Friday, October 30, 2009

Whole class meeting in SL

A couple weeks ago, I met with my WRIT 121 class in Second Life as a whole. In other words, instead of meeting f2f on a Tuesday evening, we all met at Angel Learning Isle.

As you know, up to this point, I had met with students only in small groups on the balcony of my office.

Now we would meet in the classroom area.

The purpose of the class was for students to read/review the virtual lecture on thesis statements and then to get into three groups, where they would discuss their thesis statements, using some specific prompts to help them make sure they were working with a position that brought insight to the issue.

The lecture link was available on a sign with a screen shot of the first page of the lecture (behind me in this picture).

The prompts were available on a notecard in the blue box in the middle of the seating circle.

In a f2f class, I would have them get into groups, spread throughout the classroom, and they would take turns sharing/discussing.

In regular online classes, I would have them discuss in text chat sessions at different times.

Here on Angel Learning Isle, I had them spatially get up, move to three corners of the classroom area, and stand next to teleportation globes. Once I saw that the groups were evenly divided, I had them teleport to three sky class areas (one a gallion, or pirate ship), where they discussed their thesis statements. Doing so made it possible for them to discuss in small groups without hearing (if using voice) or seeing (if using text chat) the other group's discussion.

Once I got everyone situated--I had to lead a group from my balcony over to the classroom area--the explanation of what we were going to do, the reviewing of the lecture, the receipt of the note card prompts, and the movement to the sky discussion areas went smoothly.

While they met in groups, I stayed in the classroom area, in case late students showed up, and in case students had questions. When students had questions, they would IM me, which can be done anywhere in SL; one need not be close by.

What is interesting is that one student, instead of IMing, teleported back to the classroom, asked his question, and then returned to his group. It seemed like he did so deliberately, almost like he wanted the movement. That sense of movement, of going from one place to another, seems to add to engagement, much like having students move around in a classroom to break up a long class session. Online students participating in a text or voice chat never have a sense of movement within a landscape of any sort while working with each other.

I didn't have them return to the classroom area. Like I did with my online class that uses only the Angel LMS for chat, I had them write a note to send to me through the Angel drop box, summarizing what group said.

What I often do f2f is have groups report to class and share what they discovered from the group interaction. I didn't even think to have this class do so in SL, but of course, I could have, and might try that next time.

I don't know if I'll have any more whole class meetings this semester. But I do know that when I mentioned returning to f2f the next week, some students expressed disappointment, especially those who discussed their thesis statements in the hull of a pirate ship!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Chatting with students in Second Life

The last two weeks I've started holding chat sessions in Second Life on Angel Learning Isle on my office balcony.

For online classes, I usually require students to attend at least one chat a week, no more than an hour, based on times they send to me. For each class, I'll then set up 3-5 chat sessions (obviously more for double sections), usually from Wednesday through Saturday. Here's a link to the chat sessions I typically schedule for an online class using 2D web apps in Angel's LMS and AIM:

I have done this over the last dozen years for one main reason: it gives students a sense of person, a sense that they are working with real people, even though it's only text. Yes, they get some of the same with asynchronous apps, like discussion boards. But the immediacy of chat heightens the online experience.

Again, though, it's still all text:

Now, as a writing teacher, I have no problem with text. Text is great. But text is not a person. One point I've been making in this blog, and elsewhere, is that online students would benefit from a sense of place, just as f2f students experience when walking onto campus. And that sense of place, or sense of space, would enhance their experience as taking place with real people. This is what I had hoped would be possible in Second Life.

So with two weeks of chat sessions, what did I find?

First off, teaching on SL presents a deja vu experience for me, as simply dealing with SL has all year. As I mentioned earlier, SL reminded me a lot of the Web in 1996: lots of promise, tremendous potential, but in large part empty, with little valuable, useful content.

Take finding interesting articles online. In 1996, you were much more likely to find well researched, thoughtful articles from magazines, newspapers, journals by going to the library and searching something like Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, or using CD ROMs to search, and even then, you likely had to find the full text on paper or microfilm. Occasionally you could find research online from colleges and universities. And some magazines began posting articles early on. But really--you had to go to the library to find most of what was published on an issue.

