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SL and Physics lessons – between Heaven and Hell!

Since December 5th, 2011 I’ve been running a PD class with students from the Master’s Program on ICT & Learning (MIL) at Aalborg University, and in order to pass the course, the students were asked to do in-world team presentations on the teaching and learning potential of SL. On Wednesday January 25th, Team E had to do their presentation, and this is the final post describing the students’ presentations. Background information on the course/the presentation task can be found in the post describing the first presentation, and here are links to the second, third, and fourth presentations.

Team E and their focus

Team E: Anina & Happytown

Team E’s members, Anina & Happytown are both K-12 teachers, and one of the challenges they have experienced in relation to teaching Physics in RL, is that the pupils often find it to be a boring subject matter, and so they wanted to investigate the possibility of using SL to design for fun and engaging activities, leading to the following investigation question:

How can physical activities be remediated in Second Life?

Well knowing that SL doesn’t allow for users below 16, Team E made a point out of explaining how their work should be seen as a pilot test for later exploration in a closed environment in Open Sim.

Team E’s sandbox
Just as the previous four teams, Team E also had a sandbox available from December 9th, 2011, and the pictures below reflect the progression in their work.

On December 17th, nothing much seemed to be happening in Team E’s sandbox.

A couple of days later on December 19th this shape – looking like The COI model – appeared.

Just a few days before the Midway presentation Team E’s sandbox still looked quite empty on January 1st, but we were in for a big surprise :-)

During their midway presentation on January 3rd, Team E showed us examples of how physics can be applied in SL.

… and Team E had designed animated sleighs, which their fellow classmates were invited to try out.

And then by January 11th, Team E’s building process had really taken off.

Team E also had a cute angel hovering above their sandbox on January 11th.

January 13th; more things started to happen in the air surrounding Team E’s sandbox.

On January 17th, I met briefly with Team E’s Anina to show her how to create a shared media screen.

On January, 21st it became very clear that something different was going on in Team E’s sandbox …

But exactly what, remained to be seen …

Team E’s presentation
Team E’s agenda looked like this: 

  • Remediation
  • Physics
  • Exercises
  • Reflections on our design – What have we been thinking?
  • Visit to Oddprofessor’s Museum and Science Center
  • A heavenly closure in the sky

Team E’s slide display on one of the clouds.

Team E made extensive use of the shared media feature throughout their presentation, and chose to show their slides on one of the clouds. The tricky issue with shared media is that each user sees the displayed media individually and so the start and stopping point of a video differs. However, Team E had sent out instruction prior to their presentation and after further elaboration in-world, everybody seemed to be on the same “slide”. The team explained how they had wanted to investigate Bolter & Grusin’s concept of remediation and use it to redesign some exercises from an existing instructional design from a Physics class.

The continuum of remediation.

As part of Team E’s design strategy, they had chosen to remediate the activities in the exercises in a respectful manner drawing on RL examples, and then remediate the setting in a more radical manner based on a Heaven-Hell analogy. By drawing on different aspects of the remediation continuum, Team E wanted to design authentic exercises that would stimulate their target group’s learning and engagement due to the more fun and interesting surroundings.

Graphic overview of some key elements in Physics.

After this brief introduction to their design ideas, Team E went on to explain about the exercises that the other teams had to do, and we were asked to follow the “highway” and enter Hell …

On the Highway to Hell … aka to the Physics exercises!

Each team had been assigned their own place in Hell …

With some help from my co-facilitator, Inge Team E had designed four sound-proof rooms, one for each team, that all contained three different exercises. For each exercise, different information was displayed as text or videos, and the teams had to complete at least one exercise, and write the results in shared documents.

Gravity exercise with a ball of lava to calculate mean acceleration.

Pendulums to calculate cycle time in Factor Physics.

Calculating friction of different materials.

Results from the exercises had to be written in the shared docs on the walls.

I didn’t manage to visit all teams, but all of them seemed to be fully engaged in the exercises, which was no surprise with the great designs and devilish teachers:


and Happytown – their mere appearance made me listen carefully too ;-)

After the exercises, it was time to resurface and go back to Heaven.

The Stairway to Heaven.

Back in the clouds, Happytown and Anina returned to their investigation question and elaborated on some of the theories (Wadley, The COI-model) they had used to support their work. Based on Nielsen’s work, Team E spoke of the necessity of the users’ ability to use their imaginative powers to feel immersed in an environment such as SL, and about the need to design for active knowledge construction via in-world artifacts.

The COI model on display.

For the mandatory tour outside the team’s own sandbox, Team E had chosen Oddprofessor’s Museum and Science Center, and we were asked to go there and explore the many fine examples of interactive objects and activities for further inspiration. The place has been created by Oddprofessor Snoodle who uses it to teach Physics/Chemistry for deaf students, and the place is filled with fun and engaging learning activties.

