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This table of contents chronicles the reflections on various projects and assignments of IT 860, Emerging Technology in Instructional Technology.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I.    Introduction to Blogfolio

II.  Reflection on Assignments

III. Reflection on Readings

IV.  Overall Reflection on IT 860

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Web 2.0 is now a technological juggernaut, and these technologies are revolutionizing the way people communicate, collaborate and accomplish basic tasks. The focus of IT 860, Emerging Technologies in Instructional Technology, was to explore the latest and greatest Web 2.0 tools that show promise in education. Dr. Yuen exposed each student to the theoretical basis for each Web 2.0 tool through his book, “Collective Intelligence and E-Learning 2.0: Implications of Web-Based Communities and Networking.” In addition, students were required to use each Web 2.0 tool that was discussed in order to gain knowledge through experiential learning.

The first generation of the Web was developed primarily by experts and aimed at merely sharing knowledge. Web 2.0 differs in that these tools are created and developed by a variety of users with the intent of collaboration and interactivity. This focus on collaboration and interactivity has facilitated a sweeping embrace of social media. For example, if Facebook was a country, then it would be the third largest in the world behind China and India.

The Web 2.0 applications covered in IT 860 can be divided into three categories: tools that connect people, tools that share knowledge and tools that connect people and share knowledge in virtual environments. A large portion of the readings focused on issues involved with connecting people, while the bulk of the Web 2.0 tools that were covered focused on the sharing of knowledge. It should be noted that while I discuss these ideas separately, the whole point of Web 2.0 is to provide environments that both connect people and share knowledge.

Tools that Connect People

The premise of collective intelligence is founded on the power of tools that connect people. A series of readings helped to shed light on the philosophical basis for the use of these connecting Web 2.0 technologies in education. A new paradigm in learning theories was introduced in 2004 with the birth of connectivism, which stems from the traditions of behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism. Our first reading was on connectivism and described the power of collective intelligence. Connectivists hold that learning takes place as networks of individuals share knowledge, and one powerful Web 2.0 tool covered that represents the power of human connection is Twitter.  For example, Twitter boasts 50 million Tweets per day; that is a lot of connecting!

As might be expected, this level of connectivity requires a good organizational infrastructure and can lead to a great number of legal concerns in education. Therefore, our second reading addressed the obstacles to implementing Web 2.0 in educational institutions. Further, educators need to consider the human and social issues involved with the implementation of Web 2.0 in the classroom, which was our third reading.

Synchronous Online Learning Environments (SOLE) represent an excellent example of synchronous online learning that is offered in an ethical and effective way. In SOLE, students have a chance to interact with peers and the teacher in a similar way to a traditional classroom, and multiple channels of media simultaneously connecting with learners enhance this interaction.

Tools that Share Knowledge

The power of Web 2.0 to share knowledge is robust; in fact, the number of tools is overwhelming. Dr. Yuen did an excellent job of weeding through the volumes of applications available and introducing students to the best of these tools. A reading that described the potential of Web-based video (e.g., YouTube) began this quest.

Following this reading, students dove into a myriad of Web 2.0 tools aimed at sharing knowledge. Social bookmarking (Diigo) is a Web 2.0 technology that allows users to bookmark Web sites and place tags on those bookmarks using keywords. Social publishing sites (Scribd) allow users to share and find written documents on the Internet or mobile devices, such as Word, PowerPoint or PDF. Screencasting (Jing or ScreenToaser) occurs when individuals capture a video of what happens on a computer screen over a span of time, and audio (e.g., narrative) is usually part of a screencast as well. File Sharing (Drop.io) is a powerful trend in Web 2.0 that facilitates collaboration, and users can create a “drop” by uploading an image, audio, video, document or other digital content. VoiceThread is a media aggregator that permits users to upload media to a website, and this tool also facilitates collaboration and feedback on such media.

Connecting and Sharing in Virtual Worlds

Virtual worlds find their ancestry in video games. Therefore, our first reading on virtual worlds actually focused on a model of Game-Based Learning (VISOLE). Learning through games is gaining more attention from several educators. Perhaps an even more promising environment for learning is seen in virtual worlds. Our final reading focused on taking a Pedagogical Odyssey in Three-Dimensional Virtual Worlds (The SECOND LIFE Model). As a point of application, each student had an opportunity to make a presentation at a conference in Second Life.

