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.

Thinking out-of-the-box … from inside the box!

Monday, January 17th, Inge Qunhua & Severin Nordenskiold from the second group in my current SL course, “milis” did their presentation and analysis of SL as teaching and learning environment. The theme for Inge & Severin’s presentation was various types of remediation, and we started off in a respectful remediation of a classroom on the Innovative Learning Island.


All seated in the classroom on Innovative Learning.

Here Inge and Severin asked us to reflect upon our experience with being located in such type of setting. The notions of avatar-friendly and innovative design were also discussed. After this we were asked to go outside and ride the school bus to the next location.


Severin was driving, and in mouse-look it felt like being on a roller coaster ;-)

Next stop was on the island Danish Visions,where we were asked to enter a flying tea-cup to transport us to the next location.


For unknown reasons – avatar-overload ;-)? – the tea-cup refused to fly!

Inge & Severin then sent us tp’s to the next location that turned out to be quite a surprise …


The MIL-group located somewhere in white space!?

Being immersed in what seemed to be infinite space was really a peculiar experience – the lack of orientation struck me as being both appealing and frightening. In this space Inge & Severin now asked us to co-create our own classroom. First off we had to build “chairs”, and Inge instructed us.



For some of the features in the building menu, Inge & Severin had prepared slides.

And so the “chairs” ended up being colorful building blocs with illuminating glow.


All seated in a NpIRL classroom.

Subsequently we were asked to turn our settings to “midnight”, Inge turned off additional light, rezzed a Mega-prim presenter, and then we were all set to listen to Severin & Inge’s presentation in what turned out to be a very intimate, powerful and truly radical remediation of a “classroom” setting.


Inge talking in the dark …


Severin talking …


Inge & Severin’s analysis of Genome Island.

For their analysis, Inge & Severin had chosen to look closer at the teaching and learning potential of the Genome Island, since Severin works as teaching associate professor in the field of Medical Biochemistry. Professor Mary Anne Clark of Texas Wesleyan University (Max Chatnoir in-world) created the island with a special focus on teaching genetics – the video below gives a short introduction to some of the possible activities available.

In preparation for their analysis, Inge & Severin had managed to get an interview with Max Chatnoir, and so were able to share some interesting insights gained from student feedback on the use of the island. Their presentation also focused on different pedagogical strategies underpinning different fields/subject matters, and Severin finished off by explaining the next steps where we were to go to the island to try out some of the activities. When their presentation ended Inge turned on the lights, removed the texture from the space, we had been located in, and much to our surprise, we had actually been inside a wooden box!


Our classroom setting turned out to be the inside of a wooden box


Exploring molecular structures …


and mating cats.

Back on Inge’s island we were introduced to some of her learning designs, and this was also where we had the feedback process. Inge & Severin had organized a packed program based on different examples of both respectful and radical remediation, and thus succeeded in bridging theory and practice very well. I found the fact that we had to build our classroom from inside a to be an especially clever detail, and they also succeeded in demonstrating that a playful approach to learning can be very efficient, something that truly resonates the nature of SL.

Uh, and big thanks to Max Chatnoir for taking the time to talk to the students :-)

/Mariis

Additional resources on Genome Island:

Dr. Mary Anne Clark on Genome Island in Educase Review

Dr. Bertalan Meskó’s interview with Max Chatnoir

Cooperative Learning in SL

Since December 5th 2010 I’ve been running a course in SL with 11 adult students from the Danish Master Program on ICT and Learning (MIL). The purpose of the course has been to introduce SL as teaching and learning medium based on a combination of literature studies and in-world activities. As part of the assessment criteria the students are expected to present a pedagogic analysis of SL. One student is working on her own, whereas the remaining 10 students have formed four groups; 1) Tree Crown, 2) milis, 3) MIL-Health, and 4) MILOVIOLA. The students have two hours in-world to do their presentations in designated sandboxes, and the analysis should meet the following criteria:

  • Address pedagogic design questions related to a target group of their own choice – all students are somehow working with teaching/training
  • Include a problem formulation – PBL is the pedagogic foundation of the course
  • Consist of a combination of theoretical issues transformed into practical activities in-world
  • Demonstrate knowledge of SL by using a min. of two locations during the presentations, and by using in-world objects
  • Demonstrate mastery of in-world features and objects by including an interactive element, where the presenting group teaches their fellow students something relevant to the analysis
  • Include time for peer-feedback and reflection on the experience (of presenting and teaching their peers in-world)

On Tuesday January 11th students Yaz Aldrin, Petter Gearbox, and Yann Soz from the “Tree Crown” group did their presentation.


