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.

No comments: