Grokking Virtual Worlds

On Edudemic‘s site I read about a new tool called instaGrok – a search engine targeted at education – that I decided to try out.

About instaGrok


Start “grokking”

You can start “grokking” immediately, but to be able to use the features properly, you need to log in, and so I decided to log in and do a search on Virtual Worlds;

Search for Virtual Worlds

  1. You can adjust the level of difficulty/detail via the slider
  2. The users’ search history is saved
  3. Search results are shown as Key Facts, Websites, Videos, Images, Quizzes, and Concepts. Key Facts and Quizzes enable clicks on “more” information leading to original sources. Results can be pinned and will show on the graph, in the journal, and under the visited tab.
  4. There are 3 displays to choose from
  5. You can share by e-mail or Twitter (currently there seems to be a bug though; my tweet showed a dead link). Sharing is apparently limited to the original query – not the one you’ve pinned?
Click on the nodes to increase the search
Journal display
Edudemic highlights the quizzes, but I have to admit that I’m not a fan of quizzes – not here, not in general. The questions generated from the search seem to result in some rather strange questions that test the user’s grammatical skills, rather that his/her general knowledge of the topic;

Examples of quizzes

Apart from the quiz section, I think it’s a rather nice tool. I like the fact that you can visualize your queries and the journal feature could also be very useful. Edudemic predicts that Google will buy instaGrok, and that seems very plausible. I think the tool has the potential to evolve into something very useful. Some of the improvements I’d like to see would be:

  • View History without having to do a search first – make available the History tab once the user logs in
  • A “save” tab – it saves instantly, but for the UX I think a tab would seem reassuring (he, but that could be just me ;-)
  • Ability to download the different displays
  • Ability to share pinned queries
  • Ability to co-create
  • More image examples
  • Some sort of ” summarized result” for the quizzes to increase the gamification element
  • Improved search results – i.e. the first pin/example under Key Facts in my search is a wikipedia article on Virtual world language learning …

Anyways, I think instaGrok is a tool to keep an eye on :-) Follow here on twitter.

/Mariis

Student perceptions of Presence in a Virtual World

Together with Ross McKerlich, Terry Anderson, and Bard Eastmann I have a paper out in the Journal of Online Learning and Technology (JOLT). The paper is entitled Student Perceptions of Teaching Presence, Social Presence and Cognitive Presence in a Virtual World, and is based on research collaboration we started back in 2009. Back in January 2099, I participated in a Master Class on Learning 2.0 and Knowledge Media at Aarhus University, where Terry Anderson (Athabasca University) was one of the guest lecturers. When Terry learned about my research in SL, he invited me to participate in a research project that was aimed at investigating the use of the Community of Inquiry (COI) model in 3D environments.

The COI model was developed in the late 1990’s as framework for evaluating educational experience in text-based online environments by D. Randy Garrison, Terry Anderson, and Walther Archer. Given the COI model’s wide spread use in different educational settings it is by no means coincidental that one of the original founders, Terry, has found it important to explore the applicability of the model in new online environments such as the 3D virtual world, SL. Together with Ross McKerlich, Terry conducted a preliminary, qualitative exploratory study in SL in 2007, and basically confirmed that the model also can be used in assessing educational experience in 3D virtual environments (McKerlich & Anderson. 2007).

As part of our collaboration, Terry & Ross, participated in one of my in-world classes with the MIL09 students – something both the students and I appreciated very much.


Terry explaining about the COI-model in the MIL09 class


Discussing different COI concepts in the MIL09 class

Anyways, after such a long time, it is great to finally see our paper published, and I want to thank Ross, Terry, and Brad for the collaboration – it was a very good experience :-)

Here’s the abstract of our paper:

Presence – or having a sense of active participation – in distance education has increased with the expanding use of and affordances of communications technologies. Virtual worlds have been on the forefront of popular and education technology in the last three years and innovative methods of teaching and learning are emerging in these contexts.  Using the recently validated community of inquiry (COI) instrument, this study focuses on students’ perceptions of teaching, social and cognitive presence in virtual world contexts. The authors examine whether the COI Instrument can effectively be applied to virtual world learning events. The results are exciting: in a diverse sample, virtual world learners perceive teaching presence, social presence and cognitive presence.

/Mariis

High student satisfaction in SL

On June 16th, 22 students graduated from the Master’s Program on ICT & Learning (MIL) at Aalborg University, and this is where I’ve been running courses on SL for my PhD-project since 2007. As always, graduation day was an exciting day combining student anxiety and great relief and joy. After all the exams, there was a reception where the Masters received their diplomas, the daily manager of MIL, Ulla Konnerup and the Dean of Humanities, Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld spoke about the students’ achievements and their new roles as “ambassadors of ICT & Learning”. Finally, we finished off the day with a wonderful dinner/dance at the Utzon Center, downtown Aalborg.