That changed, though, on the Web, in a very short time. Each six months, users found exponential increases in useful, valuable content, so that by today, there are very few venues that beat the Web in finding worthwhile resources, including physical libraries. Ask any librarian--most funds are being poured into digital acquisitions. Why? Because that is what patrons want, to be able to search and find stuff online.

Getting back to using SL with students: deja vu all over again--thanks, John Fogerty for a very timely song title. In 1997, when I first started teaching online classes using AltVista Forum as our learning management system, I found that one had to rethink teaching in substantial ways. I could not just plop a f2f class online and go on my merry way. Simple example: when does an online class start? Today, the answer is simple--whenever I decide it's going to start. But in 1996-97, while we were first designing online classes, that was a puzzling question. For f2f, we knew that class started when they were scheduled--on Mondays and Wednesdays from 2-4 p.m. beginning on August twentysomething. But with online classes, they could start, the minute the semester started, or later, or even before--since students would be populated into online sections usually weeks earlier.

So now, when moving from 2d online to 3d, do I just throw an online class onto SL and conduct just like I have with 2d Angel LMS?

Well, first of all, I can't. I have no discussion forums, no gradebook, no drop boxes in SL. Those developing Sloodle are furiously working to make such an integration between SL and Moodle, the open source LMS. And Angel started to, until Blackborg assimilated. However, I've recently heard Blackborg is now working on integration (resistance is futile).

Even so, one still cannot have students working on discussion forums in world, which I think would be cool. Maybe soon, when real time access to the web in world will be available.

But I can do chats in SL, real time communication with class members.

So how is it different? Well, first off, the sense of dealing with a person, the sense I found very strong in communicating with colleagues at conferences and meetings during my sabbatical, is as strong when meeting with students. Students overall seemed intrigued with the method of communication. Some were having friends watch over their shoulders--one with a friend from Lake Superior who insisted on seeing what she was doing because she said "we don't have anything like that at our campus!"

Furthermore, students seem really to enjoy meeting in SL. Throughout the years, I've had some students express enjoying chats, and others not so much. But students immediately found the medium engaging and our discussion about the Harvard video Shaped by Writing fun. The next week, I added something you can't do in Angel chat: a field trip, where students set off to visit toy sims in SL. The success of the groups with the field trips varied (more below). But last Tuesday, when I told students we weren't having a chat this week, some were really disappointed.

Meanwhile, I found that trying to give instructions about what to do in the chat to be challenging. I first tried to explain to students how to create a notecard and give it to me through chat. It did not work. They just got confused. So I created a notecard with instructions that they could open from a simple blue box.

That worked fine for most students, actually for all who had computers that worked decently in SL (I have several that have found their computers too old and rushed out to get new lap tops).

I also found that I must have back-up suggestions if I ask students to teleport somewhere to explore. As I mentioned above, I had students last week take a field trip to toy sites in SL. Their first essay is on the value of toys, based on their own experiences and observations. They need not write about SL, but I wanted them to do some exploration of SL to see if the toy they were writing about had a presence in the MUVE, especially since SL residents are all adults. Well, I found that if I don't have some back up possibilities, students can come up dry. Again, like the web in 1996, you can often search for something and find little of value. For example, one chat group decided to search for Barbie. And they learned one thing--Barbie is quite sexualized in the virtual world! One student accidentally ended up in an exotic dance club! But besides that, there was little out there except for some stores with Barbie avatars. And another group tried to find Lego sims, but found some profiles or teleport profiles that said they had Lego stuff didn't really. So I found that having some back up possibilities--like simply searching toys in Search--to be valuable.

The last group worked best, and it was the largest with seven students. I tried to break them up, but they wanted to stay together. I found that if I give them instructions first in text chat--to search for the toys they brought to discuss--and have them share in text chat what they find, that they find more sites that way. They ended up spending most of their time sledding in a winter park.

I think next time, I'll have them find a couple relevant sims on their own to bring to chat, and see how that goes (next week--essay topic, music).

So I think so far that SL as a real time meeting place for students is definitely worthwhile. It's still 1996, but the millenium is about to turn!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Orientation for First Year Composition students

This last Tuesday, I held my first orientation session for WRIT 121 students on Second Life. After going over some reasons why we're using SL, I had them all visit the Virtual Ability Island sign in web site.

One of the problems I find with helping students start up a new account in any online application is that in order to be familiar with the process, you have to do it, and it's often difficult to reapply after having done so. I've avoided creating a new avatar that I'll never use just to show others how to do so.