Exploring the many activities in front of the Free Fall Towers.

Learning through bowling :-)

My co-facilitator, Inge volunteered to stand in the line of fire from the canon!

Back in Team E’s sandbox, it was time for reflection and feedback.

Truly a beautiful setting for the final team presentation in the course.

Team E had wanted to show us, how SL can be used for teaching RL Physics, and I think they made a very convincing case. Their ambitious design impressed all of us, and it was a pleasure to witness such a good use of many of the features in SL. Anina & Happytown really have embraced SL, and their enthusiasm shone through their presentation, making many of us wonder what we could have learned, if only we had had the opportunity to learn Physics this way! In summary, Team E provided us with a very fine closure of this course on the educational use/potential of 3D Virtual Worlds :-)


SL as learning environment for Midwifery education

This is the fourth post of five describing the work of the students from the PD class, I’ve been running since December 5th, 2011 with students from the Master’s Program on ICT & Learning (MIL) at Aalborg University where the students have to do presentations in-world. Background information on the course/the presentation task can be found in this first post, and here’s the link to the second post, and the third post.  On Monday, January 23rd Team D had to present their analysis of SL as teaching and learning environment.

Team D and their focus

Team D; tomsteff, danamaia, mouritzen & Saxodane.

Just like the previous presenting teams, Team D’s members come from very different backgrounds working as College Teacher and IT-consultant, Midwife and Educational consultant, Assistant Engineer and AV-Lab consultant, and finally as Cooperate Psychologist and HR-consultant. danamaia was already familiar with some of the people behind the SLenz Virtual Birthing Unit-project, and the team decided to further investigate the use of SL as a supplement in Midwifery education leading to the following investigation question:

How can immersion facilitate Midwifery students’ learning of clinical skills and competences in a 3D-mediated learning environment?

Team D’s sandbox
To support the MIL students’ work in SL, each team was assigned a sandbox on December 9th (after they had learned the most basic SL skills), and the pictures below show the progression in team D’s sandbox:

December 17th; Team D has set up a shared media screen.

January 1st; Team D’s sandbox now only contains my building instructions …

However, a few days later on January 4th Team D’s building process has really taken off.

And a week later on January 11th, Team D’s sandbox is starting to get filled up with a nice addition of phantom walls based on transparent/green binary codes.

January 12th; Plywood here, plywood there – the basic building material of SL now seems to fill up Team D’s sandbox.

January 13th; The Matrix inspiration continues with the addition of a video-trailor for the movie.

On January, 20th part of the sandbox has been removed in the NW corner.

A closer look of the interior of Team D’s sandbox on January, 22nd.

Team D’s presentation

 Team D’s agenda and investigation question on display.

Team D’s agenda looked like this:

  • Intro
  • Historical perspective on 2D and 3D
  • The psychology of immersion
  • Learning in Plato’s cave
  • Didactic Design
  • Tour
  • Reflection/discussion
After we were welcomed in the team’s sandbox, Team C’s mouritzen gave us a brief overview their investigation question and of some influential games/systems in the field of 2D/3D VR/VE.

Posters with some of the influential games in game history,

and Cisco’s TelePresence system .

We were then asked to move up-stairs where Team D’s Saxodane literally walked us through Wirth et al.’s model of Spatial Presence that focusses on the construction of a mental “spatial situation model” as a prerequisite for a satisfactory user-experience in new media and VR-technology.

Team D’s representation of Wirth et al.’s Spatial Presence model.

By the end of Saxodane’s talk we were asked to take a step forward, the floor disappeared, and voila!:

… we were now prisoners in Team D’s Matrix/Plato-inspired cave!

In the cave, Team D’s tomsteff, made a very interesting comparison of Plato’s cave allegory, SL, and Beaudrillard’s thoughts on Simulacra and Simulation.

Plato’s cave allegory displayed on the walls in the cave – meta-meta?

Evidently, ontological questions on reality/virtuality/hyperreality come to mind when entering an environment such as SL, and tomsteff challenged us to consider what impact such issues would have in relation to learning.

Presence and learning – what’s the relationship?

Based on Qvortrup, tomsteff reflected on different kinds of knowledge forms in SL.

Next up was Team D’s own Midwife, danamaia, who gave us a nice introduction to the Midwifery-project in order to set the scene before visiting the place. The project has been well documented, and it was very interesting to hear about some of the research results, and not least how participating students had reacted to the project.

Team D’s danamaia explaining the didactic design behind The Birth Place (displayed on the walls) based on Riis’ model on the floor.

MIL11 students gathering in front of  Te Wāhi Whānau/ The Birth Place .

We were asked to take a tour and explore the premisses. The place is highly informative with many clickable objects leading to the extensive wiki and other materials.

Up-stairs danamaia explained the role-play that two students had to try based on materials from the purple pyramid.

Anina volunteered to become pregnant-in-a-click.