Tree Crown Group: Petter Gearbox, Yann Soz & Yaz Aldrin

Teaching and learning in SL can be challenging due to technical issues, and throughout the course the students have been confronted with some of these issues – mainly related to voice- and lag problems. On this particular evening new technical issues arose. Approximately one hour before the group was supposed to start their presentation, I logged in-world to see if they were all set. The group had been allocated our regular sandbox on the Wonderful Denmark island, but as we were standing there talking about their presentation Linden Lab sent out a message stating that the region would be closed down within 5 min. due to maintenance. Luckily, we have access to several sandboxes in the course, and I decided we should go to one on the Innovative Learning island that VIA College kindly has lend us. Having never experienced this kind of technical problem before, the three students managed to stay calm, and set up their presentation screen in this new sandbox, and send out notice to the rest of the students that the start location had been changed. Despite the general confusion and due to the change of start location all students managed to find their way to this new location, but as the group started their presentation the sandbox got griefed which meant that our computer screens turned grey, froze, and eventually we were all logged out.


My screen turning grey and freezing …

Fortunately, one of the students in this class, Inge Qunhua, is an experienced land-owner, and Inge managed to get rid of the griefer and his objects so that we could all return, and the group could finally start their presentation entitled “Didactic Analysis of Cooperative Learning in Second Life”.


Finally ready to present in VIA College’s Sandbox

One of the students in the group, Petter works as a secondary school teacher, and has been experimenting with the concept of Cooperative Learning and Kagan Structures, which has been developed by Dr. Spence Kagan. Characteristic of this teaching and learning concept is its ability to promote pupil/student engagement through structured activities. Below is a short video-introduction:

Given Petter’s positive experience with this concept in real life classrooms, the Tree Crown group decided to investigate how this concept could be applied in a medium like SL.


The group’s problem formulated as a question of what will happen when Cooperative Learning is remediated into SL.

At the core of Cooperative Learning are so-called Kagan Structures that can be described as patterns of interaction between pupils/students, and after a short theoretical presentation of the foundation and principles behind these structures, the group had decided that we should try out one of the structures called Partners. To engage in this structure the group divided their fellow students into pairs, which then were divided in two groups, A and B. Both groups were given landmarks to separate locations and were asked to teleport off to explore these locations.

Group A was asked to visit the Chateau de Chenonceau, and engage in the different dances available there.

Group B, which I followed, was asked to go experience the effects of a tsunami on NOAA/ESRL, Virtual Island, Meteora.

.

After exploring these locations, we all returned to the sandbox. Here the students were asked to find their partners and go back to the locations to discuss their findings, and they were instructed how to use voice-calls in pairs. Back in the sandbox once again, the Tree Crown group elaborated on the applied Partner structure, their pedagogical considerations regarding the planning and organization of this activity, and finally asked their fellow students to reflect upon the experience.

Throughout their presentation Petter, Yann and Yaz skillfully transformed central theoretical points into SL activities and dialogue, and we all got the sense that Cooperative Learning could be applied in many ways in SL. Given the relatively short amount of time the students have spent in-world, I was quite impressed by the way they kept their calm despite the technical difficulties, the way they had organized their presentation, and how they managed to guide and instruct their fellow students.

/Mariis

Case MIL09: Student analysis of SL – part 4

Flower

The fourth and final synchronous analysis of SL in the MIL course was done by Flower and the theme for her presentation was that “we learn through experience”. Now, this is one of the rare occasions where the English language doesn’t fully cover the meaning of a Danish expression. In Danish we have two different words for “experience” – briefly explained one which deals with the more rational type of experience and the other which deals more with the emotional type – the latter – and the one Flower referred to – is perhaps best known in the Anglo-American sphere through the concept of “Experience economy”.  The two words are however not mutually exclusive and I’m afraid  the nuances are a bit more subtle than I’m able to explain … Anyway, the important point for Flower was that we learn through engaging experience and to illustrate this, she started out by taking us to Phantasy Acres, where we received Christmas gifts and went ice-skating.


Fitting objects can be tricky – and may change your appearance  radically .. especially if you’re a cat ;-)

It was highly interesting to observe how the majority of the students actually seemed to enjoy the ice-skating activity – especially since this kind of experience adds no value for me personally.  Activities like dancing, car-racing, paragliding, surfing and the like are quite popular in-world. Feel free to accuse me of being unimaginative, but animating the avatar never really appealed to me.  In my own defense, I think this has to do with the augmentation-immersion problem, and I think Flower nailed it, when she later in her presentation showed a photo of me and my co-facilitator, Mew as examples of an augmentationist vs. an immersionist.

Next stop was Pax Island, where Flower asked us to explore the beauty of the landscape and finish off by jumping into a waterfall before returning to the sandbox on The MIL Island. This experience also included Mew and one of the students trying out a kissing pose – something definitely NpIRL!