Summative Thoughts

All of these tools described above promoted the sharing of knowledge. However, it would be misleading if I failed to highlight the intrinsic ability of each of these tools to also connect learners. A symbiotic relationship exists between connecting people and sharing knowledge in Web 2.0.

Dr. Yuen provided an incredible environment for learning these emerging tools. In fact, he taught the class through a platform (Mixxt) that closely resembled a social networking site (SNS) rather than through learning management software (LMS). Naturally, this approach led to more connectivity among students and facilitated the sharing of knowledge among the group.

This class has been an incredible journey of learning. I now feel confident to use Web 2.0 tools and design instruction around them appropriately.

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Virtual worlds offer an exciting new outlet for delivering content to learners. Second Life is one the best known and largest of several virtual worlds that are designed to attract crowds, including educators. Second Life is arguably the best virtual world in terms of collaboration, education, community and innovation.

How big is Second Life?

There are over 1 million residents in Second Life that regularly go “inworld” (i.e., log in and activate an avatar). In addition, there are over 1,400 organizations in Second Life ranging from colleges to mainstream corporations to government agencies. Many of these organizations own property including the U.S. military. Second Life contains around 500,000 acres of virtual real estate that can be purchased or rented. In 2009, the transactions in Second Life garnered over an astounding $500 million; that is actual U.S. currency. Second Life allows real-life individuals to have full-time jobs within this virtual world.

In some ways, this movement mirrors the growth of the Internet. Second Life is often used as a test bed for corporations such as Sony, Nissan and Sun Microsystems, among others. In the 1990s, the Internet was largely a research and educational network, but it has quickly become a commercial juggernaut.

What do people do in Second Life?

“Residents” of Second Life can sign up for free, and they simply do life together. They make friends, play sports, watch movies, run businesses and construct buildings. Residents can walk, run and fly, and they can dress in any body style they wish. In fact, users can change from a hip-hop male to a glamorous female to an animal all in the same session. In other words, they can be anyone or anything they wish to be, and they can do almost anything they wish to do.

Opportunities for Learning in Second Life: A Case Study

Because Second Life allows users to be anyone and do anything, opportunities for rich learning experiences abound in Second Life; they are virtually infinite. One such opportunity came as an assignment in IT 780. We were asked to create a presentation on a Web 2.0 topic and present this topic in the context of a Second Life Symposium.

Second Life Alcove

The symposium took place on The University of Southern Mississippi’s Second Life island: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/GoldenEagle1/124/122/24. Each student prepared a short presentation that was displayed on a giant display alcove (pictured above).

Second Life PodiumThe presentations included several items. A podium in the front of the alcove displayed a “real-world” picture of the presenter, and if viewers clicked on this image, then a short biography of the presenter appeared. The front podium also held a title slide for the presentation. If viewers clicked this image, then they could see a short abstract of the presentation (presented below). Beside the front podium a “comments” box was placed so that viewers and peers could leave feedback on each presentation.

Second Life HandoutAnother feature of each presentation was a handout. The handouts allowed each passer-by to take a summative artifact of each presentation. Viewers could obtain a handout by clicking on the handout poster, which was placed on an easel beside each presentation, as illustrated.

The Presentation: eyePlorer

Obviously, the main feature of each presentation was contained on the five posters placed on the alcove module. I chose to do a presentation on eyePlorer. EyePlorer is a free Web 2.0 application that allows learners to “explore and process knowledge.”  Learners begin by typing in a word or phrase to research. EyePlorer gathers information from the Web and arranges it into a color wheel of concepts.  If users hover over each concept on the color wheel, then they get a brief description about that item. In addition, each term is cross-referenced with associative concepts.

The premise of eyePlorer is to enhance the way “users interact with knowledge and information online.”  Discovering information is accomplished in an interactive, visual and innovative manner. This application is ideal for brainstorming and finding associative ideas. An interactive notebook is provided to drag and drop facts, which allows users to find and collate references. The process of searching for topics and collecting notes helps learners prepare to write and promotes digital literacy. My presentation can be viewed below.

Rewarding Experience

The process of creating this presentation for Second Life was rich and rewarding. As might be expected, I learned a great deal about Second Life simply as a result of having to present in the context of Second Life. This required that I learn how to communicate, travel, change clothes and the list could continue.

Interestingly, I was learning on two levels simultaneously. I was doing the research on eyePlorer and learning about that Web 2.0 technology, and at the same time, I was learning about Second Life. This experience was almost like “digital dual-coding.” I haven’t heard that term before, but I think the experience is accurately described by that phrase.

