Thursday, September 30, 2010

Media Share on a Prim

A lot has been written in the last several months about the new SL viewer, particularly nashing of teeth by old timers who detest all of the changes.

Some of the whining is understandable. There are some tasks that take more key strokes than used to be so. But as an Angel user, I'm used to the philosophy of why use one keystroke when three will do.

I've not found the new viewer to be that problematic, and instead find it to be quite useful, such as the back and forth keys that teleport you to recent sites, or the Favorites bar. And the green i icon on avatars has been
quite useful, especially when using voice--much quicker to turn someone up down or out.

But to me the game changer with the new viewer is media share on a prim, where residents can share a live web page on a screen while in world. When I saw that last February, I said to myself, "I don't care what else this viewer has, my students will be using it come fall."

And they have. I've found my newbie students seem much more comfortable with the viewer, much quicker to pick up its uses, and off and running sooner than the last couple semesters. Now, part of this likely has to do with the fact that more students have reasonably powered computers than in previous semesters, and I'm more competent in preventing/solving problems. But I do think it's also the viewer.

But I digress. The main reason I wanted to use it was because of shared media. Yes, there are slide viewers aplenty in SL; some are quite effective, very smooth, and valuable for presentations or Powerpoints.

Slide viewers, though, add a step to my preparation that I could live with, but don't really want to. I'd like to create a web page and show it to students, not take a screenshot of it and download as a texture. And if I want to change the page minutes before a class, I want to be able to. Now, with media share, I can do so.

But even more important, I want students to be able to search the web, watch video and write on a screen while in world with other classmates.

And these last two weeks, for the first time, I was able to do so.

Let me describe an assignment that I do in f2f classes. Before the first peer response session, I like to have students write about what they want, and what they don't want from class member responses to their drafts. So I have them write for five minutes each on two very simple prompts:
  1. What would you like to see in a response to your draft from a class member?
  2. What would you not like to see in a response to your draft from a class member?
Then I have them get into groups, read what they've read to each other (which also gets them used to reading their writing to each other), and come up with 3 tips for responding effectively, 3 warnings about what to avoid.

After they then post these into an Angel discussion forum, we as a class come back together and discuss what they've come up with.

A very simple assignment that generates quickly ways to respond, and ways not to, that students have instant buy-in toward.

In thirteen years of teaching online, I've not been able to do this assignment as expressed here. I've done a more asynchronous version, but I've never thought it was as effective.

But now, with shared media and Google docs, I can do it.

My WRIT 121 class met one Tuesday evening and did the following:
  1. They started off writing, either on a notecard or in their word processor, responses to the questions just mentioned, questions I posted on the media share screen from Google docs.
  2. Then they got into groups. I had them separate into groups, moving to opposite sides of the classroom area, and then teleport to a sky classroom and sky platform above Angel Learning Isle.
  3. When they got there, they found three screens I set up earlier in the day: one had my instructions, that I could change live (and did). The second screen had an empty Google doc that they could write on and everyone in the group could see. And the third screen had Angel LMS that one student could log into, copy/paste from the middle Google doc and paste into the discussion forum.
  4. When done, we met back at the classroom area and discussed their tips/warnings as a whole.

While the students were in their groups, I stayed in the classroom area, and fielded the occasional IM, especially to determine when to switch from one prompt to the next in their discussion.

It went without a hitch. As long as the Google docs were set to public, anyone can edit, students could all see the page they added tips to, I could see what they were doing from Google docs, and I could change prompts from one to another when everyone was ready to move on.

Many faculty that I've talked with over the years, especially those who have taught online and gave it up, bemoaned the real-time interaction that they have in a f2f class. Yes, chat or web conferencing can counter some of the asynchronicity of most online classes. But to work with students in real time in a real spatial environment, using tools and techniques that work well in f2f settings, is a game changer with online classes. It's not flashy, it's not something that can only be done in a VW. But it is something that can enhance online classes, and make more faculty feel like teaching online does not mean giving something up.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The power of placeness

I was invited to submit a guest blog post at the Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable website, which was published today. Some of what I discuss will already be familiar to those reading this blog, but clearly not all.

Just click on the screen shot to read.