Saturday, 8 March 2008

Libraries, Education, Museums conference: 1

This is the first post on the Virtual Worlds: Libraries, Education, Museums conference that took place in Second Life on 8 March 2008, mostly in the NMC conference Centre. In this post I cover the introductory session, and one on a SL class with Chinese and US students.
This event was attended by about 80 avatars. It consisted for the most part of PowerPoint presentations, although there were a couple of interesting exceptions. The opening session was Virtual Worlds: Libraries, Education, Museums, and More from Barbara Galik (Puglet Dancer in SL) and Kitty Pope (Kitty Phillip in SL).
Kitty celebrated it as the first library conference in SL. I will comment here that the conference was more focused on librarians than educators though some educators (like me) were attending or presented. Kitty highlighted library developments in SL: starting with the huge growth of librarians and info islands since the start. She gave some stats (e.g. the thousands of queries answered last year).

One of her messages was that "Collaboration is not just key but king" and she talked about collaborations with organisations and individual librarians. She mentioned the courses in virtual librarianship which are run, and felt we should be aiming to have classes on virtual librarianship as core in information and library school curricula. My comment here would have been that perhaps virtual librarianship should, in the end, permeate the whole curriculum, coming into various classes. However, as with other innovations, it may need a class of its own to start with. Of course, in the UK we only have one year for our Masters programmes, so getting something into the core curriculum is trickier than in those countries (the majority) where Masters programmes last 2 years. We are making a start with introducing SL at Sheffield this year, although more as a learning environment than a site for virtual librarianship at the moment.

Puglet Dancer when on to talk about the practical issues to do with ongoing funding of the Info islands, in particular the recurrent tier (rental) charges. They wanted to create an endowment for sustainability. Secondly they would like to be able to pay some of the volunteers. Thirdly they want to develop networking more widely - reaching out to (I think) more types of library.

Other challenges or necessary developments for SL itself included the need for a simplified introduction or interface to SL, plus the need to support larger groups. I think the latter point is an interesting one: on the one hand it is certainly necessary to make it possible to have more gathered together in one spot. On the other hand it would be a pity if this meant a move towards the ineffective large-group training sessions that you sometimes have in Real Life (400 students penned in for induction etc).

It was nice that the affective reasons for being in SL were mentioned too: "Avatars are inquisitive and they like to have fun!"
This opening session took place in the Babbage Auditorium in the New Media Consortium conference centre. One interesting thing was that the speakers were using voice, but someone was summarising in chat as they went along. I was thinking that this is something that would normally be seen as "special" for the hearing impaired, but here was being done more generally (also) to help those who weren't voice enabled.
There were then parallel sessions. I firstly went to "Preparing U.S. and Chinese Students for Collaborative Activities in Second Life" Presented by Leaunda Hemphill and Hoyet Hemphill, who are faculty in the Instructional Design and Technology Department at Western Illinois University, USA. I went along as we have a good number of Chinese students on our courses (Sheffield University, Department of Information Studies), especially in our Masters programmes. As a Department we are concerned generally about improving the experience of our international students, and also I have had some international students in my SL sessions.

The two presenters explained how they have been teaching a class of mixed Chinese and US students for the past two years. The focus of studuy is "technology integration issues and professional development of (school) teachers". Thus there were professional development aspects for the students and also the objective was that they could use these skills in helping their own students (schoolchildren) to collaborate using technology. The students were in the US (4 students, working full time whilst they studies) and in Northern China (12 students). They met with the Chinese students twice for 2 hour sessions in SL. The local (US or Chinese) faculty provide support in terms of providing extra materials, advice etc and Chinese students had some additional material in Chinese.
Part of the class this year is an activity where students investigate professional development opportunities and have to share their observations via a wiki, and Second Life is one of the professional development opportunities for study. They had used Moodle and Elluminate (conferencing) software previously – they decided this year to concentrate on the wiki and SL.
There were two two-hour sessions in SL. The 12 Chinese students had them together in a lab (which is what I have done in induction for my students), whereas the US students had inductions one-to-one. The SL sessions covered "1) introducing Second Life; 2) traveling in Second Life as a tourist and then as a student; 3) building in Second Life, and 4) teaching and researching in Second Life."
The speakers gave more information on exactly what activities they did - including orientations in basics such as notecards and movement. They seemed to have a lot of visits and tours including encouraging students to invite each other to locations
Some observations concerning Chinese students:
- They noted the need to be careful with terminology & language.
- They noted how social interactions were important to Chinese students in addition to the educational ones. The Chinese students were more interested in the personal aspects - including in interactions with lecturers - than were the US students. This fits in with things that our own international office (at Sheffield University) tell us, as well as observation of our own students. Speakers thought it also might be because the US students were working as well as studying, whereas the Chinese were just studying.

In terms of the sites the students visited "at the end of their introductory activities, they reflected together on what they had learned. What was the purpose of the site? What was its educational value? How could a teacher use these sites in her/his classroom?"

They had discussions about what the interaction was between SL and RL skills e.g. using SL for developing interviewing skills. The feeling was that there were a number of applications for teaching.

One interesting issue that came up was that when they were using Moodle the previous year the 2 groups (US/Chinese) exchanged 500 (!) messages on discussion boards in about one week - talking about various issues. This is (my observation here) in contrast to a tendency in RL to gravitate into national groups.

Bluewave Ogee raised the issue of using SL as a preparation for study abroad, and the speakers said they are going to use it to prep students who are going to Denmark. Also one can see its use in introducing students who are from another country, giving them an introduction in SL before they travel to you to study.

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The blog of Sheila Yoshikawa on her adventures in Second Life. This may be very thrilling. Or possibly not.