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Archive for March, 2012

With the start of a new semester we have another 35 students working with community organisations to develop websites that we host on a university server. This semester, for the first time, we also have 300 students enrolled in a first year introduction to digital media course working with not-for-profit organisations to develop video clips to promote the organisation’s services. This program, called sustainable online community engagement, is funded by the South Australian Government’s Office for Volunteers and won the Premier’s Award for building communities in 2009.

In week three of the semester we hosted a community event enabling students to meet with their community organisation clients. The photo below was taken at this community engagement event hosted at the University of South Australia on the 14th March 2012.

Denise, Alice and guests at the SOCE community event held on the 14th March 2012

From left to right: Denise, Alice, EPI student and representative from one of the community organisations attending the SOCE community event 14th March 2012

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Following my visit to the University of the Western Cape I returned to Johannesburg to continue our research in the socially disadvantaged schools in Gauteng and Limpopo Provinces.

During this trip we installed the latest updates to the 3D virtual learning environment that we have been creating, which is based on the South African national curriculum standards. We also ran teacher training and briefed the education department staff who will be undertaking the testing of children’s progress on the research protocol.

Here are some screen shots from the developing 3D virtual learning environment we have created for the schools:

The initial orientation trail children encounter when they log into the 3D virtual learning environment

The initial orientation trail children encounter when they log into the 3D virtual learning environment

Children can rent their own virtual land and house in the virtual world where they can furnish their house and grow virtual vegetables to sell to the market

Children can rent their own virtual land and house in the virtual world where they can furnish their house and grow virtual vegetables to sell to the market

Children can visit the market and shops in the township to buy food and learn how to manage their virtual money

Children can visit the market and shops in the township to buy food and learn how to manage their virtual money

Children can go on safari trails in the 3D virtual world where they solve numeracy and literacy problems and answer quizzes about science in an exploratory environment

Children can go on safari trails in the 3D virtual world where they solve numeracy and literacy problems and answer quizzes about science in an exploratory environment

Children can also travel to the moon in a virtual rocket and then enter a plantarium to learn about the solar system

Children can also travel to the moon in a virtual rocket and then enter a plantarium to learn about the solar system

Children can fly to the moon to learn about the solar system in the 3D virtual world

Children can fly to the moon to learn about the solar system in the 3D virtual world

 Children can travel underwater in a submarine to view underwater life and answer quizzes about marine life

Children can travel underwater in a submarine to view underwater life and answer quizzes about marine life

Each adventure trail includes interactive boards providing children with the opportunity to solve numeracy and literacy problems in a fun like environment

Each adventure trail includes interactive boards providing children with the opportunity to solve numeracy and literacy problems in a fun like environment

Children enrolled in 5 basic schools in Gauteng and 5 in Limpopo Provinces, as well as children attending 3 special schools will be commencing trials of the platform within the curriculum in term 2 and we will monitoring their performance in terms of development of numeracy, literacy and life skills as well as changes in motivation and self esteem over a three year period to determine the impact of this kind of learning environment on learning outcomes. I will be updating progress on the project periodically in the coming months.

You can learn more about the project via our Let us Learn project site: http://let-us-learn.org/

 

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I am somewhat behind in blog updates as I spent some time in South Africa during January and February, arriving back in Australia just in time for the start of a new semester.

My first stop in South Africa on this trip was to the University of the Western Cape (UWC), where I was warmly welcomed and hosted by Professor Vivienne Bozalek, Director of Teaching and Learning. During my visit to UWC I conducted a 3 day workshop, seminars and met individually with UWC staff to discuss the potential of 3D virtual worlds for enhancing teaching and learning, and also as medium for conducting research.

External view of one of the buildings at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa

University of the Western Cape (UWC), South Africa

The workshop took place from Wednesday 1st February 2012 to Friday 3rd February.  The workshop aimed tol provide participants with an introduction to 3D virtual worlds, both publicly owned and open source platforms, and background information on how these virtual worlds are being used in education, research and for a range of social activities.

One the first day of the workshop I presented findings from the ethnographic research conducted in the 3D virtual world known as Second Life to demonstrate the benefits and challenges of conducting research in these environments. I also discussed case studies of how 3D virtual worlds are being used in higher education across a range of disciplines and described the pedagogical benefits and affordances of these environments, drawing on the research arising from our ALTC funded project and the guidelines developed through this research. I also demonstrated our open source virtual world that has been developed for use in socially disadvantaged schools in Gauteng and Limpopo Provinces and described the research process undertaken in the schools.

The second day of the workshop provided an introduction for those who are new to 3D virtual worlds. The workshop session provided an opportunity for participants to gain hands on experience navigating and interacting in Second Life. Participants learned how to sign up for free membership, create an avatar and navigate the orientation trail when they first log into Second Life. They also learned how to walk and fly their avatars, use chat and instant messaging, and teleport to different locations “in-world”. They were shown how to create a profile, offer friendship to other avatars and join groups. Those who were more ambitious had the opportunity to try their hand at creating simple objects using the built-in building tools, visit locations and take snapshot photos “in-world”.

The third and final day of the workshop focused more on the pedagogical uses of virtual worlds included tours of different places in Second Life to explore the ways in which universities are already using virtual worlds in learning and teaching, and to generate ideas about how participants might use such environments to support their own teaching. This wrap up session also provided opportunity for discussion about the effective strategies for facilitating student engagement and learning, and some examples where virtual world activities might have been better undertaken through more traditional approaches.

The seminar session conducted the following week was open to all UWC academics and guests from other universities. This seminar provided a brief overview of the use of 3D virtual worlds for a range of educational, research and social activities. The session provide opportunity for interaction among participants who wanted to share their own experiences in virtual worlds and to raise questions about how to deal with unforeseen circumstances as they arise. The session concluded with discussion about where the future may be heading in the use of these environments for learning and teaching in higher education.

Denise presenting 3D virtual worlds seminar at the University of the Western Cape

Denise presenting 3D virtual worlds seminar at the University of the Western Cape

You can view the video of the seminar from YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lw_36k9A-Nk&feature=youtu.be

I am now meeting with a group of UWC academics in Second Life each week with the view to building their capacity to use these learning environments within their own teaching and learning. I look forward to a long term and mutually beneficial academic association with UWC and plan to return later in the year to further develop our collaboration.

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