Using SL to facilitate a design process in group work

In 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, the students have to do presentations in-world, and this is the first post of five describing  their work.

Background
As part of the assessment criteria in the course, the students are asked to do an analysis of SL as teaching and learning environment, and instead of doing a traditional written report, the students have to present their analyses synchronously in SL as highlighted  in this slide:


The MIL11 assignment.

The analysis has to be based on both theory (general course literature combined with literature the students choose for their particular topic), and practice. For the latter part, the students have to explore, experiment, and use SL, and they can also draw on the experiences they get from the other course activities in SL. Since all educational programs at Aalborg University are founded on a PBL pedagogy, they students also have to identify and work with RL problems – the students typically choose to focus on problems they encounter in their work settings. In this MIL11 class, the students have been working in 5 teams, and on Wednesday, January 11th the first team A had to present their analysis.

Team A and their focus


Team A: RickDJ, Ingma, MrsJJ, Ilikespace & Merlin –  all dressed up in similar clothes to highlight the team affiliation.

Team A’s members come from very different professional backgrounds, three of them are working in formal teaching (from K-12 to college), one is working in the central economic section of the city of Copenhagen, and the final member works within a special section of the law enforcement. All of the team members work with development and implementation of ICT and learning at some level in their organizations, and this is also why the signed up for the MIL Program. For their analysis/presentation, team A decided to focus on one team member’s work place, an “e-Design” educational program, and based on this context they settled for the following question to guide their investigations:

Can SL be used to facilitate a design process in project work?

In their work, the team tried to rethink and redesign an existing course for 3rd semester students, and they looked specifically at how SL can be used as a supplement to f2f and other technologies. The Team A students were interested in analyzing the particular affordances of SL that could promote certain parts of a design process for students working in groups in a blended environment.

Team A’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 A’s sandbox.


December 17th; the team has begun rezzing and building all sorts of objects.

December 19th; the team’s presentation screen is set up for experimentation.

December 21st; One side of the team’s sandbox is filled up with objects creating a radical setting.

December 21st; Part of the interior design in the radical setting.

On December 22nd, I had an ad hoc meeting with some of team A’s members discussing the assignment and their design.

December 31st; the more respectful setting started to appear in the other side of the team’s sandbox.

One January 3rd, all teams were encouraged to present a status on their work, and get some feedback from me, my co-facilitator, Inge and their  fellow classmates –  and Team A chose to do so.


January 3rd; team A presenting some of their theoretical considerations for their upcoming presentation.

Team A’s presentation
Before  their presentation, Team A sent out instructions and an agenda in both SL and our regular 2D platform. The agenda looked like this:

  • 8:00 PM: Introduction in Team A’s sandbox
  • 8:30 PM: Inspiration trips
  • 8:45 PM: Group work in Team A’s sandbox
  • 9:10 PM: Presentation of the groups’ work
  • 9:20 PM: Theoretical input
  • 9:35 PM: Closing debate
  • 9:45 PM: Evaluation and feedback
During the introduction, we were given an overview of some of the theories and concepts the team has focused on, and we were given a brief insight into the pedagogical set-up, the students at the e-Design program etc. The team members explained how they saw a close relation between Problem Oriented Project Pedagogy and the design process in general, and they continued explaining how they wanted to illustrate this by giving us small tasks to solve as examples of a typical design process. We had to go to designated locations and take photos for later inspiration. Back in the team’s sandbox, we had to build “a work table for multiple persons”, and present it.
An overview of a typical design process with the research and idea generation phases highlighted.

The team felt that SL could be particularly useful in some of the more creative phases of a design process, and this was why we were asked to do tasks common to these phases. Because the students are not (due to time constraints) able to try out their hypothesis/ideas on their chosen target groups, it is common in theses presentations to ask the fellow students to act as the target group.


Among the theoretical concepts Team A chose to focus on, remediation and redesign of an existing pedagogical practice, were central – also in the way the team had designed their sandbox. The continuum between respectful and radical remediation permeated both design and activities, and in this way the team managed to visualize what otherwise may seem as quite abstract theoretical ideas.


As part of the research phase in a design process it is important to go out into the “real world” and gather information, and Team A had planned four different locations where each of the remaining teams had to go and take pictures for the following phase. The locations were two respectfully remediated places: Bartlett & Nielsen and Virtual Harlem, and two more radical places: Torley Island  and Mysterious Wave .


Team A’s Ingma acted as supervisor at Bartlett & Nielsen.

The time allocated for the inspirational trips was limited and I only managed to go to one of the four places, but judging from the following activities where the teams had to put their photos up for display, and based on this start working on designing a table, all the teams succeeded in completing the tasks despite time and technical (audio) challenges:


Back in Team A’s sandbox the other teams had to put their photos up for display.

