|Winthrop Professor Grady Venville|
In October 2011, the first joint lectures between the University of Western Australia and the University of Kentucky took place. This came about via collaboration between UWA's Winthrop Professor Grady Venville, the inaugural Professor of Science Education at UWA and Dr Jennifer Wilhelm, Associate Professor of Science and Maths Education of the UK's College of Education.
The collaboration is beautifully described by Grady as follows:
I participated in my first second life lecture a month ago. I have been collaborating with a colleague, Jennifer Wilhelm, from the University of Kentucky for a number of years as we are both science educators and both present curriculum and methods courses for students who are preparing to become science teachers.
We try to incorporate innovative teaching methods into our courses to ‘practice what we preach’. For example, for the past few years we have my students in Western Australia and Jennifer’s students in Kentucky concurrently observe and record the phases of the Moon for a month. We then provide them with opportunities to communicate with each other through email or some other electronic medium to compare their observations. This enables them to recognise the similarities and differences in the way that people in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres see the Moon and to deductively work out the path the Moon takes as it revolves around the Earth and the relationship between the Earth, Moon and Sun that causes the Moon phases. We hope they can see the value of using similar strategies when they become teachers themselves.
This year Jennifer is delivering most of her lectures for this class at Kentucky University in second life. She invited me to do a combined second life lecture. Intrigued, I coerced my science education colleague here at UWA, Christine Howitt, to join me in Jennifer’s second life class. The plan was to enable ‘live’ discussion about what we were observing ‘down under’ with the Moon and Jennifer’s students could ask us questions.
Christine and I both created Avatars and Jennifer sent us both invitations to enter the University of Kentucky second life island. We practiced entering the University and teleporting to her classroom before the day of the combined lecture.
On the day of the lecture, Christine and I both woke early in the morning and logged onto second life from our homes at 6am while Jennifer conducted the class at 6pm Kentucky time. When we entered the class we could see Jennifer’s 12 students sitting on pods in the teaching space. On the ‘whiteboard’ were photographs of the Moon that I had taken from Perth and previously emailed to Jennifer next to photographs Jennifer had taken in Kentucky on the same day. The students asked us interesting questions and we discussed relevant issues such as whether the Moon is in the same phase at the same time in each hemisphere, which part of the sky the Moon traverses and the direction the Moon waxed and waned.
The lesson was a great success because it enabled ‘live’ discussion across the hemispheres which is an enriching experience when trying to understand and explain the phases of the Moon. Our goal is for these pre-service teachers to see the ‘added value’ that platforms like second life can bring to teaching, whether they become primary, secondary, or tertiary teachers.
Our next step is to have our students from Perth join the students in Kentucky for a joint lecture or workshop. We can see that as I have about 30 students in each of my workshops this will be a challenge to manage. We will have to think of creative ways of clustering or grouping the students to find an optimal number of Avatars in the same place.