the screen, "The Aesthetic Camera: Introduction to Cinema Arts." Chatted with a techie through the first half of the session, trying to figure out why I wasn't getting any audio from the speaker. Logged out and then back in. That worked--Mencius Watts (John Filliwalk, Ball State) showing video equipment you can use to record in SL, dolly, steadicam, boom. Students can collaborate in using equipment to make movies. Sounds like it would be a lot of fun!

Also mentioned a NY museum in SL that has over 100,000 items in a database. Worth checking out, at Brooklyn Is Watching.

1:15--an informal forum about using SL for credit classes. I didn't take any notes. I did, though, take a snapshot:

2:30 RIT Island teaching projects--Katie Sismondi (Katie McDonald) presenter, took participants on a field trip where we teleported to RIT Island:

and looked at three projects created for students:

engineering--tensile tester simulation
math--equation editor
Java--multithreaded server

This is the tensile tester simulation.

This is a floating platform where a group of students can meet and work an equation editor that displays on a screen over their head.

These two shots are of the multithreaded server display.

All three were hands on--in other words, you could test or use the objects. The tensile test simulator was particularly created for first year engineering students so they could experiment with the strength of different metals years before they'd be allowed to touch the actual multi-thousand dollar equipment in RL. The equation editor was set up to work with groups, though they're still having problems with getting it to work right. Sounds a lot like our math instructors at LCC and their difficulties with equation editors in Blackboard and Angel.

3:45--another informal forum, again on teaching in SL. I tried to attend other forums, but no one showed up for them. Basically, it was a time for instructors to share what they were doing. One avatar mentioned that filesharing is difficult in SL. Another suggested that Netmeeting and flash video used together is faster than SL. And another mentioned the use of Adobe Connect for web conferencing. However, many argued that the 3D presence of land, buildings, objects and avatars created a social presence and engagement that couldn't be duplicated by 2D applications.

11/11--12 p.m. "Enhancing Social Context for Learners at a Distance: E-mmediacy Strategies in Second Life"--the Second Life URL (SLURL) for the session on the program was wrong, so it took 15 minutes to find session.

E-mmediacy--feeling connected with students and instructor in a computer mediated environment

The presenter (Patricia J. Slagter van Tryon) asks, "What problems have you encountered with feeling connected with each other in an online class?" She gave a list of reasons, which I didn't jot down. One not mentioned is that students don't want "connectedness"--some just want to do the work and get out. These students dislike synchronous participation and want only asynchronous, and time spent of "team building" they resent.

One thing she mentioned that seemed reasonable is that "episodic immediacy is necessary to create community." It's not enough to interact, both with instructor and each other, in the beginning of an online class. It has to take place throughout the semester.

2:30 p.m.--"Credibility in Fantasyland: Realists among Fantasists, a Problem for Educators in Virtual Worlds"

An interesting session, though the presenter, S.A. Mousalimas from Oxford University, read Powerpoint slides, and wasn't very generous with specific examples. He also got rather flustered from our asking questions.

His main point is that many come to virtual worlds to escape the real world, and sometimes have difficulty with reconciling their use for real world work. This isn't a problem in games, such as World of Warcraft, but can be a problem with Multi user virtual environments (MUVEs) when education might be the purpose.

An even more interesting issue he brought up is that SL sites and objects must be evaluated for credibility, just as one must do with research found on the Web, that an SL land owner can create something that looks good, authentic, and appears to be backed by legitimate cultural or scholarly expertise when in actuality he or she may have no real expertise or background. Or it could be fake on purpose, to deceive others, as is the case for the Martin Luther King website created by the white supremacist group Stormfront.

In other words, he cautions against fake education sites or fake cultural sites, such as Native American sites that are created by people with no Native American heritage. He mentioned one authentic SL resident, Nany Kayo, Native American, citizen of Cherokee Nation. He was very vague, though, on what was considered non-authentic. He first suggested that only those who are registered with a tribe are authentic, but being part Cherokee, I know full well that many with Native American heritage never registered for various reasons, such as not wanting to be shipped off to Oklahoma!

He did give one example from the 1980s where, in a multi-user dungeon (MUD), a male psychologist pretended to be a female doctor and counseled women online.

Educators need to verify authenticity and assess credibility in virtual worlds before sending students. Or even better, have students find evidence of credibility to evaluate the effectiveness of a site.

He also suggested that educators should spend ample time in world before bringing students. When pressed by yours truly what "ample time" meant, he suggested six months. The more time I spend in SL, the more I agree. Otherwise, using SL in education will be haphazard. And six months sounds about right--that is, unless you're on sabbatical and are able to spend more time per day than otherwise!

3:45, final informal forum which was pretty well attended.

One avatar suggested developing notecards of how to do stuff to hand out to students when they get stuck. Another suggested the Second Life Wiki and YouTube videos as excellent tutorial tools. And even another suggested using Global Kids PDF tutorials (though I've yet to be successful in finding what he or she meant). Finally another mentioned the use of Fraps for capturing machinma (video/animation of SL activities).

So overall a worthwhile conference, especially since this was the first conference in SL that ECU had hosted.

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