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SL, History lessons in High School – and huge technical problems!

This is the third 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. On Thursday, January 19th Team C had to present their analysis of SL as teaching and learning environment.

Unfortunately, this session was shattered by technical problems; approx. half of the participants, incl. members from the presenting team and I, had huge lag and/or audio problems. Hence, this post is based on whatever I could pic up via the text-chat, my co-facilitator’s feedback, and the materials Team C had prepared for the session.

Team C and their focus

Team C: JoeChipmunk, sjostakovitch, laserquik, and Sinafish – all dressed up for the presentation.

All of Team C’s members are working with teaching at some level in their organizations, although they have different work backgrounds as Teacher and Educational consultant, Special Ed Teacher, High School Teacher, and finally as a Pacemaker Technician/Nursing Specialist and educator. For their presentation, Team C had agreed to focus on how SL could be used in teaching History:

How can History lessons at High School level be facilitated and remediated through a virtual 3D-medium such as Second Life?

Team C’s target group was junior-high students (thus assuring they’d all meet the legal SL user age limit) with some SL experience and a fair amount of History knowledge.

Team C’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 C’s sandbox:

December 17th; Team C quickly felt at home in their sandbox.

December 25th; Team C experimenting with different designs.

December 28th; Team C’s design inspired by what looks like ancient Greek history.

December 28th also showcased Team C’s investigation question on the use of SL to teach History at High School level.

December 31st; Team C’s sandbox is already filled up, but more will come …

Team C presenting their midway status on January 3rd.

January 11th; Any sandbox should have a horse .. or two!

January 15th; Like some of the other teams, Team C needed more space, and started building on the sides of the sandbox.

Also from January 15th; animals are continuing to invade Team C’s sandbox.

Team C meeting on January 18th to prepare for their presentation.

Team C’s presentation

Prior to their presentation, Team C sent out information in SL and in our regular 2D-platform. As part of this material, they sent out an invitation to a “Junior-High” class, which was a very appealing way of setting the scene for their presentation, and  they received a lot of positive comments from their fellow class mates. Team C’s agenda looked like this:

  • 8:00 PM: Take a tour of the sandbox to familiarize yourself with the setting, take a seat in The Arena.
  • 8:10 PM: Welcome, short introduction to the agenda for the “class”, and short introduction to historical periods and locations in SL.
  • 8:20 PM: Field trip to The Etruscan Museum
  • 8:40 PM: Briefing regarding the second field trip in Team C’s sandbox
  • 8:45 PM: Field trip to ROMA
  • 9:05 PM: Wrap-up of the field trips and the “class”
  • 9:20 PM: Team C’s reflections on history lessons in Second Life
  • 9:45 PM: Evaluation and feedback

Team C’s agenda was nicely displayed on the walls in the arena.

In the first part of Team C’s presentation, we were welcomed as junior-level students

Team C welcomed us, pointed our attention to the agenda on the wall, and then explained that we would get a brief overview of the two historical periods that this “class” would cover. At this point, several participants already had lag and/or audio problems.

The Etruscan period

… and the Roman period.

The field trips were designed as exploratory tours, where the “students” should gather information, take pictures, and collect freebies. After the field trips the students had to present their findings to the rest of the “class”.

One of Team C’s members, JoeChipmunk, also had audio-problems, and I stayed back in their sandbox to see if there was anything I could do to help. Despite numerous relogs, preference check and so forth nothing really helped, and JoeChipmunk finally encouraged me to join the field trip to The Etruscan Museum, while he stayed and tried to solve his problems.

Arriving very late at the museum, I didn’t really get a good sense of what was going on, and I only took a few pictures.

Team C’s Stinafish at The Etruscan Museum.

As part of the Ars Novalis Virtual Shipyard, there’s a Danish Viking ship in memory of the founder of Roskilde Viking Ship Museum,  Ole Crumlin-Petersen (1935-2011).

Happytown & Anina gladly grabbed the opportunity to dress up for this historical themed session.