22 very happy Masters of ICT & Learning 2011.

As something new, the steering committee behind the MIL Program had decided to award the Program’s “Teacher of the Year”. All courses/modules are anonymously evaluated by the students, and based on these evaluations; I was fortunate to receive this award :-)


1 happy Teacher of the Year 2011 and 1 happy Dean (right).

Ironically, I’ve not (yet) seen these particular students evaluations, however, based on the evaluations the students and I did as part of the SL course, I do have a few ideas as to why the students find teaching and learning in SL so satisfying. To understand this a little background information is necessary. In my PhD-project, I’ve conducted 4 research cycles, spanning from 2007-2010. Each cycle consisted of designing, implementing, and evaluating a 6-8 week online course on ICT and instructional design based in SL and a conventional 2D VLE. From a theoretical point of view, I’ve been inspired especially by Wenger’s (1998) social theory on learning as participation in Communities of Practice (CoP), Schroeder’s (2011) ideas on presence and co-presence, and Bolter & Grusin’s (1999) concept of remediation. From a methodological point of view, I’ve been inspired by Insider Action Research (Coghlan, 2007), and ethnographical methods such as longitude participant-observation (Boellstorff, 2008). 53 adult MIL-students (majority are educators) in total have participated in my study. The table below provides a brief overview of the research cycles.


PhD-overview – July 2011.

Based on my data, I’ve been able to identify 3 analytical units that will inform the answering of my research question; namely what it means to learn via 1) a new, virtual environment, via 2) a new, virtual body, and finally via 3) new, virtual activities. The picture below shows the 3 units and the related topics that emerged in all four research cycles.


3 analytical units; virtual environment, virtual body, and virtual activities.

In this short post, I will not go into details with the units, but my findings show that being remediated as avatars in a new, virtual environment where it is possible to participate in a variety of new virtual activities greatly influenced the students’ perceptions of presence and co-presence, and from a Distance Education perspective this is one of the most valuable contributions SL has to offer. Conveying a sense of “being there together” as Schroeder puts it, is essential in Distance Education, not only in terms of student satisfaction, but also in terms of learning outcome. Further, SL also provides the participants with unique opportunities of “doing things together”, and as such it is possible to attribute some of the students’ satisfaction to SL’s affordances. I would, however, like to stress that relevant affordances do not necessarily guaranty satisfaction, and though this holds true for all technology, especially in a complex system like SL, the instructional design becomes pertinent. Basically, my PhD-work has been about designing for optimal learning via SL, and in this respect, I’ve found great inspiration in Wenger’s four dimensions of learning;

  • Learning as a process of experiencing – outcome: changed meaning
  • Learning as a process of becoming – outcome: changed identity
  • Learning as a process of belonging – outcome: changed community
  • Learning as a process of doing – outcome: changed practice
Even though, I’ve not designed exclusively for the creation of a community of practice in SL, e.g. by solely using Wenger’s proposed design principles*, the ideas of the theory are part of my, and the MIL Program’s general pedagogical foundation, and I do believe that SL is a medium that offers very good opportunities for creation of communities of practice, both in educational and other settings. Looking at my data, I’ve found a distinct connection between elements from CoP-theory and presence/co-presence as shown in the figure below.


Connected elements of presence and CoP-theory in 3D-remediated learning.

In short, the figure shows how the sense of presence facilitates the creation of meaning and identity, while the sense of co-presence facilitates the creation of community and practice. In practice, the elements overlap, and it is in fact the oscillation between the elements, which constitutes the dynamics of SL as teaching and learning environment as seen from a CoP-perspective. Based on the findings from my study, I believe that the combination of a social pedagogical strategy and the use of a medium that affords a strong sense of presence/co-presence and which is rich in terms of co-creative possibilities, actually can promote student satisfaction. Evidently, this is a very brief description of my work … more details will follow in my forthcoming dissertation that is due in September.

/Mariis

*) For an excellent example of integrating Wenger’s principles and ideas in design for teacher development in an online community, please have a look at my (now former) colleague Dr. Mayela Coto’s PhD-work.

Different aspects of Being There Together

On February 1oth Dr. Ralph Schroeder of The Oxford Internet Institute will be giving a talk entitled ” Being There Together: Social Interaction in Virtual Environments” on the CAVE island at 9AM SLT.

The talk is organized by the Applied Research in Virtual Environments for Learning Special Interest Group (ARVEL SIG) as part of their ongoing in-world discussions.

