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Students from Sheffield University’s iSchool visit MIL11

Late January my in-world colleague, Inge Qunhua attended a research seminar at University of Worcester’s island in SL where she had the opportunity to share some of our experiences from the MIL11 class (Danish PD students from the Master’s Program on ICT and Learning). Based on this, another in-world educator, Sheila Yoshikava of the University of Sheffield became interested in learning more, and on Friday, February 17th Inge had arranged for a meeting, where Sheila’s students from Educational Informatics could come see the MIL11 students’ sandboxes and hear about their experiences.


mouritzen, Anina, me, Inge & dirkovski (in front) meeting in Team B’s sandbox.

Three MIL11 students were able to participate and we meet for a short briefing in Team B’s sandbox. Inge explained how the visitors would be interested in hearing about the teams’ designs of their sandboxes.


Sheila Yoshikawa.

Sheila is the owner of Infolit iSchool Island in SL, and she writes about her in-world experiences on Adventures of Yoshikawa. RL Sheila (Webber) is faculty member in the Information School, University of Sheffield, UK and Director of the Centre for Information Literacy Research, and she also maintains a blog on general Information Literacy.

Infolit iSchool Island – welcome area.

We started in Team B’s sandbox, where dirkovski explained about the team’s work and how the they had tried to design for different learning styles by using different modalities in both design of the place and in different learning activities.


Sheffield Inf6011 students gathering in Team B’s sandbox.

Read more about Team B’s sandbox here.


Team B’s dirkovski took the Sheffield students on a tour and explained about the team’s design.

Next stop was team D’s sandbox, and here mouritzen explained how the team had wanted to make use of some of the SL affordances that enable design not-possible-in-real life and how they had tried to focus on immersion and presence in their design of the sandbox and the activities.


Team D’s sandbox.

Read more about Team D’s sandbox here.


Team D’s mouritzen explained the team’s design in their Matrix inspired cave.

Final stop was Team E’s sandbox, and here Anina started out by explaining how they had wanted to explore how SL could be used to make physics lessons more fun and engaging.


Team E’s sandbox.

Read more about Team E’s sandbox here.


Team E’s Anina explaining the team’s design.

As it turned out, the Sheffield students were very new to SL – some of them had only been in-world for a couple of hours, and I think the visit was a bit overwhelming. However, judging from the feedback we received, the Sheffield students were encouraged by seeing what can be done/designed after a relatively short period in SL – when you’re a newbie building/designing often seems like an unattainable goal. Furthermore, bringing students together across countries and cultures really has a lot of potential and it is definitely something Inge and I would like to practice more in the future. As experienced in-world educators Inge and I are used to sharing our knowledge with other educators form around the world in different in-world groups and communities, and it would be just wonderful to be able to extend this type of knowledge sharing so that it included our students. A major argument for using SL in education, it that it is a fairly open technology  (at least compared to traditional LMSs/VLEs), and having visitors like this was just one small step in the right direction leading to more inclusion of  “the world outside” (albeit 3D mediated) in the university setting.

/Mariis

What’s needed is education!?

About a month ago, I spent one week at the Universidad Nacional (UNA) in Costa Rica participating in two research projects, and on some level this Mimi & Eunice strip sums up my experience:


Source

I don’t mean to say that I went to Costa Rica thinking that my colleagues there are doing anything wrong, but I did have a rather naïve presumption that the greatest challenge for facilitating change would be pedagogical.  However, as it happened there were other just as important challenges, and the research stay turned out to be very educational for me.

From the UNA campus – very exotic seen from the eyes of a Dane.

The first project is called ” Curricular Innovation of Study Plans in the disciplinary area of System Engineering at the Universidad Nacional, considering POPP (problem oriented project pedagogy) as a methodological approach”. Dra. Mayela Coto and Máster Sonia Mora are the local researchers in this project. Maylea Coto received her PhD from Aalborg University (AAU) in December 2010, but is back living in Costa Rica with her family.

My role in this project is fairly limited. I was invited to give an introductory lecture on the Aalborg PBL model (incl. the particular POPP approach) and to participate in a couple of workshops and research meetings focusing on implementing PBL.

My AAU colleague, Professor Marianne Lykke, will go to Costa Rica in January to continue this work.

