Distance Education through Second Life

As I contemplate the opportunities provided by Second Life, I see a number of potential pathways.

Consider SL as an opportunity to provide another dimension to distance education. It can provide another dimension that will enrich the learning experience. Last night I taught one of my distance education courses at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). It is a face-to-face video course over the Iowa Communications Network (ICN). The ICN is an Iowan resource composed of a state-owned fiberoptic network that connects over 800 broadcast sites throughout the state. These broadcast/reception sites vary in sophistication, but all of them include monitors for reception and cameras for broadcasting. Most of them include teacher computers along with DVD players, VHS players and overhead cameras. It is said that no one in Iowa lives more than 20 from an ICN classroom.

My class last night involved me sitting alone in an ICN classroom at UNI and talking with students at 7 sites across the state. Most of my classes include students in the UNI classroom as well as the satellite classrooms but not this time. I control who and what is seen from my control tower. Some sites have multiple students while other students sit alone in their classrooms. The interaction between the students and between the students and me is somewhat limited. I don’t see students communicating much between themselves outside of the classroom unless they are involved in completing a classroom assignment.

Imagine if this course was taught in SL. At it’s basic level, it would be a chat room with avatars. Interaction would depend upon students’ typing skills as well as their interest in the topic. One of the problems with using a written interface is the extended lag time between questions and answers. This gives us a chance to consider our ideas before we share them but it can also cause frustration. SL will ultimately provide an audio interface (it is in beta format now) which will bring a more satisfying interaction between participants. I have used Skype to interact with others while in SL and it worked well. Unfortunately, there is a limit of 4 participants (I think) in a Skype conference call so it would require limiting the class size.

SL can play audio and video broadcasts that are streaming through the Internet. This means that I could share videos from Edutopia by the George Lucas Education Foundation. I could just post them one of the videos screens in SL in my “classroom” whatever that may look like.

Playing streaming audio feeds also means that we could use the Webcasting technology that the EdTechTalk podcast guys have developed. This means that multiple folks could connect with me through Skype and then broadcast this through the web which could then feed through SL. The best part is that we would see the avatars standing/sitting together. I have found this geographical proximity to be an interesting phenomena which I will discuss in another posting but I think that it improves the interaction experience.

Musical concerts are happening in SL every week so the process of mass communication is already a reality. This interaction is something that will provide great opportunities.

What about panel discussions or group interaction or ??? These are the topics for another post.

What’s YOUR opinion?
Leave a comment and keep the discussion going.

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