A Sidebar Takeaway

As a side note, I have a great story that I will remember from this project. Our instructor told us to ensure that we had all documents in place well ahead of time and that we had a secure connection for the presentation. All of the documents were in place well ahead of time, so that was no issue. In considering a secure Internet connection, I could think of no better place than my workplace, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC). After all, we have a network that flows straight from our state’s capital, Jackson, on a pretty beefy infrastructure. I spent the morning of the presentation double-checking to make sure Second Life worked from my desk, and I was ready to go. The presentation started at 3:00, and around 2:55 (no kidding), MGCCC’s entire network crashed. They initially thought it was a server problem, but we came to find out that AT&T actually cut into a major fiber. I wound up having to drive to my house and arrived at the presentation 30 minutes late. All of this to say, that I was reminded of a valuable lesson: “The best made plans of mice and men often go awry.”

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The majority of American educational institutions continue to operate from a 19th century framework. In this traditional model, the focus is high stakes testing and training workers with a specific skill set, such as industrial work. This pedagogical approach endures in spite of a steady stream of emerging technologies and 21st century learners that are tech-savvy and often bored in school (Prensky, 2001, as cited by Stoerger, 2010).

Many educators are looking for alternatives to this conventional method. Some of these new approaches attempt to engage learners in a relevant and appealing way. For these teachers, the curriculum is often presented in a fun way, such as through virtual worlds.

Theoretical framework for virtual worlds

From a theoretical perspective, the framework for this new, relevant approach stems from constructivism. A move toward learner-centered approaches represents a shift in philosophy from behaviorism to constructivism. For behaviorists, the mind is an empty container waiting to be filled, which often neglects higher order thinking skills. In contrast, constructivists argue that students construct learning, which requires that students become an active part of the learning process. In constructivism, students gain knowledge by interacting with the world in a relevant manner (i.e., situated learning).

Today’s learners prefer to gather knowledge through interactions with others, multiple paths and through experiences. Prensky (2001) termed this new generation as “digital natives,” and he argued that they learn differently than previous generations.

Virtual reality has been deemed a powerful tool when teaching through a constructivist framework. Virtual worlds allow learners to interact with content and gain knowledge through experiential learning. In addition, virtual worlds serve as an ideal example of situated learning. The goal of situated learning is to place students in a rich, authentic environment and create a community of learners. Virtual environments are able to accomplish these goals of authenticity and community.

Road to virtual worlds

The roots of virtual worlds extend back to text-based virtual realities and video games. Educators experimented with text-based MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons) long before the advent of virtual worlds.

Adding to this support for virtual worlds, some digital video games have demonstrated effectiveness in learning. In the end, games help students become better problem solvers.  Massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) have caused the lines to be blurred between virtual worlds and video games. A good example of this is Second Life. Some scholars hold that Second Life is not a game (Robbins, 2007; Steinkuchler, 2008; as cited by Stoerger, 2010). The creators of Second Life (i.e., Linden Labs) actually argue that their virtual world is not a MMOG because users actually create their “world.” Therefore, Second Life is a hybrid.

Drawbacks of virtual worlds

Play is a powerful motivator for some students, but not all students enjoy learning in a visual manner, such as a virtual world (Squire, 2005, as cited by Stoerger, 2010). Also, virtual worlds generally take a great deal of time to play and monitor. Interruptions do sometimes occur, such as “drive-by shoutings” (Haynes and Homevik, 1998, p. 6, as cited by Stoerger, 2010). Students can be banished from certain virtual worlds if they violate the Terms of Service (TOS). Generally speaking, virtual worlds require students to have a good video card and up-to-date computer, which cannot be afforded by all. Finally, sexual content is often rampant in virtual worlds; students should be forewarned and encouraged to avoid certain areas and situations (Haynes, 2006, as cited by Stoerger, 2010).

General attributes of Second Life

Second Life (SL) is the biggest three-dimensional virtual world, and it was launched in 2003. Users of SL are called “residents.” These residents can be anyone they want to be and can change appearance multiple times within any online session. Residents communicate through Instant Messaging (IM), text chat or voice chat. All of this communication occurs real time, and the transcripts of IM and text are available for free.

