Tuesday, May 26, 2015

2015 EDU: HG: Why an OpenSimulator Virtual Campus? REDgrid, of Ball State University.

Why an OpenSimulator Virtual Campus?  
REDgrid, of Ball State University.
REDgrid is a virtual instructional and research environment built for Ball State University on the virtual world platform of OpenSim.  Stephen Gasior, the creator, here describes the advantages and disadvantages he has found in offering instruction in virtual worlds.   
BSU Entry
  • REDgrid, the OpenSim home of Ball State University
  • Web Site:  Redgrid
  • HG address.  Paste into the world map next to Find
  • Click Find, then teleport if the place is found.  
  • redgrid.bsu.edu:9000 
(More after the break)

News and Notes

Trilinea Short Poetry Workshop-Tue, 5/26, 7pm SLT 

This week the Short Poetry Workshop revisits the Trilinea poetry form, which is a three-line poem of 4-8-4 syllables and must use the word “rose” in the poem. Join us as we explore the Trilinea and learn, write and share your own. 


Why an OpenSimulator Virtual Campus?

By Stephen Gasior, invited author
I have been a long time user of virtual worlds for education. As an instructor of biology at the University of New Orleans, I taught a nonmajors biology class fully immersed in Second Life on 3 separate occasions. I thought it was a great way to teach but in some ways it was a mixed experience for the students. Many students enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to take a distance education class. Many enjoyed some virtual only activities like constructing molecules, breeding bunnies, and following Darwin’s journey on the Beagle

Many did not enjoy the technical difficulties, lag, or learning a new software program. That first class was also a memory headache for an old man such as myself because I had to translate funny login names to real world identities (Display names are a wonderful feature for educators). There was a particularly problematic semester in which Linden Labs changed to version 2 one week before my second class began and I had never used it nor did I catch the news of the release nor could my old laptop use it (rough first day helping students until I figured that out).
Given my enjoyment and fascination with the persistent social world that is SL, I was frequently surprised by how infrequently (as far as I can tell, never) students persisted in using SL after the semester was over. Having students in a class group showed that the “last login” date was never after the last day of the semester. Perhaps they all decided to form a secret anti-Xootfly group with alts, but I find it more likely that students viewed the SL classroom as equivalent to a real classroom. One goes there, takes class, takes exams, go ANYWHERE else for studying and socializing. For an on-campus student, those other places are frequently a dorm room, the library, a quiet corner in a museum. However, for mostly distance education student, they will find themselves doing that away from the campus community.
But, I’ve been reading and thinking. And while that is frequently considered a dangerous combination, it’s brought me to a potentially valuable way of thinking about higher education, the modern university, and online education. There’s been a movement in higher education to online/distance education that values accessibility, asynchronously delivered content, and personalized learning. Using tools like Adobe Connect, Blackboard, and YouTube one can deliver information and learning lessons to students at lower cost and higher scale. But what happens with the students after the day’s lesson is over in these delivery systems? What is the connection between students, with students to the professor, and students to the university community? This is a good time to recall that universities offer more than opportunities to learn specific topics and get a piece of paper certifying one finished classes.  
Universities provide social and cultural opportunities. In Steven Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From,  he describes the concepts of the adjacent possible, liquid networks, and serendipity being drivers of innovation in the modern connected world.  For example, cities have rates of innovation that scale quadratically with the population size because of connections made from “collisions” in a defined area. This is one of the key values that universities provide. The opportunity to collide. Everyone who graduated from college recalls that great class or professor. As well as that horrible class and professor. But, frequently more important are the friendships, internships, research projects, professional contacts that have a lasting effect on one’s life. But do those interactions all happen in classes? No, it’s the in the library study carrel, the quiet corner in the museum, or at the up-all-night event, etc.
When online of classes are interspersed in a student’s course of study, then students maintain that connection to the campus community. But what about those whose majority if not entirety of their studies are away from the campus? Online can be a value proposition it the short term, but is it in the long run? The decline and troubles many for-profit and predominantly online universities are facing is emblematic of this issue. They do not promote strong communities. They do not make connections between faculty and students that produce new innovations to the universities. Ultimately, their only revenue streams are tuition. Most brick and mortar universities have alumni to donate or even save the university . Connections between faculty and students help produce artifacts, projects, research, and media of lasting quality and value.
This is why persistent online campuses with a strong social accessibility are of value. I do kick myself for not having taken my former UNO students on more tours of the University sim. Whoever had built the island had done a nice job of making a reflection of the regular campus. And that was a missed opportunity to connect my class to the greater university community. Other universities have wonderful campus reflective sims. I was particularly impressed by the effort at University of Western Australia as described in this year’s VWBPE. They have turned their Second Life campus into place for showcasing student creative talent. That creativity brings students and non UWA folk together which  creates a persistent value to their campus with social aspects and traffic (= collisions). 
I’m now at Ball State University, also one of the pioneering universities in utilizing Second Life in the heyday with 9 sims and a high powered design digital design lab involved in creating the virtual campus. It was well utilized by educators, particularly in nursing. But, other than UWA, I’m not aware of many universities that have imparted that sense of place and social connections. Is it because students don’t see specific value. Do admins and educators? I can imagine it’s a combination of several factors including the general complaints of SL as a den of sexual deviants (not a personal opinion) in which the wrong collisions can take place with students.

A library with media
When Linden Labs changed it’s billing policy and eliminated the educator discount, BSU’s 9 sim days were over. IDIALab started a standalone OpenSimulator grid for continued virtual world use. A standalone only offered opportunities for connections in that space. But, OpenSimulator has several advantages. Students can use their real names, the close connection to the server can mean fast connections, work inworld can be archived, uploads are free, spaces can be dedicated to each class or group or project. With the advent of the hypergrid, one can have these advantages and have more global interactions. We are now on version 2.0 of REDgrid, a standalone grid with hypergrid connections.

Museum of art
REDgrid has recreations of university buildings like Sursa Hall (music), Owsley Museum (art), Bracken Library (study groups). REDgrid can provide spaces for interaction and performances. But importantly, these campus recreations provide a sense of place for online students, either off-campus or regular students. For an online class, however, they are also an opportunity for students to build their projects and have a place to congregate, and, with the hypergrid, an opportunity to interact and present projects to a global community. 

Ball State has a strong track record of promoting immersive learning. Immersive learning involves teamwork and creative enterprises. The opportunity and space is there. But, the onus is on me and educators and administrators to make OpenSimulator campuses vibrant and part of a global community for the sake of the university.  Developing communities is hard. But, they can be places where everyone knows your name. 

In the Library
We’ve had one Hypergrid Safari visit to our campus. The collisions have started. If you are interested in interactions with me and my classes with your virtual university, please contact me (stephenxootfly@gmail.com). And, come by anytime to 
  • HG address.  Paste into the world map next to Find.
  • Click Find, then teleport if the place is found. 
  • redgrid.bsu.edu:9000 
And, look for announcements on my students’ work by mid July. 
  • Stephen Gasior
  • Stephen Xootfly in the metaverses
  • stephenxootfly@gmail.com

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      1 comment:

      1. Awesome article! Good summary of your work in virtual worlds!