Friday, December 12, 2008

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye!

This will be my last posting for my sabbatical, though not my last posting. One of the values, I see, in sabbaticals is the opportunity to start activities that can then be incorporated into one's professional life. So my goal is to continue this blog next semester.

But before that happens, I thought it would be good to do some summary and reflection on the work I did this last semester. First off, here is a list of applications that I played with this semester that I hadn't really used until going on sabbatical:

  • Blogger
  • Diigo
  • delicious
  • Google docs
  • Pageflakes
  • Second Life
  • Facebook
  • Myspace
  • Twitter
  • Twittervision
  • Twistory
  • Flickrvision
  • Google Reader
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Chrome

There are a few others that I looked at and briefly dabbled with, such as ning, pbwiki, wetpaint, Google Lively and so on. But those listed above are ones I spent significant time with, and will most likely continue to use at some level. And I've used flickr for some time, though only for personal use.

Furthermore, here is a list of conferences, seminars, and discussion groups that I attended in SL the last 45 days:

  • ISTE discussion group
  • UCLA Mellon seminar in Digital Humanities
  • East Carolina University conference "Virtual Worlds in Education"
  • Educause Annual Conference
  • MacArthur Foundation "Real World Impacts from the Virtual World"
  • Community Colleges in Second Life discussion group
  • Epic Institute "Where Are We Going with Virtual Reality?--and Who Will We Be When We Get There?" discussion group
  • Second Life Educators Roundtable
  • Virtual Worlds Research Group
  • Metanomics
  • Science Friday
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy Portal at InfoIsland
  • West of Ireland reading
  • Program for the Future conference
  • University of Louisiana's Invitational Conference on Virtual Worlds
So what did I learn? Besides the fact that I've only scratched the surface of the metaverse, here are some thoughts based on a review of my blog postings from the last three months (parenthetic dates note previous blog entries of issues):

One of the first assertions I made in the beginning of this project--in the proposal--was the desire to see if we were at a place where we could expand 2d online education to make it more immersive. I've come to the conclusion that we are on the cusp of launching online education into a 3D immersive environment, where students will not simply communicate through screen windows of text, but will find their online classes situated within a place, where up, down, left, right become essential elements in understanding where they are just as they do in real life (RL) classrooms. Where students see each other and the instructor within an environment rather than just text on a page:

Virtual worlds like Second Life make concrete learning through social interaction and will likely lead to higher engagement/retention (9/9). However, we need to keep in mind, that SL and other virtual worlds are bleeding edge (9/5), and very much like the frontiers of browsing in the mid-nineties. It's not quite "ready for prime time" in the sense of being able to use to its full capacity with multiple sections of fully online classes across an institution. But it will be soon, where seamless interaction with 2D applications within a multi-user virtual environment will make fully online education as socially present as a face to face class.

The concept of e-mmediacy--feeling connected with students and instructor in online classes (11/14)--takes place today with learning management software, like Angel or Blackboard. But it only happens with some students and faculty. I've had many students, and faculty, I've worked with express dissatisfaction with online learning because they miss the connection with others. Even though they've dealt with fully interactive online classes. Multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) seem to me to be a critical development in online learning, and any institution who ignores them will soon look quaint in its approach to distance education.

Now, do note that I mention seamless interaction with 2D applications within a 3D world. MUVEs by themselves are nowhere near enough. By themselves, they become only Jung's collective unconscious, a dream world (10/9) that may be valuable for study but not necessarily a place to study and learn. Even just now (12/16, 7:15 p.m.), I attended a discussion at the SL educator's roundtable, and we discussed the need for seamless access of 2D applications in SL, such as the ability to present web pages easily and quickly to others while in world. Most agreed that if another virtual world offered such, and SL didn't, SL would lose educators. Project Wonderland is another MUVE that advertises the ability to collaborate with others on 2D applications. And Sloodle is working on such a presenter of web pages now for use in SL (as announced by a Sloodle developer at the meeting just mentioned). With these developments, I can see fully online classes using virtual worlds for an immersive space to do real work. And if SL stays at the forefront, then the axiom expressed recently by John Seattle will really be so for online education: "Second Life is real life" (11/20).

One other point: In order to use a MUVE in online education, at least for community colleges, there must be accommodation for mixed-age classes (11/25). It's true that classes could be advertised as 18 and over only, but that's not the best situation. There is no reason that under 18 students should be kept from immersive online classes as long as they have parental permission. Hopefully, Linden Labs will relent in the near future.

If not--Second Life really will be the Netscape of the 21st century as other MUVEs leap over it to accommodate higher education.

What's next? I will definitely be using Twitter, Diigo and Pageflakes next semester. I may have some SL activities that are optional, where students can participate rather than do something in the discussion forum or chat. Or as extra credit. I need to explore more fully the different orientation possibilities, to get students started. Right now, I'm leaning toward the Virtual Ability orientation. I'm hoping to build up my skills in SL so that I can require its use in the fall. I'm also going to explore the acquisition of land. Lansing Community College really needs to invest in developing immersive environments for their online classes. If we as an institution are not ready to invest in our own island, I plan to check into ed islands who offer space to other institutions.

