Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Not for education then?

Ellen Stewart gave us a 10-minute presentation on her experience of Facebook and she pretty much summed up what I thought. It's for friends to keep up with each other, wherever they are. I have nieces/nephew of similar age to Ellen and they talk about the same kind of things. Finding out what other people are up to. Sharing daft jokes. Linking to funnies on YouTube. And like my rellies, Ellen is aware of how to try to protect her identity and not share too much with too many potential 'friends'. I thought her presentation was good and I enjoyed listening to the discussion aftewards too, although it just confirmed that we can't see too much 'educational' potential. Especially when young people themselves hate the idea of school getting anywhere near their fun - on Bebo, Facebook, MySpace et al.

I had wondered if these sites could be used for communication (as Sue pointed out she socialises with her students through Facebook). I was thinking about reminders or tips/hints about homework or projects. A teacher's 'wall' could be updated to include all the relevant stuff. But, having heard what Ellen had to say I just don't think this would be welcome by young learners. She also dashed my view that students might discuss their homework projects! Perhaps, adult learners would be different. But this type of communication can be done through a LMS or email or even text messaging.

Maybe we just let them have their facebook fun! Or we look at something like
Ecto (discussed in the email group) which is meant to have an educational focus. The benefit of introducing social networking learners to something like Ecto could be that they know how the technology works and they can make the distinction between 'home' and 'school'. However, most schools choose an institution-wide system that creates some consistency between subject areas and a product like Moodle is starting to offer up some of the social software features as well as the LMS features.

Cushie Life

Last week a few of us looked at Second Life. I had spent a few hours prior to this playing around and in that time I'd managed to:

  • Set up and name my avatar (Cushie Blackadder)
  • Obtain some clothes and alter my appearance
  • Find a card that enabled me to teleport off Orientation Island
  • Chat with other newbies using the texting tool
  • Move my SL self around, sit on benches, ride in a car, fly and gesture (clapping, stretching etc.)
  • Look at my avatar from various camera angles

This initial experience was frustrating but I was able to get the hang of it....mostly. By the time it came round to our get together I felt able to participate.

Once logged into SL other users who had my avatar name could find me and I them. I looked up Bronwyn, as she had left her SL name (Branwen Trevellion) in a google group message. I found her but she wasn't online yet so I waited to see what would happen. I was invited to be friends with someone called Leroy Goalpost and I dutifully said no, as I didn't know who he was (security conscious as ever!) After refusing a couple of times, Leigh posted in a google group message that I was being a bit unfriendly!! Leigh is Leroy...

So a good start there. ;)

Leigh teleported me to his location as others started to appear. (Petal Sransky (aka Sarah), Isa Goodman (aka Aaron)and Branwen). It was decided that we would teleport to Koru (a place developed by Isa for a group of Kiwi Educators). This is where the technology failed. After umpteen attempts to teleport with the group nothing happened and I was stuck on my own - and I couldn't walk around either - feeling very lonely! Sarah kept me in touch with what was happening via Skype and Leigh returned to give me a hand. Eventually the only solution was to log off from SL and start again. And from that point, no more technical glitches...for me at least.

Isa gave me tips on how to search for groups that may be of interest and I found one and joined. I've not been back in since and so have no idea if anything is happening with it! But at least I now know where to look. There were a long list of educational groups.

I also chatted with Lucy who joined us for our tour of Hallucinations. A lawyer from the US, it was interesting to chat with her as she has spent a bit more time in SL. She told me a story of how she was teleported into someone's bedroom where she was discovered by a virtual girlfriend. One huge argument later, she concluded that there are some very strange people populating SL!

The Hallucinations exhibit was navigable although I didn't always know what I was meant to do with the exhibits. However, it did give me an idea of what a hallucination could be like and at a certain point I got very anxious to turn the voices off as they were really getting to me.

What else did I do? Changed the light settings by forcing the sun to shine! Sat on a beanbag. Put on a badge.

So, I learned:

  • If things are not working as expected, log off and start again.
  • Search for SL names and groups to find people. This enables interaction with people who can share knowledge/information.
  • It takes time to learn the basics.
  • There are 'procedures' to follow so it pays to read up a bit before hand (e.g. making friends, teleporting) - see wiki tutorials.
  • Simulations may be frustrating to get around but interesting nonetheless.
  • It's useful to have someone knowledgeable around.

With only a basic understanding of how to operate in SL I am unsure how I would use this tool for anything other than talking to others. I'm not sure I could create a place like Koru or a simulation like Hallucinations and I'm not even sure that I would have to. Are there people in SL who do this for you? There are so many unknowns and as Isa has taken 18 months to get to a position of confident use I'm not sure I will get beyond the basics. But it's at least interesting to know a bit about the phenomena as no doubt future students will know about it and possibly use it.

I was thinking about how Business Studies students could develop their business ideas in SL and monitor their skills in a virtual market. Visit the virtual bank manager to ask for a virtual loan? Sounds like a good idea but is it possible? Probably. If you know what you're doing!