Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Eliminating a headache faced by all SL virtual educators!

I just want to teach!

One of the most common issues raised by virtual teachers in Second Life (SL) is how to get new students up to speed with the fundamentals. You know - walk, talk, navigate – that stuff. For those with little or no experience in 3D environments it’s not easy to pick up SL’s basics, however these are the skills that underpin everything we do in world. Needless to say a solid set of foundation competencies is vital to the success of any learning endeavour. The problem is that eradicating SL newbie-ness takes time - many would argue lots of time.

But they’ve been to Learning Island and they’ll pick up the rest…

Poor Mervin! He decided to enhance his students’ learning with some virtual classes. He worked hard creating the lessons and setting everything up in Second Life but there was limited time left in the semester. Mervin asked his students to complete SL’s Learning Island training so that he could forego the basics and get down to real teaching right off the bat. Mervin’s first lesson, so carefully planned and well thought out, quickly slid into mayhem. His students’ chat text reeked of desperation, “What’s this…?”, “I’m lost…”, “I can’t work this out.”, “How do I …?”, “OMG these menus…!”, “HELP!”.

Mervin’s result was far from the positive introduction to virtual learning that he’d hoped his students would experience. The first destination for all new SL residents is Learning Island. It’s there that they pick up some introductory skills, but this approach has its limitations. Unless educators offer students additional guidance they tend to blunder around confused and frustrated. 

The golden rule: better prepared students means less virtual drama!

So what’s the solution?

Module Map
Many virtual educators in SL create their own introductory sessions and learning resources which is great. But for those who have nothing in place yet or are looking for a flexible alternative, then the Second Life basics series may be just what’s needed. It’s new, it’s different, it’s flexible and all the work has been done for you!

Hosted by us, the University of Western Australia (UWA in SL), the series contains 5 modules, founded on a blended learning model - eLearning and virtual learning. 

A two tier approach

The SL basics series imparts key newbie skills using a two tier approach:

       1.      Knowledge
The core learning concepts are covered in interactive, online modules that are accessed on our Moodle MOOC site, The modules contain explanations, demos and tips on a wide range of fundamental SL skills. Each main module is supplemented with a matching Cheat Sheet and other helpful info that can be downloaded. 

       2.     Practice and mastery
But it’s not all theory! The main modules incorporate in world Practice Activities, giving the learners the opportunity to apply and master their new skills as they progress. To assist the learners there’s an Activity Station in world that aligns with the modules. When clicked, it gives people module information, URL links that open the online materials inside SL and lots of other helpful resources. 

Some of the key features of the SL basics series

·         Centralised and accessible
The site stores a wide range of SL beginner information at a single web destination. Yep, no more jumping all over the web hunting things down! This is accessible by anyone, anywhere and at any time – virtual teachers, students and those who are simply curious about exploring virtual life.
·         Engaging
The SL basics series is fun, interactive and encourages learning via experimentation and play.
·        Thorough and sequenced
The series imparts a comprehensive set of fundamental Second Life skills in a logical, sequential order. There are 5 modules that contain further bite-sized elements called main modules. The series does not pay lip service to SL’s basic skills; it treats them as vital prerequisites but it’s also… 
·        Flexible
Flexibility underpins every aspect of the SL basics series. It’s almost made of rubber! The modules can be introduced and undertaken different ways to cater for a variety of learning needs and preferences, for example: complete everything in the series or do a selection of the modules; complete an entire module or only the parts that you need; learn solo or as a group; self-directed learning or entire/partial teacher led instruction; explore the additional optional resources or skip these.
·         Ease of navigation
The overall series and each main module has a summary so end users can see what skills are covered where. Once a main module is accessed, a table of contents and other built in navigation tools enable users to view a topic list and skip from screen to screen with ease. 
SLeducate's Activity Station in SL
·         Resources
The website contains helpful, optional materials that can be viewed online, downloaded by users or used as teaching aids, e.g. Cheat Sheets and shortcut key lists. And the Activity Station in SL offers even more helpful info and resources. 
·         Practical and effective
The series integrates fun, SL Activities that allow learners to practice and master the skills. The skills covered in the modules are generic but, to ensure the Activities really hit the mark, teachers are able tailor them any way they like. They can simply provide students with customised or alternative module Activities outlining what, how and where.
·         Pulling it all together
Each module covers a discreet set of skills. The final Activity is a Finders Keepers Hunt that ties everything together by drawing on all the skills covered throughout the series. Using clues, the learners find items hidden in various SL locations. Of course there are rewards - each item gives gifts!
·         Timing
The maximum duration of any main module in the series is 15 minutes and the majority are less, excluding the time to complete the Activities. As a rough rule of thumb we recommend allowing a minimum of 2.5 to 3 hours to complete the series. Some will find they require more or less time than this.  Timing varies between individuals and on the basis of the delivery approach.
·        Community, support and help
Learners don’t feel isolated, even if studying is asynchronously. There’s a supportive SLeducate group they can join in world. As a member of the community they are able to approach the group for help and advice whenever needed. Teachers and anyone else
(maybe you?) can join this group too or, if preferred, students can join a group their teacher establishes and seek assistance that way.
·        SL glossaries
SL is full of odd terms and phrases. To help with this the site has comprehensive, searchable SL glossaries, known as SLictionaries, which cover a wide range of SL terms and text chat abbreviations.
·         Educators’ resources
The SLeducate website contains Virtual Educator resources that offer SL teachers and corporate trainers helpful info, ideas and tips in .pdf and video formats.
·         Techy stuff
A viewer is the software users install on their computer to drive SL. The module demonstrations are based on the Firestorm viewer. The SL basics series can be viewed on any flash enabled device. 

Delivery options
One of the big advantages for virtual educators is that the SL basics series can be successfully implemented without taking up a lot of precious teaching time. However, if a hands-on role is preferred, that’s also easy to achieve. Some of the delivery alternatives are listed below. There are pros and cons to each option so teachers need to decide which is best for them, their learning strategy and their students.
  • Set the entire series or a selection (modules and activities) as prerequisite learning for     students to complete before in-world classes commence.
  • Run the entire series or a selection (modules and activities) in a classroom setting, with students learning at their own pace or with a display on a central screen. If using this method, you’d need to allow individuals to complete the practice activities in Second Life. With access to a computer lab, this could be done with all at the same SL location and at the same time or in the learner’s own time.
  • Ask the students complete one or several modules themselves by a set date and then complete the associated SL practice activities in a classroom environment.
  • Complete one or several modules in the classroom and ask the students to complete the associated SL practice activities themselves by a set date.

Get involved!

If anyone would like to join the SLeducate Group, there's a group joiner at the Activity Station in SL. It's a worthy undertaking. The main role of experienced members is to form part of the community that offers chat support to the newbies who are completing the SL basics series.

Want to check it out?

The website and all its resources are available to help anyone, anywhere and at any time. There’s lots to take in, so here are a few links to get you started.

We hope this is a helpful tool for virtual teachers, students and others. All the best!

Jay Jay Jegathesan (Jay Jay Zifanwe: SL)
Coordinator, UWA in SL
Manager, School of Physics, University of Western Australia

** Editors Note
This incredible series was put together by Carmsie Melodie whose energy and drive saw all of this come together into a finished product that should be of great value to all educators and students who use Second Life. Thank you Carmsie.

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