At approx. 8:40 PM, Team C asked us to go back to the team’s sandbox for further instructions for the next field trip. At this point, I began experiencing heavy lag, and several of the other participants also complained about various technical problems. Nonetheless, we headed off to the next destination; one of SL’s oldest historical rebuilds: ROMA (SPQR) . Arriving at ROMA, I could hardly move and I finally ended up stuck in a wall and decided to relog. Since that didn’t help, I went back to our class sandbox, and here I realized that my speak-button was no longer active. For the next 20 min. or so I tried shutting down my computer, reinstalling SL, I tried the Firestorm Viewer, and relogging – but nothing helped. Meanwhile, JoeChipmunk’s speak came back, but two other members of the team now had inactive speak-butons, as did several of the other participants.

The “lucky” participants, with no technical problems, later said they had experienced the session as one of the most smooth in technical terms. Fortunately, my co-facilitator, Inge was one of the lucky ones with no problems, and the following 4 pictures were taken by her.

Inge at ROMA – also nicely dressed up for the occasion.

Team C’s laserquik is easy to recognize with his orange sneakers.

Anina & dirkovski exploring ROMA

Back in Team C’s sandbox, the other teams had to present their findings from the two field trips.

Back in Team C’s sandbox, the “students” had to present pictures and objects from their field trips.

ROMA is a no-speak island, and so several of the participants did not realize that they had audio/speak problems until they came back to Team C’s sandbox. At this point, Team C wrapped up the first part of their session, where we, the audience, had acted as High School students, and now they wanted to focus on their theoretical considerations and design choices in relation to their investigation question and overall theme. One team with audio problems solved it by transmitting one member’s sound via Google Plus, others tried Skype, and from the presenting team only sjostakovitch and JoeChipmunk had voice, and so this final part of the session was a very frustrating and disruptive experience. At this point, I want to acknowledge the resilience of Team C, I was very impressed with their willingness to try to continue and finish their session despite all the technical problems!

Again because of all the problems, I didn’t manage to document this part of the session in detail, but from the team’s manuscripts and the text-chat, I know that Team C, based on their investigation question, started to explain about some of their theoretical inspirations (Dewey and Dede), and they had some very thoughtful concerns regarding the target group’s possible acceptance of/and behavior in a medium such as SL.

Team C had also been inspired by the COI-model, and the different types of presence.

Inspired by the COI-model, Team C had planned to register indications of the three types of presence during their session, but Team C’s Stinafish, who was in charge of this part, unfortunately also had different technical problems, and I’m not sure if she managed to do so, and anyway at this point in the session, she had no voice. On the positive side, the two Team C members with voice, were able to fill in based on the teams well-prepared manuscripts, and this was another indicator of the team’s thorough preparation of their presentation.

Team C’s sandbox was a good example of a respectful remediation NpIRL

The team’s lead designer, JoeChipmunk had some interesting reflections on some of the challenges you face, when trying to replicate our past as the team had tried to do in the sandbox. The point of departure for the sandbox design had been a respectful remediation strategy, but with the target group in mind, the team had also decided to add “mystical” elements such as the rainbow, animated animals, air floating ships, and giant posters. JoeChipmunk also explained, how he had been forced to consider the authenticity of the different objects (e.g. did this kind of plant/animal exist at that point in time/in that part of the world), and in this sense, building in SL had sharpened his perception of history, validity of sources etc.

Team C’s sandbox’s own history.

Despite all the technical problems, there was no doubt that Team C had prepared a very good and interesting presentation. Needless to say, the technical problems completely overshadowed their efforts for those of us experiencing problems, and it was so sad and unfortunate that the team members also had problems and didn’t get to present their hard work in the way they had envisioned. All of us felt terrible for the team, and many of Team C’s classmates sent them supporting comments in our regular 2D (and very stable!) platform afterwards. Having been in SL for almost 5 years now, I have come to expect occasional technical break-downs, but I have to say that this was my worst SL experience ever. Throughout the course, I monitor the students’ activities closely, and I know just how much work they put into these presentations – it’s simply amazing! So to have such a terrible outcome was really, really sad.

We’re still not sure as to why we had so many problems, but it seems to be a combination of Internet instability (at least for some of us with a certain Internet provider in certain areas of the country), and local island problems. The speak problems continued the day after, but were resolved after Inge restarted the island. Next team is scheduled to present tomorrow, and we are crossing our fingers ….


Case MIL09: Student analysis of SL – part 4


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 …


Case MIL09: Student analysis of SL – part 3


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.