The second project is called “AVATAR: The use of Second Life as pedagogical approach”, and Máster Carmen Cordero, Máster Willy Castro & Máster Dinia Rojas are the local researchers in this project. My AAU colleague, Post Doc. Heilyn Camacho, who also is from Costa Rica, and I are working together in this project, and this is the context for the UNA-AAU course in SL that we currently are running. In the UNA-AAU course, we are also lucky to collaborate with Danish SL designer and educator, Inge Knudsen.


Kick-off session in the UNA-AAU course.

Before leaving for Costa Rica, Inge and I had tried to kick off the UNA-AAU course in SL, but we experienced quite a lot of technical problems and language challenges making it difficult to figure out exactly why things weren’t going as expected. Originally, Heilyn and I were supposed to go together to Costa Rica, but due to unforeseen administrative issues, I ended up going alone. Heilyn went a couple weeks later and experimented specifically with the Lego Serious Play concept to help the participants understand the course assignment better.


SL participants in UNA Virtual’s computer lab.

In relation to the UNA-AAU course, the participants and I spent two days in the lab mainly doing hands-on exercises, and we had a lot of fun. Introducing SL is always such a pleasure, and I really enjoy helping participants discover the many possibilities of this medium.

There are nine participants in the UNA-AAU course, and for the course I’ve asked them to work in three teams. In one of the in-world exercises, each team had to go to a representation of a specific country (Denmark, Costa Rica, and China (Inge is also a Sinologist)), explore, find facts and take pictures, and finally present their findings to the rest of us. Not only did this exercise demand the mastery of basic SL skills, it also highlighted the inter-cultural aspect of the course, and it seemed to work very well.

Setting up the three presentations in the sandbox.

On the second day, I gave a short talk about my research in SL, tried to elaborate on the pedagogical underpinnings of the course, and we continued exploring and trying out different SL features.

I was truly impressed by how fast the participants understood the more technical aspects of SL, but it was also very apparent that the majority of the participants did not understand English very well. Another challenge was the time that the participants are able to allocate for the course. In Costa Rica there seems to be little tradition in Academia for giving the faculty time to participate in Professional Development (PD), and because the salaries are low, many teachers actually hold two jobs to make ends meet. In the UNA-AAU course this means that the participants can only allocate 3-4 hours/week, and anyone who has been working with and in SL knows that it takes time to learn the basics and time passes quickly once you have logged in. Therefore I decided to cut the course literature (for many it would take more than 3-4 hours to read one English text), and focus on giving the participants some good and relevant experiences in SL.  I have designed the course based on some of the fundamental principles of PBL (problem orientation and formulation, student control, open-ended curriculum, and qualitative assessment), but given the above-mentioned challenges, I have found it necessary to play a more instructional role than I usually would do. By the end of the course, the participants still have to present an analysis of SL as teaching and learning environment in relation to a self-chosen target group, but I have asked them to use a particular model for their analyses to ensure that they cover some of the most important didactic/instructional elements. For the presentations, each team has its own sandbox in the air above the Danish Visions Island.


Sandboxes in the air.

In both research projects, UNA has asked us to collaborate in terms of teaching and research. Though the projects are different, they are both aiming at implementing new pedagogical strategies and technologies. Making the change to start using a PBL framework and SL as technology is a big change in itself, but based on my experience in Costa Rica, I would say that the biggest challenge has to do with culture.


Visiting the Poas Volcano.

Ready to embark a gondola ride into the rainforest.

All of the teachers I met in both projects were eager to change and to learn about new kinds of pedagogical practice, and I feel confident that they will. I do, however think that there are several challenges that need to be addressed. Certainly, my colleagues and I will do our best to support these Costa Rican teachers, but unless the management of the university recognizes that PD demands time (and credit), I fear that the changes they are all hoping for may take many years. A very interesting – and somewhat paradoxical – perspective on this, is the fact that education per se is highly prioritized in Costa Rica. There are more than 50 universities in this small country with only approx. 5 mio. people! Changing a pedagogical/academic culture is obviously not something that happens over night, but it does seem like the appropriate place to start, and at least the context is something that we (from the outside) need to consider very carefully when designing for change.

