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In-world kick-off session with technical challenges

Yesterday, my colleagues Inge Qunhua, Heilyn Abbot, and I were ready to kick-off the first in-world session in the UNA-AAU course. As part of the course, we have designed for two kick-off sessions in SL, before Heilyn and I go to Costa Rica and start the course with a 2-day f2f-workshop at the Universidad Nacional. As far as, we had understood it, our two Costa Rican colleagues, Ena & Wica did a f2f-session with the course participants last week where they created the SL-accounts and settled possible technical challenges. Therefore, the main purpose of the in-world kick-off session was to socialize (make friends, and join our group) and to familiarize the participants with the sandbox and the island where the majority of the course activities will take place. However, another important reason to have sessions before we go to Costa Rica, was to see how the participants would manage to get into/and navigate in SL from a technical point of view – how would the participants’ user experience turn out? In planning the course, we have been discussing the technical challenges that may occur, and we have been somewhat worried about this aspect – and sadly, we did experience many technical difficulties in yesterday’s session.

The first participant to turn up in the sandbox was our Costa Rican co-facilitator, Ena. However, as the picture below illustrates, Ena’s avatar did not rezz well, and in the text chat she managed to tell us that everything looked grey, and that she had no voice/audio.

Ena’s grey avatar in front of Heilyn, me, and Inge

Technical difficulties in SL can occur for a variety of reasons one of which can be incorrect settings (e.g. for audio and graphics), so Inge quickly decided to put up a board explaining how to set the audio settings properly.

Inge sets up a board explaining audio settings on the fly

However, as Ena also had problem with an unrezzed (grey) environment, she couldn’t see this properly, so Inge ended up calling her on Skype. Meanwhile, Heilyn and I were waiting for more participants to arrive, but we soon realized that most of them apparently experienced technical difficulties. Two more participants did show, and we all got into a Skype call, and even though advice on how to set audio and graphics correctly helped the participants a bit, we did not manage to settle all the technical difficulties, and finally decided to cut the session short.

Our 3 Costa Rican participants – all dressed in grey :D

Our next kick-off session is planned for next week, and before then we hope to settle the technical problems, but we have also started to discuss alternative plans; a) we use Skype instead of the built-in SL-voice (and hope the problems with graphics can be solved locally), b) we use an alternative viewer (for some users this does seem to help in terms of graphics). None of these solutions are perfect, and if the problems stem from insufficient bandwidth, I’m not sure how we will solve it.  This UNA-AAU course is envisioned as a pilot-project where the main goal is to investigate if it will be possible to run bilateral courses between Aalborg University and Universidad Nacional through SL and Moodle in the future, and so we are already gaining important information about some of the possible challenges. I’m confident that we will solve the problems somehow, but I also can’t wait to actually go to Costa Rica to experience the challenges first-hand – some problems can simply be to difficult to solve on a distance …


A CoP approach to facilitate university teacher PD in ICT and POPP

On December 17th, 2010 I had the great pleasure of attending my (now former as she’s back in Costa Rica) e-Learning Lab colleague, Mayela Coto’s PhD-defense. Mayela’s thesis is entitled “The case of UNAgora: A community of practice approach to facilitate university teacher professional development in ICT and project-oriented problem pedagogy”, and is now available for download here.

Mayela presenting her findings on Dec. 17th, 2010 at Aalborg University.

Here is an excerpt from the abstract:

  • The overall aim of this research is to enhance the understanding of to what extent a distributed community of practice approach affects the professional development of university teachers and whether this leads the teachers to promote a transformation in teaching practices mainly regarding the introduction of ICT and project-oriented problem pedagogy (POPP).
  • More specific research questions are concerned with what is the impact of belonging to the community of practice on teachers?; what kind of changes takes place in the teachers’ practice?; which factors support or hinder the professional development of teachers who are part of a distributed community of practice?; how does technology contribute (or not) to the formation of the community, and to the professional development process?; and what principles may be used to guide the design of a professional development model- based on communities of practice for fostering change of practice?
  • The main findings of the study were that the distributed community of practice approach appears to be a productive form of professional development under certain conditions. It provides an environment for learning and dialogue that can enrich and deepen teachers’ knowledge, as well as an understanding of important educational issues and change of values, beliefs and practices. Issues of access to technology, culture of online communication and collaboration, teachers’ workload and time have been identified as conditions that need to be carefully studied in order for the approach to be potentially effective.
  • The overall result of the approach to professional development proposed by this study, offers teachers a scope for learning, negotiation and identity formation within the community. The study also suggests that teachers who are closer to the center of the community are able to identify with, and develop a feeling of belonging to the community to a greater extent than the teachers with a peripheral role. However, it seems that both kinds of teachers are able to transform, to some extent, their teaching practices.

Mayela’s supervisor (who’s also my PhD-supervisor) was Professor, PhD Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld (Aalborg University), whereas the examining committee consisted of Maite Capra (Univercidad Nacional Costa Rica), Marianne Lykke (Aalborg University), and Etienne Wenger.

Similing faces after the very successful defense: Lykke, Wenger – Mayela Coto – Capra and Dirckinck-Holmfeld

It’s a pretty long thesis, but well worth the read :-)


Conference on IT and Innovative Learning Environments

Thursday/Friday his week I’ll be attending a conference/workshop on “It and innovative learning environments” at university level organized by the Danish Ministry of Science in Copenhagen.

I’m especially looking forward to hearing the two keynote speakers:

  • Phillip D. Long, Ph.D. Professor of Innovation and Educational Technology and Founding Director, Centre for Educational Innovation and Technology, University of Queensland, Australia.
  • Renate Fruchter, Ph.D. Founding Director of Project Based Learning Laboratory and Senior Research Engineer, Department of Civil Engineering, Stanford University, USA

I’ve never met Professor Long, but I’ve read a some of his publications concerning design of learning spaces (i.e. Trends in Learning Space Design), and I think he has some pretty interesting takes on educational design. He is scheduled to talk about Open Scholarship and Learning, which should be interesting too!

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Professor Fruchter a couple of times during my recent research stay in the Bay Area. She’s a very energetic and positive woman, and I think it’ll be fun to reconnect with her. During this research stay a bunch of my colleagues from 5 different Danish universities and I attended a 2-day workshop at Stanford exploring the future of e-learning, and since this conference is kind of a follow-up event I’m also looking forward to reconnecting with them and the organizers from Innovation Center Denmark in Silicon Valley.

I’m also interested in hearing the Danish Minister of Science, Charlotte Sahl-Madsen’s thoughts on innovative learning and the future of our universities … On Friday I’ll be attending different workshops, and here I’m especially looking forward to hearing what colleagues from the Danish School of Education, Tina Bering Keiding & Morten Misfeldt have to say on the alignment between learning and physical space – not least since this is a topic I normally don’t pay much attention to due to my explicit focus on virtual space/place in my PhD-project.

Dan Gilbert, Learner Designer Technologist, Learning Innovations Inc. will facilitate a workshop entitled Innovative Tools and Techniques to Enhance Creativity in Your Classes: Connecting Design Thinking with Teaching and Learning”, and this should be interesting too. I’ve previously attended a workshop by Dan and it was inspirational and great fun!

Finally, I’m really looking forward to seeing how conference participants will be using Twitter #itlearning. This will be my first Danish conference organized with the explicit goal of using Twitter and I have no idea how this will be received – but I am expecting a lot of fun :-)