Which leads to the problem we encountered. I assumed that if you signed up for SL through Virtual Ability Island, that once you had created your avatar, it would be dropped onto Virtual Ability Orientation Island. Well, I missed something, because when students signed up. there was no link to jump to the VA Island. So I had students open the SL viewer and log in. They were sent to a public help island and couldn't get off, even if I gave them the coordinates.

I tried different things, such as giving them the slurl and a TP as an attachment. Neither worked. The only thing that did was my offering a TP to each individual avatar.

So it took quite a bit more time just to get them to the orientation island. Once I got them all there, things went smoother, beyond the occasional scream and panicky request to help someone redress their naked avatar!

Most students got through the orientation fine, but many spent quite a bit of time adjusting their appearance and I had to goad them to move on. The good thing, though, is that everyone seemed to have a good time figuring things out.

No pictures--I was too busy putting out fires in RL and SL!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Back to school

First week back at Lansing Community College. Along with the other three classes I'm teaching, I've been working on the WRIT 121: Composition I class that will be using SL for the first time.

As I've been thinking through this class, and what I want to accomplish, I came up with some
principles I want to operate from.
  1. Simplicity: I want to make sure that my approach is simple both for students and for other faculty.
  • For students, because I know that for many of them, I'm going to be throwing quite a bit of new web applications at them--discussion forums, drop boxes, word processing beyond simple texting, Twitter, social bookmarking, IMing. Add to all of this Second Life, with the need to create an avatar, orient into the virtual world, and then real time chats, text and voice, along with group expeditions exploring the world.
  • For faculty, because I expect to show instructors at LCC what I'm doing, all with the purpose of getting them interested in possibly including SL in their online course. If it looks too "cool" with lots of gee-whiz stuff, many will become dismayed that the virtual world is beyond their ability, or beyond the time investment they see themselves needing in order to overcome the steep learning curve.

Therefore, I made a simple circle of pillows to sit on for class,

a simple sign at my office on Angel Learning Island,

a simple URL dispenser for the course syllabus (and calendar).

I want to keep the tools I use in world recognizable and useful for students and perceived, quickly, as such by faculty. We'll see how well I can do so.

  1. Second Life is a place: I've heard over the last few months a number of people describing SL as a tool, even as an educational tool. However, I consider the designation of SL or any MUVE as a tool to misperceive its potential in education, especially in online classes. Angel is an aggregation of tools--drop boxes, discussion forums, chat logs, URLs and so forth. Podcasts are tools. Most Web 2.0 apps are tools. But Second Life is a place where you can use tools to accomplish work (or learning, or play) that you want to accomplish.
A chat client is a tool.

Angel Learning Island is a place in Second Life where chatting can take place.

  1. Writing class, not SL class: The biggest struggle that I've had with SL concerning writing classes has been that most comp courses I've seen (and some very good ones by Intellagirl Tully, Ignatius Onomatopoeia, and AJ Brooks) have had students write about SL. Which is great. But in order to make SL really viable as a place to conduct online classes, the focus has to be on something else, in most cases. In other words, when I first started online classes, I did not have students write about being online. They wrote about popular culture or controversial issues, or with creative writing, stories and poems that had nothing whatsoever to do with being online. I've never had a student write about Angel!
  • However, if I see SL as a place, which isn't the case with learning management systems like Angel or Blackboard, then it makes more sense to consider having students write about that place, bringing readers insight about what a virtual world is like.
  • So I keep going back and forth. Write about SL, write about other things, and use SL as a place to do some of the work. At first I planned to have the class write the first two essays about their experiences in SL, but I'm thinking the first essay on SL makes no sense, since they'll be just getting used to the MUVE.
So stay tuned as my thoughts about how this all works evolves!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Building in Second Life

In July, I took a class through Ball State University entitled "Building Blocks 101," a beginner's course in building stuff in Second life, taught by master builder SunQueen Ginsberg. Here she is with some robots she created.

Some of what was covered I had already learned through a course offered at TLE and by Kevin Freelunch on building some furniture. It was very helpful as well, though it was more, "do this, then that, then that" whereas the BSU course included much more of why and how the editing controls work.

