Virtual Reality vs Virtual Worlds Smackdown!

Bethany's Avatars: T-Rex & "Tiny"

Bethany’s Avatars: T-Rex & “Tiny”

I recently joined my Community Virtual Library and SJSU’s VCARA colleagues at a fun event held at iSchool Island in Second Life. We held a Virtual Reality vs Virtual Worlds Smackdown Debate, complete with our impressive avatars ready to duke it out for the audience!

Our sparring was moderated by Dr. Valerie Hill, the director of the Community Virtual Library in Second Life, Avacon, and Kitely. We each had five minutes to speak, and then five minutes to refute our opponent’s position on the most important criteria for immersive environments (as recently identified in an unpublished VCARA survey). The criteria include:

  • Persistence
  • Accessibility
  • Open Educational Resources (OER)
  • Community of Practice
  • Building Independently and Collaboratively

Alyse Dunavant-Jones, the co-director of CVL, argued that  “VR is the future, and the future is now!” while embodied as an enormous fire-breathing dragon. I was embodied as a fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex, arguing that virtual worlds have a much longer and proven history, and still offer a tremendous opportunity for immersive learning. Our avatars were actually so big, we traded into smaller sized ones while standing in the boxing ring to speak. As Alyse spoke she was embodied as a human-sized Gecko in the boxing ring. My T-Rex avatar loomed ominously outside the ring, growling of course. When it was my turn to speak I changed into my “tiny”, a cute black kitten with a fierce attitude. I was fearless of Alyce-as-dragon flying overhead! 

The event concluded as a draw, with both sides conceding that there are benefits and drawbacks to each. Also, it’s critical that pedagogy remain central. It is not enough to merely learn how to use the technology. The main takeaway I wanted to leave with the audience with is that regardless of what platforms we may use in the future, designers of any immersive learning activities have to be familiar with the long history of virtual worlds in education. More importantly, they should already have hands-on experience in virtual worlds. 

Check out more pictures at the VCARA blog post about the event. Anyone interested in networking (and having fun!) with educators in virtual worlds should contact Bethany at eCampus to learn more!

Immersive Learning Research Network Conference 2019

The fifth annual Immersive Learning Research Network conference was held this month in London, England. This conference brings together an international group of developers, educators, and research professionals from a range of  disciplines who collaborate to develop the scientific, technical, and applied potential of immersive learning. In particular, conference participants share their research in an ongoing effort to continually examine the elements that create effective immersive learning experiences. 

I had heard about the conference from one of the organizers, Jonathan Richter, who had presented a keynote at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference in April. I had presented at that in-world conference. Jon had let me know that there was still room for poster presentations at iLRN19, so I had the honor to represent San Jose State University at an international community event.

Bethany at iLRN 2019

My poster synthesized research on the affordances of virtual worlds, and my experiences as both participant and in-world builder for the last year and a half. All of the conference events were great, but I was particularly inspired by Jim Purbrick’s presentation Lessons Learned in Virtual Worlds. As a former developer for Second Life, (and current engineering manager of Oculus VR in the UK), Jim articulated the increasing importance of understanding the social aspect of collaborating in open virtual worlds. Of course, I think the best way to do that is join the educators and librarians who have been holding events and conferences in virtual worlds like Second Life and OpenSim for the last 10 years. So if you have any such interest, do let me know!

If you’re interested in the research, the conference proceedings (linked here) contain 18 final papers selected from 60 submissions. These papers fall into seven different categories; STEM, disciplinary applications, special education, history, pedagogical strategies, immersion and presence. I’ve also linked here to a PDF version of my poster. (From the QR code on my poster you can access additional information and videos about virtual worlds I have posted on Canvas.)

I hope San Jose State will have an even bigger presence at the conference next year, when it will be held in June at Cal Poly San Louis Obispo! 

The Future Present: Rockcliffe University Consortium Conference November 2018

Winter for eCampus staff is a great time to catch up on our own professional development, and earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend this conference in San Francisco with a variety of participants who are involved using virtual worlds in education. One the best things about this conference was the smaller size compared to other ones I’ve attended. It was interactive too, we use a conference app to communicate and a communal Padlet for reflection on the sessions. Basically, it was like a two day breakout session with passionate and creative educational professionals, and I got to meet and network with old friends and new!

I was delighted to be able to finally meet (in-person) my mentor and the Director of the Community Virtual Library, Dr. Valerie Hill. I also got to meet the CVL’s Co-Director, Alyce Dunavant-Jones who just graduated from SJSU’s MLIS program that is also connected with CVL. (In fact, Alyce also posted about the event at the SJSU School of Information blog.)  I met Val and Alyce last year at the OpenSim Community Conference and I’m delighted to be co-presenting with Val for the same conference next week!

In addition to learning from a variety of different sessions, I loved getting to know some of the amazing instructional design team from University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. I also got the chance to  meet and extensively mingle with the leadership of Rockcliffe University Consortium who sponsor many of the conferences related to virtual worlds and education. As with Valerie and Alyce, some of these people I’ve met in-world at one event or another, and meeting in-person was just like meeting an old friend!

I also met Renne Emiko Brock who teaches multimedia studies at Peninsula College in Washington and we immediately “clicked”. She has worked with Valerie before, and I’ve seen her present in-world on several occasions. I immediately recognized her because she looks the same as her avatar! Before the group dinner together on the second night, Renne, Val, and I began talking about me making a visit to Washington this summer to visit both of them, and for the three of us to co-present on our overlapping projects at one or more conferences in 2019. So here’s to the authenticity of in-world relationships, and some exciting times ahead in virtual worlds and education!