Second Life Think Tank Group

Posted by Debby on 11th February and posted in Cultivating Communities, Teaching and Learning

***WHAT IS SECOND LIFE?***

If you are not familiar with SecondLife (SL), I encourage you to visit their educators page at http://secondlife.com/businesseducation/education.php. I participate in a very active educators list (https://lists.secondlife.com/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/educators) filled with teachers from all over the world who are looking at SL as a platform to deliver online education, extend traditional education, and create communities of learners that go beyond classroom walls. A number of professional associations have a presence in SL and hold regular meetings, several of which I have attended. These include the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), the New Media Consortium (NMC) and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) among many others. Major universities (Harvard, Stanford, Kansas State, Michigan, Univ of North Carolina, San Diego State University, Pepperdine) are creating a presence in SL. Sweden is opening a virtual embassy there, Reuters has an embedded journalist in SL that blogs daily from there. The Infinite Mind radio show simultaneously broadcasts programs in real life (RL) and SL. I personally have made contacts and am collaborating with professors from all over the country, including Tennessee, Chicago, and Iowa.

***TRYING OUT SECOND LIFE***

I will be happy to host an open house in my SL Skyloft if you would like to try out the program yourself. Sharon and Tom have been there already. I’m sure I could tidy up the place a little for a few more friends to come on over. Last week, we held our computer science club officers meeting in the camping room of my loft. The only time we could all get together was 9pm online, so we went there. I was able to hand out notes from our last meeting and we set the agenda for our next meeting. Friday afternoon I was able to demonstrate SL to a group of faculty at Tennesee Tech University who were learning about the platform. If you wanted to bring in students, we could definitely arrange something.

I have not yet made a major push to get my students involved, but currently have a number of them working in there, including some of my former students from Porterville College (now a computer design major at Sac State), College of the Sequoias (graduating with a CS degree from Fresno State this spring), and Pepperdine. I have students from our IWV campus, KRV campus, and online campus involved as well. One of the neat things about SL is that we are not held to traditional boundaries. We have befriended a graduate CS student from an Australian University and a CIS major at Pima Community College, both of whom are working with our students on projects. The ability to extend our learning community outside the walls of the IWV main campus is of great benefit to our students, in many ways.

Our SL group name is “RoboGeeks”. We currently have a semester-long land grant from SL as well as a property that I purchased myself to work with. I will be calling a “design team” meeting this week to determine how we want to use the land grant area. You are welcome to join in on that conversation.

To sign up, visit the SL website (http://www.secondlife.com). You will have to register a new account and download the program. There is a paid version and a free version. You can choose which way you want to go. As a referral, please put “Kilgore Antelope”. That way, if you decide to go paid, our RoboGeeks group will receive some Linden dollars to spend in-world. You will be given the choice of several default avatar styles but once you are in-world you can customize it any way you want. If you let me know when you are coming in, I will plan on meeting you and teleporting you over to the RoboRanch where you can learn how to move around without bumping into lots of other people also learning to move around! You can always go back to the Orientation Island later to take advantage of all of the great resources they have there for newbies.

***RESOURCES AND PROJECTS***

I also have the following resources available:

YouTube playlist about SL: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=B0C69C8CE9287090

A number of videos showing interesting places and applications of SL.

Flickr Photo Set: http://flickr.com/photos/debbyk/sets/72157594467549181/

Second Life as a Virtual Learning Environment: http://dokimos.org/secondlife/education/index.html

One of the more interesting projects out there is Sloodle (http://www.sloodle.com), an integration of Moodle and Second Life. I was checking out “Sloodleville” in SL the other night and ran into one of the project developers, a professor at San Jose State University. We started talking about what they are trying to do and he invited me to try out their beta version of the “blog HUD”, a tool that seemlessly integrated bloging in SL and posts it in Moodle. There is a video of how that works on the Sloodle site and on my YouTube playlist (as well as several other Sloodle videos). I can tell you it is one slick tool that I see many applications for. Students can document their project activity, share interesting places they have been, or journal their learning reflections from within SL. The moodle plugin will be released March 22 and I am looking forward to trying it out on my own server. The Sloodle folks are very interested in our ideas on how to further integrate the two programs and one or two of my students may actually become involved in the scripting of widgets and plugins, both in the SL scripting language (Linden Script) and in Moodle’s php code. It will be an excellent opportunity for them to become involved in an academic open source project.

***SO WHAT’S THE POINT?***

This semester I am piloting SL as a place to bring together my online and on-campus computer science students, in a community building space where they could communicate and collaborate on projects. In the last semester or two, my LEGO robotics project has become the catalyst that blends academic and social learning theory in a way that fosters an energetic, self-motivated community of learners. I have been looking for another activity that could bring the online students into that fold, beyond robotics. From what I have seen of SL, this might just be the place.

I am not interested in erecting buildings that mimic what we have on campus. I would like to see this as an innovate learning space where students are able to not only chat (because we can do that in other spaces), but where they can create their own learning experiences and construct their own knowledge in collaboration with others. In the short time that a few of my students have had access to Second Life, they have taken on the design and implementation of their own learning projects, apparently engaged by the sense of presence they feel when there and the tools available to help them implement the things they imagine. I am hoping to take the experiences from our spring semester in Second Life to use as a case study when making the argument that this would be a good project to support. If you are interested, I blogged an email that I wrote to one of our English professors when he asked what SL was all about:

http://codecrunchers.wordpress.com/2007/01/14/an-email-to-an-english-prof/

The thing I think I am most excited about is that I’m not even sure what the full potential of SL is all about, but that I have a group of students that is willing to take a trip with me to find out. It’s a very cool thing to be a part of 🙂

***OK, BUT I’M BUSY… TELL ME WHY I SHOULD CARE***

As most of you know, I have never been one adopt new technology just because it is “cool”. I don’t really care about that at all actually. I look as technology as a tool to facilitate the teaching and learning process. It should be something that extends what we can do, challenges us to be self-motivated, self-directed learners that ideally not only solve the problems put before us, but are able to identify and solve interesting problems of our own creation as well. The use of technology should be an active process that engages our minds in ways we never thought possible before. Notice I keep saying “we”… that is because as teachers of technology, we owe it to our students to not just tell them and show them, but to learn along side of them as well. One of the most exciting aspects of SL for me, personally, is having a platform where I can create things myself that others can enjoy and participate in. It is giving me a platform to extend my coding and building skills in a way I have not had the opportunity to do in the last several years. I am experiencing the thrill of discovery right alongside my students… and in my mind, that’s exactly how it should be. This is a constructivist learning experience at its best and I encourage you to not just “look” but to dive in and try it as well. It is not perfect for all situations, the software is constantly being developed (especially now that it is Open Source), and there are certainly things I am not too happy with. However, I think there are going to be some very interesting applications of this learning platform and I am excited to see where it will take us. A decade ago, Cerro Coso was a leader in distance education because we were doing something that not many others were doing, and we were doing it well. Now, we are nothing unique. Maybe it’s time we try something new and innovative once again?

Debby

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