Now, I have no intention of spending a lot of time in SL building stuff, though I find it quite enjoyable to do.

Here is a shot of our two assignments, a sculpture with five prims (which means primitive objects in SL lingo) and a robot. If you can't tell the difference, the sculpture is on the right, a glass flower-vase, and the robot is on the left!

My goal was to understand the basics so that I can manipulate objects needed while teaching. This class worked really well in giving me those basics.

Also, in July, I made arrangements with KarenSPC Fride, the administrator on Angel Learning Island, to teach WRIT 121 in world on the sim (simulation--lingo for the virtual land owned and controlled by users). So I have an office and some space for a class where I can leave stuff, and students can go to, both for whole class meetings and smaller group meetings. Here's a shot of my avatar sitting on my office balcony overlooking the ocean. I have to say, certainly beats the view of a brick wall in my LCC office! (by the way, the blue chair is one of the pieces of furniture I built in the TLE class mentioned above.)

So, July has been a busy month in the metaverse! Now it's time to get serious about preparing for fall semester. With four preps this time through, I need to start right now.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Twitter, Iran, and Michael Jackson

On June 25, I was online and a tweet flashed across Tweetdeck. "Michael Jackson dead?" Soon other tweets popped up about Jackson being rushed to the hospital in cardiac arrest, and then soon after that he had died.

We all know what happened. But what I found interesting about that afternoon is that the announcement of his death spread all over the world in a matter of minutes, and an hour before major news outlets confirmed the same. I went onto Twittervision and watched tweets about Jackson, and almost only tweets about Jackson, flashing all over the world--from Kansas, Cantoon, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Phillippines, Belgium, Columbia. Searching on Twitter search, the app every few minutes would announce thousands of new tweets on Michael Jackson.

The month of June, as well, found the heavy use of Twitter during the Iranian revolution, with protestors tweeting about what was happening in Iran, sending out information that was unavailable from major news sources, and even spreading pictures and video around the world that the Iranian government did not want out, such as the death of Neda.

So what does this all mean?

Various blogs and newscasts call it Twitter "coming of age" which is a little silly. But what is intriguing is that we're seeing an explosion of a use for the microblog as a democratization of news. Ellen Goodman suggested that Twitter's use, especially of the video shown above, is this generation's AP photo of the young Vietnamese girl burned by napalm. Where in essence the populace "gets it," grasping the horror of despotic rule crashing upon a people who desire only to live in peace.

Makes sense for the Iranian revolution. But what about Michael Jackson, a pop star who crowned himself the king of pop? I was just struck at the worldwide reaction to his death. Watching people from all over the globe at the same time offering up expressions of grief for the pop star's death was both chilling and exhilirating. Of course, part of it is the suddenness and at an age where people aren't supposed to just drop dead. This especially hits home for those of us in our early fifties! And of a pop star who in his latter years has been surrounded by controversy, from mask-like plastic surgery to allegations of sleeping with little boys. In other words, it's like a global train wreck where hundreds of thousands online are careening their necks to see a twist of steel and flame.

But it seems more so that the worldwide outpouring of concern and grief comes more from his art--music, dance, video--from the 70s and 80s, having the highest selling album ever. His music played a part in the lives of millions of people all over the world. It reminds me of John Lennon's murder--the shock and grief felt by my generation was palpable across the land, through the media available at the time.

But of course, the outpouring of grief is also the overriding response to the Iranian Twitter phenomenon. When the Neda video was tweeted, all over the world people were sobbing collectively for the senseless murder by a clearly brutal regime.

Empathy. It seems that Web 2.0 apps like Twitter and Facebook have made such collective emotional outpourings much quicker and more visible.

Friday, May 29, 2009

End of semester musings

Well, it's a couple weeks out from the end of the semester (actually a month out by the time I finished this blog posting!), and two long distance graduations completed (Sarasota, FL for Jonathan graduating from Ringling School of Art and Design and Berkeley, CA for Rebekah graduating from Graduate Theological Union/Pacific School of Religion--congratulations, kids!!!!).

I found that the use of Twitter and Diigo by and large were successful. Twitter gave students opportunities to see what each other was doing, helped them keep on task, and gave them opportunity to receive quick responses from me. I think for next semester, I'll need to push more frequent and thoughtful tweets earlier, if that's possible. And to use gadgets, widgets or standalone desktop apps to have Twitter available all the time. Too often students would disappear for days, even weeks, at a time from Twitter with the expression that they forgot about it. But definitely worth using again.