Back in the sandbox on the MIL Island it became quite obvious why Flower had put so much emphasis on “experience” as vehicle for learning. RL Flower is a speech therapist and works with clients/patients who have been diagnosed with ALS. My knowledge of ALS is very limited, but Flower explained that her clients slowly deteriorate,  the disease affects their motor skills, and some lose the ability to speak/communicate. Consequently all clients end up in wheel chairs and become more and more isolated from the world. Theoretically Flower is inspired by especially Peter Jarvis, who has (among other things) accentuated the relation between sensory input and learning. The optimal outcome for Flower, if she should chose to use SL, would be to provide her clients with different types of experiences of being “somewhere” literally NpIRL in a social setting also enabling her clients to communicate without oral language in real time.

Flower was one of the MIL students who really had a difficult time learning how to master SL and in the beginning of the course when I strongly encouraged all the students to do their analysis based on their work practice target groups, Flower was very skeptical. But much to my admiration she kept on coming in-world, fought to overcome the initial barriers and never gave up no matter the technical difficulties and personal frustrations and feelings of being incompetent. Her presentation was flawless, well founded theoretically and very sober with regard to the disadvantages of using SL, and as I told her I was really impressed and proud on her behalf. It is experiences like this that really highlights the joy and satisfaction of teaching!

Judging from Flower’s own reflections on the course the most important lessons that she learned came from her own experience as a “newbie” which in many ways placed her in the powerless and uncontrollable situation that her clients often must find themselves in.  And this is something I recognize from all of the four courses I’ve run in-world so far. Those students who are teachers RL benefit greatly from being newbies – from being learners …

/Mariis

Case MIL09: Student analysis of SL – part 3

PerSecond

The third student analysis of SL was conducted by PerSecond and he had asked us to meet him at our regular meeting place in front of the fireplace on MIL’s island, but was otherwise very secretive about his presentation. As we were waiting for the other students to turn up we small talked about our avatars’ clothes – a topic that seems quite popular for both gender in-world. While it doesn’t make much sense to discuss the in-world weather, I do think the interest in the avatar appearance stems from a deeper need to figure out and find your way with the new identity.

PerSecond was actually reluctant to change his appearance from the default look, when he first entered SL, because he didn’t want to put emphasis on that part, but as he learned that caring for your avatar’s appearance signals that you care for the world and are willing to make an effort to learn how to master the medium, he changed his mind. PerSecond told us that had recently received a t-shirt with his company logo, which enabled him to identify more with his otherwise estranged avatar, and as we shall see identity was part of the theme for PerSecond’s presentation. We then headed off to what turned out to be PerSecond’s own home on the Innovative Learning Island.  RL PerSecond works at VIA University College that offers a combination of vocational, higher and further education and they’ve had a presence in SL for quite some time, but it wasn’t until PerSecond entered the MIL course and thus was forced to spend time in-world that he became convinced of the teaching and learning potential of virtual worlds. For his presentation PerSecond had prepared an interesting set-up with a video screen on one wall and a slide presenter on another – a challenging set-up if you don’t master the camera:

Like Perlo & Francine, PerSecond also chose to use the Didactic Relation Model (showed above on the slide presenter) as basis for his presentation and analysis, but he also pointed to other relevant models and theoretical foundations and combined it with video clippings from a couple of other worlds most notably Blue Mars and Hipihi. PerSecond’s primary target group would be building construction students, and one of the main reasons as to why he has been hesitant with the use of SL, is the lack of possibility to integrate other 3D modeling apps in SL – something which Blue Mars offers e.g. through support of content creation tools like 3DSMax.


PerSecond showing another important tool: Revit

As part of the presentation we also went on a short tour to see part of the construction site that recently won the annual Danish e-learning award. It is one of the rare sites that also make use of relevant audio – as you enter the building you hear a lot of very loud background noise that would be normal at a construction site.


Be careful not to step on any of the dangerous cords on the floor!

Using SL for work place training is obviously what appealed to PerSecond and he also envisioned different types of role play to enhance the professional identity of the students.  There are already different outfits for the avatars to wear near the construction site, so that the students could enact different professional roles, but as another example of role playing PerSecond had prepared a little surprise for us in the shape of a second avatar, Per Memo. Per shifted between the two avatars and we were asked to comment on the presentation on IM with Memo.

PerSecond pointed to another interesting advantage of using SL as part of this training which had to do with time and flexibility. Here in Denmark it is unfortunately often difficult to find sufficient internships for our students in the vocational sector and SL could provide an excellent supplement and enable the “school part” of the education to be closer to RL practice – something which most students undoubtedly would appreciate. The ability to leave the setting and return at any time convenient for the students also would provide more flexibility.

Given the fact that PerSecond was reluctant to use SL just a few weeks ago, I was quite impressed by his presentation and not least his willingness to explore and try out the many affordances of the medium. Per will continue his work with SL as part of his Master Thesis in the spring where he may be looking into the possibility of using SL as platform for work they are doing at VIA with Chinese collaborators.

/Mariis