Team C putting their photos on display.

Team D building a table.
… and team B building a table.

Team E presenting their flexible table, which clearly was inspired by their trip to Torleys.

After the presentation of the teams’ photos and tables, Team A continued talking about their theoretical considerations.


Team A discussing Childs, 2010 model on learners’ participation in virtual worlds.

The way Team A had planned their presentation was meant to showcase how SL potentially can be used in social constructivist learning, and even though the activities were limited due to time constraints, I think the team managed to do so. Evidently, in a short presentation like this, it is difficult to get the full experience, but by way of using the exemplary principle, it was my impression that Team A managed to make a very convincing case.


During the final part of Team A’s presentation concepts from Wenger’s 1998 social theory of learning were appropriately displayed on the floor.

In summary, I think all of the participants ended up having a very good joint learning experience, not least because Team A’s members beautifully demonstrated the value of genuine collaboration, and as one of the students from another team concluded afterwards it will be: “A hard act to follow … :)”

Next week teams B and C will be presenting – and I can hardly wait :-)

/Mariis

The Identity Maze – showcasing some PhD findings

Since December 5th, I’ve been running an in-world PD-class for students from The Master’s Program on ICT and Learning (MIL) at Aalborg University. It is my fifth course of this kind for the MIL Program, but this time around there are some significant changes. First of all, I have the great pleasure of running the course with my friend and kindred spirit, Inge Qunhua – a very talented Danish educator and in-world designer. Secondly, I will not be using this course for my PhD, but as a researcher I have of course set some research goals, and in this case I have been investigating the use of different classroom settings. As part of this, I have just finished a build I call  “The Identity Maze” that I will be using in a forthcoming in-world class.


The Identity Maze – as of December 31st, 2011

In my PhD-project, I have three analytical units; people, places, and practices, and the maze is based on some of the key findings regarding the people unit. In this sense, the maze is meant to showcase some findings consisting of impressions from the students that participated in my PhD-work from 2007-2010 combined with relevant theoretical input that I also refer to in my PhD.


The theoretical foundations of my PhD-work is showcased on the sides of the maze.

The people unit deals with the avatar phenomenon, with what it means to learn through a virtual 3D body, and how this affects the identity of the learners. In my PhD, I use a combination of theories ranging from learning theory (primarily Wenger, 1998), media theory (primarily Bolter & Grusin, 1999) and theories from the field of tele-presence (primarily Schroeder, 2010 and the MIT journal on Presence). In Wenger’s Social Theory on Learning, Identity plays an important role in the learning process – learning is basically an ongoing identity process, a process of becoming. Since the beginning of my PhD-work back in 2007, it has been evident that a medium such as SL challenges the learners’ identities in a manner I’ve never seen in more traditional 2D Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), and so it makes perfect sense to focus on Identity when learning in and about 3D Virtual Worlds.


Some important aspects of the 3D virtual body experience.

I’m definitely an amateur when it comes to building in SL, but I do build from time to time, and the process of visualizing/materializing your thoughts and ideas, is really what sets SL apart from other VLEs. It can be fun, engaging, frustrating (where’s the undo button!? ;-), and sometimes very rewarding. The pictures below show the process of building the maze.


lnge lets me have a small sky-sandbox that I use to experiment, and this was where I started building the maze.

I did create a paper-draft with measurements of the maze, but as usual when it comes to creative work, the work itself tends to rule on its own, and standing in the build, feeling it so to speak, forced me to reconsider parts of the maze. Once again, I was reminded that what works in theory, doesn’t necessarily work in practice!


When the foundation of the maze was done, I moved it to the common sandbox, we use for the course.


Determining where to put posters, pictures, and questions for reflection was very much a work based on intuition.

I decided to use a mixture of textures, most of which are transparent (blank, red, and white). Walking in a maze can be quite claustrophobic, so I decided to make all walls transparent. I also think the transparency gives you a nice feel of the surroundings and of other avatars. Because of transparent textures, the maze looks different from different angles/POVs – and I think that aligns well with the whole identity issue. Some of the transparent textures are deliberately white, indicating that there is more to be seen, and hopefully this will poke the curiosity of the visitor. Evidently, skilled SL-users can overlook the whole maze with their cameras, but still …

Anyways, being an amateur isn’t always easy; when I wanted to share the build with Inge, I somehow messed up the permissions, and now this original is copy only – no edit :-( So, Inge has kindly offered to rebuild the maze (based on my blank prims), and hopefully we’ll soon have a fully editable copy …


Inge’s rebuild next to the original.

So, what’s the point of all this? Well, I intend to use the maze in a class on Thursday, 5th of January. In this class the theme is Identity, and we will focus on the students’ impressions of being avatars, and what this means in relation to learning. On our regular classroom platform, I’ve set up a couple of slides that focus on some theoretical issues (based on the course literature). After this short introduction, we’ll walk-and-talk in the maze.