SECOND LIFE Model

Virtual worlds on their own are not sufficient tools to facilitate learning. Educators must employ proven teaching techniques within the context of a virtual world, specifically Second Life for this discussion. Stoerger developed a pedagogical model for virtual worlds that stems from proven learning techniques and strategies. Her model includes ten principles and is named as the mnemonic “SECOND LIFE”:

  1. Support Experimentation-Students learn by building their own identity.
  2. Encourage Play-Play is an important part of learning. Vygotsky argued that play helps a child generate a zone of proximal learning.
  3. Construct Scaffolded Spaces-Teachers should scaffold learning by using four sequential techniques: conceptual, procedural, strategic and metacognitive coaching.
  4. Opt Out of Lecture and Passive Approaches-Current students are active learners. They like to collaborate in communities and learn through experience.
  5. Nurture Player Choice and Decision-Making-Players are responsible for many decisions, and therefore, they control their own learning to a large degree.
  6. Design “Realistic” Environments-Environments need to be relevant and real, such as a replica of a university.
  7. Lead Students Toward a Sense of Space-Students establish their sense of identity in virtual worlds through activities, actions and context.
  8. Increase Student Learning-The natural use of dual coding is an important teaching tool in virtual worlds.
  9. Foster the Formation of a Learning Culture-Many students gain more knowledge through peer-to-peer learning than they could on their own.
  10. Enhance Technology-Focused Skills-Teachers should help students transfer knowledge from the virtual world to reality.

What did you learn from this article?

This article provided a good theoretical framework for using virtual worlds in education. The best approach to teach in a virtual world uses tenets from constructivism. The brief historical description of virtual worlds was also helpful. The SECOND LIFE model is relevant and easy to remember because of the mnemonic, and the ten principles of this model seem feasible and lend guidance to teachers.

Future Trends?

Before joining SL, I was skeptical about how useful it might be in education. I have to admit that the environment was much more fun and relevant than I thought it would be. SL has a great deal of potential in education. I agree with the author that a move to mobile forms of SL and other virtual worlds will gain momentum in coming years. However, the speed of connection and video card requirements for a great experience prohibit the mobile option from gaining popularity currently. I look forward to seeing new virtual worlds emerge over the next few years. I think that any such world, including SL, will have to eliminate illicit content (e.g., sexual content) before it is given widespread consideration in academia. In addition, I think the cost of any such virtual world will need to come down before it is widely embraced by universities.

Stoerger, S. (2010). A pedagogical odyssey in three-dimensional virtual worlds: The SECOND LIFE model. In Yang, H. H. & Yuen, S. C. (Eds.), Collective intelligence and e-learning 2.0: Implications of web-based communities and networking (pp. 248-267). Hershey, Pennsylvania: Information Science Reference. doi: 10.4018/978-1-60566-729-4.ch014

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As mentioned in my brief biography, I am currently working towards a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration with an emphasis in Instructional Technology. I have a learned a great deal from the classes I’ve taken in Instructional Technology, especially concerning Web 2.0 applications. In fact, this blog was initiated in conjunction with my doctoral program.

In the next several post, I will chronicle some of the learning that is taking place in IT 860 (Emerging Technology in Instructional Technology). Each post listed in the IT 860 Table of Contents will serve to outline the major assignments and the learning that takes place. I also hope to reflect on each project and discuss opportunities for application in my current setting. The following description represent a brief outline of the contents to be covered.

The primary focus of IT 860 is on emerging Web 2.0 technologies. And each assignment iss tied to a corresponding chapter from Dr. Yuen’s book, “Collective Intelligence and E-Learning 2.0: Implications of Web-Based Communities and Networking.“ The major readings for this course include Postmodernism in E-Learning 2.0, Embracing E-Learning 2.0, University 2.0, Web-Based Video for E-Learning, Synchronous Online Learning Environments, Game-Based Learning (VISOLE) and A Pedagogical Odyssey in Three-Dimensional Virtual Worlds (The SECOND LIFE Model). These readings will help to introduce several Web 2.0 tools, provide a theoretical background for each tool and demonstrate points of application in education for each tool.

In conjunction with each reading, students are asked to immerse themselves in the technology. This step is important because instructional technologists need to move beyond a surface level understanding of Web 2.0 tools and actually use them. Without interaction with these tools, comments and discussion would merely be speculative or second hand. The Web 2.0 tools that we will experience during this semester include Twitter, Social Bookmarking (Diigo): Reflection on Assignment #2, Social Publishing Sites (Scribd), Screencasting, File Sharing with Drop.io and VoiceThread. These tools represent current tools that are popular and show a great deal of potential in education. I look forward to experiencing each Web 2.0 application!

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