And yes I still do believe that education is what’s needed – perhaps just not only as in “teacher training”, but also on a more complex level and for all of us involved in this process. Thinking about this, cultural anthropologists, Bates & Plog (1990)’s definition of culture comes to mind:

[Culture] is a system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors, and artifacts that the members of a society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning.

/Mariis

Bates, D.G. and Plog, F. (1990:7): “Cultural Anthropology”. 3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Consequences of Walking the Walk

While we’re waiting for the top management of Google to clarify and elaborate on the surprising (1,2) and controversial statement from Google’s executive chairman, Mr. Schmidt, (paraphrased by Andy Carvin) on G+ primarily being an “identity service”, rather that a social network (3), I want to reflect a bit on what leaving G+ and FB has meant for me personally and professionally as an educator and researcher.

On August 2nd 2011, I chose to close my FB account. My leaving FB was greatly inspired by leaving G+  just a few days earlier. Even though FB and G+ are two very different services provided by two very different companies, there are also certain resemblances and my main arguments for leaving FB were similar to leaving G+. I left both services because I disagree on their ToS. Besides concerns regarding intellectual property, neither system allows its customers to use pseudonyms, but insists on enforcing a “real name” policy. I realize, that I’m a very privileged person, because I’m currently not in need of using a pseudonym, but I have chosen to do so in many online services (ironically not on FB and G+), and I understand and respect other people’s need and choice to use pseudonyms. In short, I chose to leave FB and G+ in protest and out of solidarity. And yes, I know that in some parts of the world, solidarity is a intimidating concept, but to me it is one of the most important human virtues and a cornerstone of Democracy (4). The decision to leave did not come easy, but I did so “eyes wide open” understanding there would be consequences.

In an excellent post on why she chose to leave G+, Gwyneth Llewelyn, a fellow SL-resident who uses a pseudonym, explains why some users of social networks feel more or less forced to participate (5) – in this case FB:

I just joined because, well, nobody who is serious about social networking and online communities can afford not to be on Facebook, even if they don’t use it much.

I can easily relate to that. I was an active user of FB for 3 years. However, unlike many others, I didn’t use it for private reasons, but mainly as a platform to connect with colleagues and students. Having been involved in online and distance education since 2003 on a professional level, connecting f2f is rarely an option, and social networks are simply more appealing than most educational LMSs. On a personal level, I don’t miss FB, and I guess I’ve come to realize that I’m just not that (kind of) social.  However, on a more professional level I’m most certainly missing out. I was recently invited to participate in a research workshop, and as part of this participants were encouraged to discuss workshop topics prior to the actual event – I guess to enable people to get acquainted and give the organizers a better idea of what participants would find valuable. Great idea, except it is intended to take place in a FB group. And this of course leads back to the quote from Gwyneth, given the popularity of FB (although I don’t buy the whole 750 mio. unique, real name user stat), it is not surprising that organizers of any events tend to think “everybody is there, so lets utilize that to reach as many as possible”. I would have made the same assumption not so long ago.

Fortunately, FB is only  a social network (as opposed to G+ – I’ll return to that shortly), and besides not having access to more or less relevant information, so far the most significant professional consequence has to do with 3rd party services that exclusively use FB-login for authentication. An example of this could be Kitely, a virtual world service where I had a presence as part of my research. I never really used it though, mainly because it didn’t make sense to me to use my “wallet” name in that context, and I never understood why a service clearly aimed at (SL) avatar-users would require this kind of authentication. Nonetheless, these example illustrate the kind of problems I most likely will experience more of in the future …


Source: Botgirl Questi (6)

Despite the fact that I only spent two weeks on G+, I did see a great potential in terms of social networking (also in an educational setting), and though I don’t miss it, I do feel left out, when connections refer to it. As earlier mentioned, I chose to leave, so yes, you could say that it is my “own fault” (as someone told me). Solidarity is difficult to explain to privileged people with no empathy, so I’m not even going to try. Instead, I’ll focus on a more practical and selfish reason to opt out. One of the things that really surprised me about Google by my time of leaving was the way it treated its customers, the “guilty, until proven innocent” approach, which really is quite the opposite of what we in the Western part of the world are used to (7). G+ users who were suspected of violating the ToS were simply suspended without warning. Later on, Google renounced on that practice and now gives a 4-day “grace period” (8). But here is the chilling part; when suspended and if banned you are at risk of loosing access to all of your Google services, yes all!