Back on the platform, I’ve created a 20-question-board. For now, when you click on the question marks, you’ll see a Joker, but on Thursday, 17 of the Jokers will be replaced with relevant questions (there are 17 students). If the student chooses what turns out to be one of the remaining three Jokers, the student can talk about anything in relation to the theme, otherwise there’ll be a tricky predefined question.

And so, on this final day of the year 2011, I leave you to pause and reflect on this quote by  Chuck Palahniuk:

“Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known.”

Happy New Year to all of those who have shaped me; especially my precious in-world friends who appreciate mixed realities and thus mixed identities – I cherish you all :-)

/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.

Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education 2011 panel

On March 17-19 the 4th annual Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education (#VWBPE11) will be taking place in SL and other Virtual Worlds such as OpenSim, World of Warcraft, Eve Online and Club Penguin.

The VWBPE is is a community-based conference that provides opportunities for participants in all virtual worlds to share current research,  teaching, and learning practices in 3D virtual environments. This 53 hour conference will provide opportunities for sharing and further understanding virtual world technology, and will focus on teaching/learning, scholarly work, projects, events, activities and new and innovative tools for virtual education. According to the VWBPE-website this year’s conference is about people, the community, and it’s about being together;

This year’s theme is You are Here. The divide between what is real and what is virtual is a state of mind. We learn everywhere and you are already here.

Here is all around you:

  • Here is where we find the great successes and even failures.
  • Here is where we expand our borders.
  • Here is where we touch what is important to those we teach.
  • Here is where we learn and live and play.

I have been attending the conference for a couple of years as an observer, which has been very inspirational, and I highly recommend anyone interested in 3D Virtual Worlds to participate in this amazing, free event! :-)

Furthermore, this year I have the great pleasure of doing a panel discussion together with 3 SL friends and colleagues: Chimera Cosmos, Spiral Theas, and Gann McGann.


First planning session on my holodeck with Gann & Chimera

Our session is entitled: Hats, HUDs, Wands and Weather:  Building Activities for Engagement in Second Life. One of the things we all appreciate about SL is the fun and playful parts of this environment, which could include changing the avatar’s appearance and using different types of artifacts – e.g. in our first meeting Chimera couldn’t help but show off one of her magic wands ;-)


And in fact after Gann and I left, Chimera used her tornado stick on the holodeck as seen in this photo from Chimera’s KoinUp stream:


Chimera’s koinup

While the user-controlled ability to change both the environment and one’s appearance definitely is an important part of SL, we as educators are also concerned about the kind of activities that can promote, facilitate, and not least sustain engagement in teaching and learning in an environment such as SL.


Gann, Spiral, Chimera and I discussing the call for VWBPE in our second meeting

We all have both positive and a few negative experiences with teaching in SL, and so in our panel we have decided to focus on activities that help overcome some of the barriers for meaningful, and sustained engagement in SL as stated in our proposal:

There are numerous barriers to engagement in virtual worlds. First, new residents must become familiar with the interface. Beyond technical considerations, the nature of their early experiences will determine whether and how quickly they will build an identification with their avatar and a reason to stay. Without this, it is likely that their interest in further engagement in the virtual world will lessen and their participation will drop off. A sense of presence and identity through embodiment and immersion is an important contributor to ongoing and satisfactory participation in the world and finding the motivation to continue to return until the technical and navigational thresholds are surmounted. This roundtable will discuss the essential acts, the “ah-ha” or Eureka moments, the triggering gizmos, features, activities or places that inspire students or colleagues (and have inspired us) to continue to participate.

In other words, what works to help new residents pass these technical and navigational thresholds? The speakers will share their own stories drawn from their work with students in higher education, business people, health professionals, and education colleagues. Presentations will include demonstrations and audience participation.


Spiral and I chatting under the Blue Thinking hat before our third panel meeting


Identity issues are very important in SL – and we will be showcasing Identity-cubes as part of the session

As mentioned above Gann, Spiral, Chimera, and I will be sharing some of our experiences, but we are also very much hoping to hear from the audience, and so we hope You will join us :-)

Update
We will be presenting Friday, March 18th from 8AM-10AM SLT (16-18 Dansk tid) – Building South, Room South Auxiliary, and the rest of the schedule can be found here

Also please note that even though the conference is free, you need to register in order to participate via this link. By registering you will be helping the organizers plan out resources to ensure the conference runs smoothly and that there is allocated enough space to ensure everyone gets an opportunity to participate.

/Mariis

For inspiration here are three posts I wrote about VWBPE last year:

First day impressions

Second day impressions – part 1

Second day impressions – part 2 – this one also includes my reflections on Chimera & Spiral’s 2010 session