This talk will be of particular interest to me given that different ways of being there together are some of the core concerns in my PhD, and the first book I read in relation to my PhD research was in fact “The Social Life of Avatars” (2002) edited by Dr. Schroeder. Since then I’ve been following Dr. Schroeder’s work, and especially some of the articles he has published in The MIT Journal, “Presence – Teleoperators and Virtual Environments“. In my opinion the different ways of being there together are closely connected to different perspectives of the perception of presence that humans potentially get when interacting with computers (the HCI perspective), and in this regard I think it is possible (at least in an analytical sense) to distinguish between

  • a sense of being – related to self-presence
  • a sense of there – related to tele-/or virtual presence
  • a sense of togetherness – related to co-presence

In so far as you define a “virtual environment” to include the affordance of creation, I would add a sense of doing, which then in turn also could relate to doing together (co-creation), and then could relate to social presence. However, these are my preliminary thoughts, and it is important to stress that there is no consensus in the literature as to neither definition nor use of the terms of presence. When I’m done with the final analysis of my data, I’m hoping to be more articulate on this matter. An interesting challenge here is also that I’m hoping to connect Wenger’s (1998) 4 components of learning (practice, community, identity, and meaning) to the different aspects of presence, and this will be tested in my analysis. Regardless of this outcome, I find it important to emphasize that when dealing with virtual environments such as 3D virtual worlds doing together becomes just as – if not more – important as being together. And I have a strong feeling (not very academic yet, I know ;-) that becoming together may be even more important … anyways, these are some of the issues I’m currently struggling with in my PhD-work.

As I understand it, Dr. Schroeder will focus on results from his latest 2011 book (with the same title as the talk) “Being There Together. Social Interaction in Shared Virtual Environments“, which I haven’t read yet. Nonetheless, Dr. Schroeder’s slides for the talk have already been put up for viewing on the island, and judging from these, the talk will include some of the ideas Schroeder expressed in a 2007 paper entitled “Virtual Environments and Other Media for Being There Together: Towards a Convergence of Technologies, Uses, and Research Agendas.” In this paper Schroeder compares “virtual environments” (VEs) with three other technologies: 1) videoconferencing, 2) online spaces for socializing and gaming, and 3) online awareness and social networking technologies. One of the things that puzzle me about this is the way Schroeder defines “virtual environments”:

VEs are defined as providing the sensory experience of being in a place other than the you are physically in, and being able to interact with that place [1, 2] A shorthand is to say that these are technologies for ‘being there’, and multi-user VEs for ‘being there together’ [3]. (Schroeder. 2007: 1 – see original for references)

And in the video below Dr. Schroeder repeats at least the first part of this definition of VEs :

It is in fact not so much the definition that puzzles me, but rather the way Dr. Schroeder uses it to differentiate between VEs and other media. In the 2007 paper Schroeder summarizes his comparison of the four technologies in this table below:


Figure 1 from Schroeder. 2007:5

When looking at this table actually a couple of things puzzle me. First of all, I’m wondering what kinds of technologies Schroeder would label as VEs? In the above mentioned 2002 book Schroeder links VR and VE tech closely, and that could perhaps explain the “face with limited expressiveness, and body” in the Appearance cell, but I’m honestly not sure … Secondly, when I look through my SL-avatar-based glasses, I guess a medium like SL would best fit in the column of “Online spaces for gaming and socializing”, but again I’m not sure. However, if this is where Schroeder would place SL it brings forward new questions/comments. As a general comment I would say that SL fits the definition of a VE in that it also gives the user the experience of being in another place, being able to interact in this place, and of being there with others. Schroeder does in fact point to an increasing overlap between different technologies, and so I wondering why he doesn’t reserve VE as an overarching concept or definition. In more specific terms related to SL I would comment on some of the claims in the column;

  • ad. Realism: judging from the rest of the paper I think Schroeder mainly refers to fidelity here, which would explain the “low” claim. However, whiter or not something is perceived “real” in psychosocial terms remains highly controversial.
  • ad. Object and environment interaction: here I’m simply not sure what Schroeder means by “restricted field view” – at least not if it refers to the user’s control over different POVs?
  • ad. Communication and interaction: while it is true that much communication in SL is synchronous (text/voice chat), the asynchronous aspect should not be neglected, and this is something that has improved with the Shared Media feature that enables users to communicate in web-based systems outside SL from inside SL, and this of course does not have to real-time.

I’m fully aware that a general comparison can’t and shouldn’t capture more system specific nuances, and Schroeder recognizes that this comparison may “be drawn too sharply – in reality many of them overlap” (2007:2). Even so, I’m really looking forward to meeting Dr. Schroeder in-world later this week, and I’m hoping that I get the chance to ask him to elaborate on some of these issues – and meanwhile I’m impatiently waiting for his new book to arrive :-)

/Mariis

Reference

Schroeder, R. (2007) Virtual Environments and Other Media for Being There Together: Towards a Convergence of Technologies, Uses, and Research Agendas. Proceedings of Presence 2007, Barcelona, Spain, October 2007.