Diigo also seemed beneficial. It is quite clunky with library databases, so I need to work on creating more quickie tutorials on doing so for next semester. Also, I've yet really to see the value of groups in Diigo for classes. I'll have to explore that more fully. But the ability to have bookmarks that include highlighted material and sticky notes (though I didn't see the latter used as much) and accessible on any computer was quite an improvement to what students have been using--from printouts to emailed articles.

So fall semester--I'll be using both, though I'll need to adjust based on the class. WRIT 121 is not as research intensive, though I still think that getting students to search for articles and read before each essay will make Diigo helpful. And I'll have to figure out how to juggle them with Second Life (at least for one class) without overwhelming them.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Across the Metaverse: A Web 2.0 Primer

Here's a link to the slides I used in a presentation at the CTE I did last month. I'm planning to do another version for the Writing Program in May.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A quickie on Twitter

A couple of observations:

1. Students helping each other after a chat. I have students chat in Angel (or AIM if the LMS goes down) in small groups, usually once a week. I'm beginning to find students extending the chat into Twitter, giving further suggestions about issues and sources a day or two later.

2. By essay 3, students are really beginning to interact, asking questions, giving advice, commiserating, celebrating--particularly right before spring break.

3. From Twitter: hrheingold--using with students for the first time this semester: a handful hate it and don't get it. I've found much the same. However, I'm also seeing some who were resistant beginning to become more comfortable with its use. I think, though, next semester, I might want to find ways to encourage students to use gadgets, widgets or a standalone viewer so that they see Twitter more often. I wonder if there's a widget for Angel?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Twitter and Diigo and AIM, oh my!

A month into the new semester. In my comp II classes, I introduced the use of Twitter and Diigo. I started with Twitter in the very first week, as a very simple assignment. Sign up, log in, and tweet to me, "@danholt, [student name] in WRIT 132 is all set to use Twitter." Here's a link to the assignment. Among the 50+ students I had, only one had been using Twitter previously, so for most all of them, it was a new experience.

I got a range of reactions, from "Wow, this is cool we're using Twitter" to "Why in the world are we using Twitter?" And several had difficulty with tweeting as I requested, so that class members would be able to search easily for class members to follow. Finally, a good number simply didn't do it.

Not unusual. Usually students who have some online experience, especially with online classes, have no problem with jumping in and exploring a new app. However, with students who have never taken an online class before, or may have but are overextended--6 classes, 40 hour a week job, part time job, rearing children on his or her own (and if you think I'm exaggerating, think again!!!)--being able to take the time to follow instructions carefully often hinders the student.

Of course, the problem with instructions and certain populations of students has been a challenge in teaching online classes since I started in 1997. Granted, early attempts left lots of holes since I was unfamiliar with how to translate the give and take of guiding students through an assignment in an online world. But now, especially from students who've taken a number of online classes, I receive positive comments, relieved they can follow and implement the tasks I lay out before them.

But I'm noticing with this semester, as I require students to do Angel discussion forums, chat, AIM, audio essay submissions, Diigo, Twitter, that I'm pushing many to the edge, very like what we had with students first trying online education in the late 90s. 

Add to that the fact that Angel has been buggy--students unable to log in at one point a couple weeks into the semester because of problems with communication between Angel and Banner. I know of at least three students who threw up their hands and dropped because of the log in problems. Furthermore, the discussion forums have been squirrelly, working with one browser, but not another, problems with uploading files, even emails sent through the discussion forum appearing as a single word: null.

Even so, my goal of offering a rich environment for a writing community, seems to be working for many--Twitter still has naysayers ("still can't see the value in doing this!") but some interesting reactions. A couple students have mentioned that they really like using Twitter because it helps them to stay on track by seeing what class members are doing.

And Diigo, though rather clunky with library online databases, has been a hit with most students. 

But even so, I had to drop a scad of students because of non-participation. So, should I make classes rich in applications to benefit those who have some experience with online classes and who devote appropriate amounts of time to the work, or should I make it easy and spare, so students who have little experience with online classes and/or have little time to devote to the class can succeed? 

I guess it's simply not in my nature to do much capitulation toward the latter.