Notes re: Educause ELI conference presentation by Sarah Smith Robbins, PhD. Candidate, Ball State U. – Virtual Worlds as Web 2.0 Learning Spaces

Wow! I got more out of attending this session via the Sonicfoundry online videocast than most conference sessions I have attended in person. In addition to valuable content, the method of online delivery was perfect.

Sarah Smith Robins grounded her presentation with an emphasis on pedagogy first and then looked at the use of technology as a means to accomplish learning, student engagement, interaction, communication and finally, the development of good writing skills. She referenced Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles as guiding elements. Her definition of web 2.0 distilled the concept to 4 key elements: consumer/producer web content, remote applications, social interaction, and the use of APIs (application program interface) to create “mashups”.

She discussed universities and their impact on the learning of 18-24 year old students and provided a statistical overview of the use of communication and learning technologies to demonstrate the cultural shift of current the current generation. This illuminated the frequent disconnect with methods of communication and their chosen learning environments. She further addressed those who are currently in middle-school and proposed that they approach new technologies without “medial hauntings”. That is, they accept tools for what they are and are comfortable with simultaneously exploring many streams of information.

I must admit that as much as I work with a dozen or so computer programs at the same time, I still have difficulty with the “CNN” look of my television with information streaming from all corners. However, I recognize that the learners of today and those of the future must have this skill and work in such environments with comfort and ease.

I’ve questioned the value of students using fake names and representation of personal identity; however this presentation has shed new and positive light on the subject. I liked Sarah’s recognition that student IDs are complex and that by allowing her students to represent themselves with avatars, she can begin to know who they really are and can then address their needs. She opened my eyes to the use of avatars as a means to try on roles and likened that to putting on a lab coat in a traditional lab class and playing scientist for an hour. By sharing a story about her students who experienced a virtual situation which made them feel different and unacceptable to others in that space, she demonstrated the power of the “experience” of prejudice over merely reading about the experiences of others. I liked how she then used this experience as a springboard for writing about the experience. She further coupled this with a writing assignment which provided an opportunity for students to address a particular audience, get peer review and write better papers than they would have in a traditional class.

Sarah Smith Robins is articulate and has the ability to convey the potential of web 2.0 learning tools and spaces (particularly virtual environments) in a way that helps me personally see the need and value to move forward in this direction.

2nd Life as a Blogger

My limited experience in posting to a blog was during my graduate work at CSU for reflection on weekly activities. My current interest in blogging is an attempt to explore ideas and learn with others. I have been inspired by my VCU colleagues, Britt Watwood and Jeffery Nugent as we jointly consider and explore learning in a wired and flat world. I also want to thank Konrad Glogowski for his inspiring presentation: Initiating and Sustaining Conversations: Assessment and Evaluation in the Age of Networked Learning.