We took a week off of our SL Educators Group schedule last week (busy times and travel plans), but we were back, full force, this week with Session #7. Today we toured Aggie Island with Dr. Mike DeMers, a geography professor at New Mexico State University (NMSU).
Mike (aka Gadget Loon in SL), pictured here, teaches an upper division Geographic Informaiton Systems (GIS) course at NMSU – portions of which are conducted in the virtual world. Along with some talented helpers, he’s build a very impressive NMSU island used for teaching. He has about 30 students in his GIS course and offers them 200 extra credit points for coming into SL and completing the virtual labs he’s developed. He explained that about half of his students take him up on it (only half? what’s wrong with these kids?!) and really get a lot out of the experience.
He started our tour by getting us oriented with a map of the island and a calendar (which is tied elecronically to his GoogleCalendar). Then he took us over to the goodie area where students can pick up freebie clothes, hair, skin, and various other items (including the same NMSU t- shirt that Mike’s avatar was wearing). It’s important, Mike explained, that his students’ avatars are able to distinguish themselves when they all come in for the first time, looking like cookie-cutter newbies.
Mike has constructed a series of ten laboratory activities that the students complete in SL. They pick up their materials in these red boxes, pictured on the far right. The raised boxes contain instructions and materials for labs they’ve already done or are ready to be pickedup, the collapsed boxes are not yet ready – nice visual cue there. The exercises consist of various map reading and GIS activities, including one where the students texture three-dimnsional objects with maps. So a “cylindrical projection” becomes just that – a map on a cylinder. Mike explained that this sort of tacticle building experience works very well for his students. As they build and manipulate, they get a better grasp of some of these hard-to-understand, three-dimensional concepts. He also has a traditional lecture set up, with a media board (to display slides) and an Interwrite board that mimics the “clicker systems” used in many college and high school auditoriums today (where students “vote” to answer questions with hand-held clickers). In this case, the clicker system is completely free (you can find it on xstreet), students “click in” by clicking on their answer choice displayed on the board.
Here you see a poster session, set up by Mike’s students, created in honor of International GIS Day (who knew?) – November 17th. All the posters that you see were created by his students and represent the first ever vitual world representation of GIS Day. They have a big party on the actual day, complete with virtual snacks and, of course, champagne!
We had a great time with Mike, exploring his build, hearing about his teaching innovations, and the way he’s so effectively using the virtual world with students. Thanks, Mike!