#vwbpe 2010 – 1st day impressions

On March 12th and 13th I participated in the 3rd Annual Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education conference – a 48 hrs. around the clock/world event mainly taking place in Second Life (SL).

The goal of the conference was “to bring together educators, researchers, academics, and business professionals from around the world with a focus on 3D virtual collaborative environments and how they can best be used to support education” and according to the official website there were 170+ presentations/sessions.

Despite some technical difficulties and the fact that I only participated in 13 sessions, I was overwhelmed, learned a lot and met new interesting people. So in this first post, I want to start out be sending a BIG thank you to the organizers; Zana Kohime, Phelan Corrimal & Marty Snowpaw and their truly amazing crew! :-)

The first session I attended was a presentation by Briarmelle Quintessa; “Building the foundation for Second Life learning in New Zealand”.

Briarmelle spoke about a pilot project on Foundation Learning conducted as part of the Second Life in New Zealand (SLENZ) project where the main goal was to show “the educational strengths or otherwise” of using a virtual world as means for students to practice interview skills, and according to Briarmelle students who used SL as compared to those who didn’t ended up with better assessments as shown in the slide below.

In designing their in-world environment, Briarmelle and her colleagues had been inspired by John Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivational Design, which addresses attention, relevance, confidence and satisfaction. Log-in to Koru Island and explore this and many other designs for teaching and learning.

UPDATE: on March 16th the SLENZ Project’s Lead Developer Isa Goodman announced that a free copy of the Foundation Build is now available on the neighbouring Kowhai Island under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license, and a new SLENZ blog has been created for discussions on technical issues and further developments.

Next up was Logos Sohl who spoke about “Enablers and inhibitors of innovation and creativity in virtual world educational projects”.

Logos had made some interesting observations on enablers and inhibitors, and I’m hoping she’ll put her presentation in the vwbpe-slideshare. At a certain point, Logos asked us to state our geo positions and this really manifested the international nature of SL:

A one minute tour around the world:
[4:57] Hotaling: New Zealand, here. [4:57] Kayo: Oklahoma [4:57] Wozniak: Orlando, FL [4:57] Mills: Denmark [4:57]  Flatley: Newfoundland, Canada [4:57]  Jenvieve: UK, England [4:57]  Darbyshire shouts: NY [4:57] Congrejo: lol Euro [4:57]  Neximus: Germany [4:57]  Lowtide: UK atm [4:57]  Halostar: Germany [4:57] Baroque: Syracuse, NY [4:57]  Congrejo: Texas [4:57]  Jameson: i am in usa, i live in germany [4:57]  Alchemi: Leicester, UK [4:57]  Blogger: Belgium [4:57]  Camel: UK (devon) [4:57]  Bookmite: Georgia, the state [4:57]  Tigerfish: Indiana [4:57]   Hubbenfluff: Pennsylvania [4:57]  Frequency: i’m from singapore [4:57]  Lexenstar: West Virginia, USA [4:57]  Inventor: Czech rep., Europe :) [4:58] Bramlington: Sweden.

After a break, I returned in-world to my 3rd session, which was on “Networked Connectivism, Distributed cognition and PLNS”.

In this session hosted by Michigan Paule, Labatt Pawpaw (one of the founders of Connectivism) gave his thoughts on connectivism, learning and the pedagogical foundations that the technology provides.. Before the session started slides showed nicely on my screen, but during the session my computer started acting up and I ended up logging out due to lag. Labatt later posted an audio of his talk.

As I logged back in it was time for the official opening remarks of M Linden. Sadly my troubles continued and this is how M looked on my screen during the whole talk … um, not really becoming for a CEO ;-)

For those interested it is possible to hear (and see!) M’s talk here on BusinessTreetTV, where other sessions also will be archived.

I finished this first conference day by participating in Claudia Linden’s session on “Educational trends in Second Life”.

Again, I found the outlook to be somewhat grey, but it was nonetheless an interesting session, where Claudia asked us to share “aha-moments in SL”. There were many great, fun, thoughtful examples such as;

  • [13:13] Underwood: When my superintendent starting flying during our orientation,
  • [13:15]  Clawtooth: My “Ah ha” moment in SL was visiting Sistine Chapel and realizing when I saw the Sistine Chapel on TV that I had the same feeling as if I had actually been there in real life from my SL “visit.”,
  • [13:16] Bookmite: My student emailed “I hate second life.” Two months later she spent her summer exploring and learning how to build,

and not least [13:20] Tuque, who so eloquently summed up my first day impressions and the main reason why I enjoy SL so much: I guess that is MY Aha moment – when I realized I could meet, learn from, and work with colleagues from ALL over the world.

/Mariis