And I plan to continue using SL for professional development. Conversation and participation with other educators has been quite enjoyable, much more than I expected when I first began this project.

So until next year, Happy Christmas, Merry Hannukah, Uproarious Kwanza, and may the Force be with you.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Netscape 1995

My sabbatical basically ends this week. I plan to do two more blog entries, this one and then a wrap up at the end of the week (or Monday).

One of the primary benefits that I've found with exploring Second Life is that of professional development, both in the sense of online conferences as well as more informal though periodic discussion groups.

For example, this last couple weeks, I've participated in five different discussion groups:

SL Educators Roundtable

Community Colleges in SL

Virtual Worlds Research Group

Epoch Institute discussions on virtual worlds (from a social science perspective)

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Portal at InfoIsland

Oops, forgot to take a picture. Well, you'll just have to trust me that I was there. I did, though, also stop by West of Ireland for a reading of Washington Irving:

I'm not going to summarize the discussions, though they were often rich and intriguing. My point for this blog is that in the space of two weeks, I've had conversations with other professors, instructors, high school teachers, students from all over the US, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Portugal, Holland, England and so on. Yes, such can happen through listservs, MOOs, blogs, Twitter, wikis. But the sense of presence and space one experiences in SL adds a dimension to online interaction that I find significant, a sense that increases the more I explore its use.

But again, as I've mentioned before, and has come up in a number of places in world, SL is on the bleeding edge of technology. At a conference I attended the last couple days that took place in San Jose (Program for the Future) and also took place in SL, one of the RL participants whined about how difficult SL was to download and operate, that one needed a high-end computer even to operate in the virtual world, that a grandmother in Kansas would never be able to do it.

I made the comment in world that my children's grandmother (my mother) had no problem downloading and exploring SL (quite enjoyed the quilt exhibit at University of Kansas library). But the bigger issue is that many of the same complaints that are made about SL were made in 1995 about browsing the web. I remember using Netscape on my son's first computer and waiting 15 minutes for a page with still images to download!

And I'm sure we all remember searching for stuff on the web in the mid-nineties: nine times out of ten you'd just find crap. Yet, in just a couple years, we could find magazine articles, research from universities, rudimentary video clips and such that made it much more useful, not to mention the beginnings of interactive usage as we began to explore with online classes in 1997.

And today, the exponential increase of content that one finds with resources online is truly staggering. My wife, just the other day mentioned that in the last six months she's noticed a marked increase in quality of sources she pulls up when searching online.

Second Life is Netscape in 1995, or maybe a little further along, say 96 or 97. But in the next couple years, it seems to me that the richness of interaction and content will explode.

However, Second Life may also be the Netscape of 1995 for another reason. How many of you today use Netscape? That's what I thought. As we all know, Netscape got squashed by Internet Explorer and leapt over by Firefox. Will the same happen to Second Life? Will Google resurrect Lively or release something much more powerful? Will open source virtual worlds like OpenSim or Project Wonderland leap over SL's success? Who knows. But as mentioned in the Metaverse Roadmap, in the next 5-10 years, 3D immersive environments will be a significant part of our web experience. And I expect it will be the primary platform for online learning.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Web 2.0 assignments

I've been working on possible assignments to use next semester with Web 2.0 applications, focusing so far on Composition II, using Twitter, Diigo and Pageflakes.

The first two are part of what I hope to have students do in the spring on their first essay. Twitter will be used as a research/writing log, where students will be asked to jot down "What are you doing?" concerning their exploration, research, reading, writing of the first essay. I expect to make it a running assignment throughout the semester. I'm hoping that class members will begin asking questions and helping each other a bit more readily than has been the case with standard Angel fare.

I've also been writing instructions on how to set up the two programs, which take a good number of steps. There are some video instructions on setting up Twitter and Diigo:

Both of the videos cover more features than I do in my instructions, and especially with the Diigo video, do so quite quickly. But I figure that students can have them as resources to review features they might want to add later. Or that I may want to expand upon as the semester progresses.

I've also been playing with Pageflakes, an aggregator that is like iGoogle, but allows you to create pagecasts or public pages. What I would like to create is an essay resource page, a one-stop aggregator that students can use to work on their essays. I wanted to include access to the essay assignment page but soon found that I'd need to reformat in order to read easily in the widget.

Pageflakes is pretty easy to use, though you need time for trial and error. One aspect of the application that is announced often on the site is that you can easily take a widget someone else is using and put it on your page. Just click on the faint envelope in the corner (just above the cursor arrow on the top right):

The only problem is, no instruction on what to do with the html that is offered. I finally figured out how to add it to one of the widgets, but it would have been nice to have been told!

Also, at first I thought I'd have a page for each essay, but I soon realized that would be impractical, redundant and cluttered. So I figure I'll change the essay widget when we change essay assignments. And I'll have one page available for both WRIT 122 and WRIT 132, with separate essay assignment widgets to choose from.

I was also going to talk about some educational experiences and discussions I had this week in SL this week, but I think I'll leave that for next week.