Source

In my work as a researcher and educator, I have been using quite a few of Google’s services; docs, picasa, reader, gmail to name a few. When I witnessed how Google enforced its policy, I decided that a network, where people can flag each other with no apparent proof (it is only up to the accused to prove him-/herself innocent), really wasn’t worth the risk – especially not a network, where a lot of the people I normally connect with, are excluded. Judging from conversations in the social media sphere, a great deal of people doesn’t understand the “fuss about names and Google in general”, and there are a lot of Schmidt’y comments such as “love it or leave it”. I wish it were just that simple. Bonnie Nadri has written an excellent post explaining “those who say “they don’t get it” … (Google, G+, etc)”what this really is all about (9).  It’s not only about names and whether or not you can participate in a given network – it’s about fundamental human rights, intellectual property, surveillance and much, much more. All things, that not only affect “people with strange names”, but all of us.

So how has not being on G+ affected me? Not so much on a personal level. The people I truly care about, I connect with elsewhere. However, from a professional point of view there are several consequences. I teach and research Information and Communication Technology used in various fields and subject areas. This fall, I’ll be teaching 5 different classes, both on- and off-campus. I had planned to use several of Google’s services in all of those, but now I’m looking for alternatives. I’m not going to ban Google’s services in my classes, it is not really my place to do so, but on the other hand I’m no longer going to endorse its products, and I will use this controversy to spark (!) discussion and reflection on some of the issues raised above. I’m quite sure it will be possible to teach without Google, but it is frustrating, because I actually liked its services a lot. Many of my colleagues use gdocs as preferred collaborative tool, so I’m not quite ready to leave all of Google – yet. G+ is still, as has been said many times by its defenders, a product in beta, and there will be changes, but I doubt that it will cave in on the name/privacy issue (10). Precisely because it still is in beta, and hereby limited by an invitation-only policy, we have yet to see the true impact it’ll have in the field of social media. The good thing that can come from this is that the debate (although still fairly limited to geeks and tech-savvy people) has the potential to raise awareness about some very important issues – and this is also why I’ve chosen to blog about it.

I talked the talk, but have yet to discover fully what it means to walk the walk …

/Mariis

Notes
(1) This expression of Google’s view on freedom of expression, privacy, and anonymity from 2007 is a good example of why so many users believed the “do no evil” motto and trusted Google with their information.
(2) On the other hand, if we had payed closer attention to Mr. Schmidt, such as in these  All Things Digital interviews just prior to the launch of G+, there is nothing surprising about Google’s actions.
(3) Botgirl located this interview with Mr. Smidth, where he confirms the part about G+ as “identity service”.
(4) In this video series Tony Benn discusses the origin of  “Democracy as one of the Big Ideas That Changed The World” – especially in part 5 Benn highlights the influence of the Internet.
(5) On a related note a newly released study from Pew Research Centre shows that 65% of adult Americans use social networking sites.
(6) Although I’m not shedding any tears over this (I have two kitties!), I really appreciate Botgirl’s satirical, clever, and creative inputs – her blog, flickr, vimeo, and aggregation of #nymwars stories.
(7) Lauren Weinstein wrote a very good and informative post on this back in July.
(8) This talk between Stilgherrian and Skud gives a good overview of the nymwar, the name issues, and Google. Stilgherrian has had his G+ supsended because his mononym (but legal name) doesn’t comply to the ToS, and Skud has also been suspended, and she’s a former Google employee.
(9) Nadri has covered the nymwar in several posts on her blog and offers good advice to those who may wish to leave Google’s services.
(10) Pete Cashmore offers a perspective on why Google  will never change its mind.
Uh, a final note to the reader who sent me a message complaining that my English isn’t perfect. I know. If you took the time to carefully read my profile, you’d know that I’m not a native speaker. I’m, however exercising my freedom of expression, and perhaps you should appreciate the fact that I’m trying to write in a language that you too understand – instead of being offended. #justthinkin’