Friday, February 29, 2008

Western Illinois University in SL

Western Illinois University's College of Education and Human Services, or shortly named "Western COEHS" has recently acquired "land" to enhance its academic offerings. I read at the Western Courier, the student newspaper.

Although Western COEHS is about educational institution number 1.000 to purchase a speck of land in Second Life, it still needs to start of with an introduction of what Second Life or an avatar is... it still is a niche market.

Here's the Western Courier article (without the What is SL introduction):

Western's COEHS has leased land through the New Media Consortium - a group of universities from across the country - to build academic classrooms and centers that will provide virtual learning opportunities for students and meeting space for faculty.

According to Dawn Sweet, COEHS instructional technology systems manager, Leaunda Hemphill, an instructor in instructional design and technology, is currently using "Second Life" to prepare IDT graduate students and their counterparts in China to collaborate on activities related to technology integration in K-12 schools.

"Teachers can use 'Second Life' for such events as
virtual field trips, role playing, re-creating worlds and so much more," Sweet added. "For example, Lincoln's boyhood home re-created in 'Second Life' would allow educators to take their students to this land to learn more about
Lincoln's childhood; students learning about social responsibility can visit such sites as Camp Darfur and other islands that illustrate social responsibility at work.

"COEHS's foray into the virtual world started during
the Fall 2007 Semester when college officials participated in a college fair on "Teen Second Life." From there, the college began exploring virtual uses for the academic realm.

"I'm interested in using virtual worlds, specifically 'Second Life,' to create richer learning experiences for my
students beyond the flat Web environment I currently use," Hemphill said.

"There is currently a debate among educators whether or not it is worth the effort of preparing learners and teachers to use the environment as the steep learning curve. Increased hardware and connectivity requirements are just a few of the issues that need to be considered. In my IDT 534, Issues in Instructional Technology and Professional Development for
Educators, course, we will be reviewing these issues as well as the professional development opportunities in 'Second Life' for teachers," she added.

In addition to using "Second Life" in the classroom, Western's Faculty Innovators, a 24-month faculty professional development program, will use the virtual world for workshops and collaborating with other professionals. The college will also maintain a virtual presence where
prospective students can learn more about Western, COEHS programs and university events.

"We have a central goal to provide a challenging and supportive learning environment that is widely recognized as meeting the new technological demands of a global society," COEHS Dean Bonnie Smith-Skripps said. "By becoming a tenant in 'Second Life,' we will be able to foster greater research and development in teaching with technology in the education and human services field.

"Other Western faculty entering the world of virtual reality as a teaching tool include social work associate professor Karen Zellmann, who will use "Second Life" as a mode for her students to participate in role playing and mock interview situations. Students will provide supportive counseling to clients (other avatars) in "Second Life." Jim Allen, art, is currently using "Second Life's" Virtual Harlem project to display art and lesson plan ideas. Virtual Harlem is a learning environment that lets students experience the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and '30s.

Mid 2007 we saw an enormous landrush in Second Life by Colleges and Universities from all over the world. Many of these have probably jumped in on the "everybody is here, so we have to be here as well" idea, without having much of a clue of what to do.

Many of these universities have bought complete islands at first, but since they don't really have a use for it (yet) we've seen the trend in the last months of 2007 that these institutions are clustering together in a sort of Educational Mainland, sharing sims and seeking to establish a virtual foothold on smaller parcels. Western COEHS is one of these. Here's a pic of the rest of the sim, which for example also hosts the University of Reading.

Here's the Educational cluster with NMC islands mixed with dedicated university sims.


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