Higher Education examines the efforts of Chris Collins (University of Cincinnati) and Benn Konsynski (Emory) in using virtual worlds for higher education.
On November 26th we held the latest session of Metanomics, focused this time on higher education. Our guests were Chris Collins of the University of Cincinnati and Benn R Konsynski of Emory University. (You can read more complete profiles about them on our previous post.) You can use the links above to review the event, and see the attached text file (below this article) to read the backchat.
Below I’ve attempted to summarize the discussion in brief, but the event was so rich in information that covering every topic would be beyond the scope of this article. The event generated a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and the full session recordings will prove to be valuable to all educators looking at entering the virtual world.
A question from the audience prompted a discussion on collaboration of external organizations and educational institutions. “Too often we think of the 20th century model of education separated from training and learning,” Konsynski said, “I think that just as we mash-up in our web space we can readily see mash-ups that create new hybrid learning environments that involve both the historic institutions and other providers”
“I would definitely echo that as well,” responded Collins, “There is a nice crossover between a lot of non-profit institutions and educational institutions. […] As far as business education there are so many opportunities here. I think all of us are facing the same challenges with the platform itself and as we find something that works in one environment they’re likely to work in another environment.”
Internships are one possible area of expansion in this regard. A big box store opening an outlet in a virtual world would benefit from having some student interns staffing the space, and the students would benefit from the in-world experience.
One big difficulty is that you often have students more comfortable with the environment than the teachers. “How does that affect your authority as a subject matter expert,” Collins commented. A partial solution in that regard is to emphasize that this is happening in a larger context, and that the technology is only a small part of a larger concept at work.
The expense of getting upgraded machines to access the virtual world is a problem, as are the logistics of keeping a lab full of systems updated with the latest client. Students can’t be expected to purchase the high-end systems they would require either, so what’s the solution?
Discussion along these lines continued, bridging into subjects like multitasking, attention span, the lowest technological common denominator, and even a certain amount of criticism with regards to our previous session with Castranova. You can view the session in full through the links above.
Chris Collins (Fleep Tuque in Second Life) began with the MUD and BBS community in the mid-90’s, eventually graduating to video games like WoW and Everquest. Most of her recent efforts have focused on Second Life.
In April / May of this year she was working with Nancy Jennings to build an island for their university. When trying to work out what form it should take, they decided to survey what other educators were doing. It took a long time to find everybody. Often land was named after mascots or local figures, so tracking everyone down was a challenge.
They started with SimTeach Wiki and combined with the in-world Search tool were able to find 170 listings. Only 71 institutions, however, actually had land in Second Life. 70% of these institutions were physically located in North America, followed by another 20% in Europe. Many were dedicating space to student socialization in addition to galleries, auditoriums and libraries.
When they held the “Best Practices In Education Conference” in May, they got an overwhelming 1300 RSVPs. There was a huge contingent of individual faculty members doing work in Second Life without institutional presence. Since then the numbers have been growing, with a current estimated 200 institutions establishing formal Second Life presences worldwide.
Distance learning is really on the rise, but with the increase of interest in that area comes the discovery of hurdles. “One of the complaints that students of distance learning programs have is that they feel isolated,” said Collins, “All of us who are involved in Second Life now realize how much of a benefit it is to be able to visualize another person. Even if it isn’t an exact replica of the person you get that sense of co-presence. And that carries across to collaboration and research.”
Chris Collins (Fleep Tuque in Second Life) is an IT Analyst in the UCit Instructional & Research Computing department at the University of Cincinnati. Chris has used the Second Life platform extensively since its public beta in 2003, and is keenly interested in the educational, cultural, economic, and political potential of virtual worlds. She served as Co-Chair for the Second Life Best Practices in Education International Conference in 2007, and currently is the Facilitator and Project Manager for the University of Cincinnati Second Life Learning Community, Second Life Ambassador for the Ohio Learning Network, and Founder of the Chilbo Community Building Project where she resides in the Chilbo sim in Second Life. Chris holds a BA in Political Science and recently published a paper with co-author Nancy Jennings entitled ““Virtual or Virtually U: Educational Institutions in Second Life”“:http://www.waset.org/ijss/v2/v2-3-28.pdf in the November 2007 issue of the International Journal of Social Sciences.
Ben R. Konsynski
Benn R Konsynski (Rejin Tenjin in Second Life) has been monitoring emerging technology for a few decades. He was involved in virtual reality activity in late 80s and early 90s, and watched MUDs and the first virtual spaces (Imagination, The Palace, Larryland). In his opinion technology is very close to catching up to the aspirations people have had for virtual worlds over the years.
Currently at Emory he’s putting together a new class entitled “Virtual Worlds And New Realities”. They’re interested in social norms, commerce, politics and law, and what the similarities and differences are between how those things operate in a virtual world as opposed to the real one.
Emory’s island in Second Life is called “Simsim”, and serves four purposes: display of branding assets, basic orientation and building / scripting tutorials, a center posting best practices for virtual business and government, and a space to look at emerging technologies in real life as well as Second Life.
In studying the way groups interact in virtual worlds, he’s been able to discover what works and what doesn’t. Very large meetings can work well, and so do very small meetings. Outside of these two areas, however, we can run into some trouble: “The historic classroom groupings don’t often work well,” said Konsynski, “especially if you try to take advantage of mobility. Moving groups from one place to another is a disaster waiting to happen.”