Even an avatar-pregnancy can be exhausting!

Anina gave the tub a try, but no luck in delivering the baby there …

With the help of “midwife”, JaneOlga Anina finally gave birth to a boy :-)

Big congrats from the cheering crowd …

Due to time constraints, we were not able to explore the role-plaing possibilities in full detail, but we did get a good impression of the potentials. After the successful birth of a new Netizen, we all went back to Team D’s sandbox, where Saxodane wrapped-up their presentation.

Saxodane presenting Team D’s final comments on SL as learning environment.

Team D has has had a strong focus on games throughout the course, and as I told them, I don’t think comparing and judging SL too much based on gaming theory/practice is appropriate. In my experience, the absence of a gameplay makes SL a very different VE – especially in terms of teaching and learning potential. Nonetheless, there were many fine elements in the team’s presentation and in their design, and once again, I think we all ended up having a very good and fun joint learning experience.

MIL students celebrating Team D’s presentation with some wine,

… and some dancing :-)


The Purpose of Education, Human Rights, and New Media

Recently, a really interesting initiative about the purpose of education was launched by UK educators Doug Belshaw and Andy Stewart in the social media sphere. Their plan is to facilitate a critical mass of people all talking about the purpose(s) of education, starting with 500-word blog posts and Twitter campaigns, and culminating, with simultaneous large meetings/conferences further down the line. As I understand it, this initiative has been inspired by a UK election decisive for education set to take place in 3 year’s time, but Belshaw and Stewart are aiming for an international debate, and have set an ambitious goal:

From the website: Purpos/ed

The blog initiative was kick-started on February 1st on the Purpos/ed website, and so far a number of bloggers have contributed in raising their voices and joining the debate. Some of these contributions can be found in the archive, while others may be located by following the hashtags #purposed, and #500words. Furthermore is is possible to connect through a Facebook page. If you have an interest in education this is definitely an initiative worth following.

As for my own take on the purpose of education, I’ve always been inspired by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in particular article §26, (1,2);

Everyone has the right to education. (…) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Education may be a human right, but for many different reasons becoming educated within the existing educational system is sadly not a given. Stephen Downes highlights this in his contribution with reference to his own educational path, and Lou McGill points to the challenges for kids with special needs. Unsurprisingly, many of the purpos/ed contributions echo thoughts similar to those in the declaration, the tricky part is of course how to promote, facilitate, and obtain these goals. Several authors point to new media as a means to broaden the scope of education and to tear down walls whiter these are mental, physical, or virtual. Dean Groom advocates the idea that education should extend beyond the idea of schools/institutions as being the sole places for education, whereas Fred Garnett calls for education aimed at participation.

Shifting perspective to my own current research within the 3D virtual world, Second Life (SL), I see a huge potential in using this particular kind of edtech to tear down several “walls”. Ever since I first logged into SL back in the spring of 2007 one of the aspects I’ve come to appreciate most about this virtual world is the participatory affordances enabling both me and my PD-students to connect, communicate, and collaborate with people in general, and educators in particular from all over the physical world. We have been given the opportunity to meet, and discuss cross-cultural differences in education, and to interact with a variety of educational designs – all of this contributing to new perspectives on education, teaching, and learning. Informal encounters and spontaneous activities are other very positive aspects of SL, and as it is the case in many other new media, the users of SL quickly respond to current affairs – something that recently could be witnessed during the Egypt crisis. Having heard of activities on the Egyptian island I went in to have a look on Friday February 11th shortly before it was announced that Pres. Mubarak would step down.

Protesters on the Egyptian Island, Friday February 11th 2011

Hamlet Au of the New World Notes blog and Rik Riel of the “Betterverse: Nonprofits in the Virtual World” blog have covered several of these activities on the Egyptian island, and Chantal Harvey has captured some of the ambience after Pres. Mubarak’s resignation in this short machinima:

Virtual worlds have previously been used in protesting, expressing thoughts and hopes of freedom, and in general just to direct attention towards different causes as reported in Mashable by Rita J. King co-director of the Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds project. What’s interesting here is the role not only Virtual Worlds, but new media in general play in distributing and sharing knowledge, something that also Pres. Obama noted in his remark on Egypt ; “a new generation emerge – a generation that uses their own creativity and talent and technology to call for a government that represented their hopes and not their fears; a government that is responsive to their boundless aspirations.

In a very interesting article on the correlation between social media and political changes, Charlie Beckett asks how this new media landscape could/should change the way journalists “report on revolution and feed into the post-revolutionary politics and general political communications”. As an educator I could ask similar questions about new media’s influence. I’m currently experiencing the way new media change the way we think and practice education, and I must say that I’m overall optimistic. New media bring along affordances of participation, collaboration, and ultimately of empowerment. Most importantly new media force us to rethink, reframe, and reform – and this current Purpos/ed initiative is one of many interesting ways to get involved …