Continuing our stories from the front line blogging project around the five main chapters from E-Tivities 2nd edition- Now AVAILABLE, is Dr Helen Farley from the University of Southern Queensland, Australia. With innovative and creative approaches to using virtual worlds and e-tivities for online learning. We thank Helen for her passionate and important contribution to this area of learning design!
Dr Helen Farley,
Senior Lecturer (Digital Futures),
Australian Digital Futures Institute
Helen Farley is a Senior Lecturer (Digital Futures) at the Australian Digital Futures Institute at the University of Southern Queensland. She is currently leading the USQ-led Collaborative Research Network (CRN) project with ANU and UniSA to develop a Mobile Learning Evaluation Framework. She is also the project lead of the OLT-funded from ‘Access to Success’ project which will develop Stand Alone Moodle that will enable electronic access to course materials and activities for those students without internet access. Helen has many years’ experience as an educator in Higher Education and as a researcher of educational technology. Her research interests are focused around the use of mobile technologies and virtual worlds in Higher Education.
Connect with Helen (links embedded):
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your relationship to e-tivities:
I’ve been teaching online and face-to-face for thirteen years and in that time I’ve been searching for ways of engaging students through the Learning Management System my institution decreed I should use. It’s been a system of trial and error with some things working and many others abysmally failing. If I had Gilly’s book back in those early days it would have saved me much frustration. I came across Gilly’s five stage model and e-tivities when I came to USQ and was amazed how a few simple guidelines could distil the essence of all my hard won wisdom about engaging students in an online environment!
Interview questions: Technology Choices in Designing E-Tivities- Examples/Stories/Ideas for using an example technology
Helen's Technology Choice: Virtual Worlds
1. What types of e-tivites have you found are suited with virtual worlds?
Virtual worlds are complex environments but very engaging environments for students. They can be very costly if you want to buy your own land (in the case of Second Life) or host it on your university’s servers (Jibe or Open Sim). The great news is that there are lots of builds and spaces that have already been created that you are able to use without the cost and time of building it all. You can easily find these builds by looking in the search of Second Life or by posting an email to the Second Life Educators’ Mailing List. This is always the first thing I do before I even think about building something in a virtual world. Virtual world environments are particularly suited to treasure hunts or quests.
2. How specifically have you utilised this technology for an e-tivity design? Can you give an example to help future designers use this technology in this way?
I had a class who were studying Introduction to World Religions. They were given a notecard and asked to complete half a dozen tasks which included finding some information about the history of Buddhism which I knew was available from a particular build and to take a snapshot of their avatar meditating on a meditation mat. This activity gave them a chance to practice the skills they would need to navigate around Second Life but also helped them to discover some valuable information about Buddhism.
Another good example included asking my students (male and female) to take on a female appearance and wear the hijab. Once they were dressed this way they were asked to go to a public place in Second Life and monitor the comments directed towards his or her avatar. They could then reflect on this experience in a discussion board within the LMS. This was a significant learning moment for many of the students who for the first time understood the nature of the prejudice often directed towards Muslim women.
3. What is the hardest thing to get right in the design or use of this technology in e-tivities and what advice would you give to overcome this?
It is easy to spend a lot of time designing something that already exists in the virtual world. Make sure you check what is available to you right now and for free. The other thing to keep in mind is that there are lots of things that can go wrong when using a virtual world. Be sure to have a back-up plan and be sure to go to that sooner rather than later when things go wrong.
4. What is the best thing (e.g. access, ease of use, learning style it supports?) about utilising this technology for e-tivities?
The best thing about using this environment for e-tivities is that the learning is first hand, i.e. the students are experiencing the learning directly. When talking about virtual worlds I often give the example of trying to teach my students about Islam. Living in Australia, I don’t know many Muslim people. Anything I know about Islam comes from books and lectures and news stories. I can show my students a PowerPoint about Islam. I can talk about the Five Pillars but it doesn’t come from my direct experience. I can show them a YouTube video about the Hajj and they can see that but again, it’s not a direct experience. I can send them into Second Life to do the Virtual Hajj. They don’t spend the months in preparation that the real world pilgrim would, but they do have to dress their avatar in the salat clothes and they can do the Hajj with lots of just-in-time information displayed along the way. They get to feel a little of what it is like to do the Hajj. Their experience is firsthand instead of third hand and consequently, it seems to stick with them.
5. Do you have any specific tips, hints or what 'not-to-do' with using this technology in e-tivity learning design?
Don’t try and do too much too soon. Just getting into the environment can take a while. Keep it simple. Don’t recreate what is already there; that’s just a waste of time and money. And be prepared to abandon it and go to the back up plan if things don’t work out. Persevering when the equipment or the environment are against you will only make the students determined never to enter a virtual world again!
6. Do you have any particular stories, examples, case studies, reflections or resources you would like to share with future learning designers with this technology?
The Second Life Educators Mailing List is a great resource! It’s a community of educators who know what it’s like to get started in a virtual world so are usually very willing to help. The address for the mailing list is: https://lists.secondlife.com/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/educators
In Australia we’re very lucky because we also have a very active group of educators called the Australia New Zealand Virtual Worlds Working Group. Again, these are people very willing to help out and offer resources. The address for the Working Group is: http://www.vwwg.info/
A conference that anyone interested in virtual worlds should go to is the Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education Conference. It’s held entirely in virtual world environments and is free to attend. Unfortunately, you’ve just missed the 2013 conference but a lot of the presentations have been recorded. You can find out more about the conference at: http://www.vwbpe.org/.
7. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Virtual worlds are a great way to engage students. They are often overlooked because people think they are too hard to use, but this needn’t be the case.