Here’s my recap of the Immersive Education (#iED) Summit’s Day 2 -the second half. Thanks for hanging in there with me on this, gang…I know these posts are looong, but there was just so much going on!
Over lunch Ed Boyce (from Duke University) got me up and running in Cobalt in about 10 minutes. Very, very easy. You download the application here and enter the world. You can drag and drop any kmz file right onto the environment you’re in and then right click on it to put it in edit mode (to resize, move, rotate). You can get a feel for process in these two pictures.
Here, on the left, is a screen shot of Google’s 3D warehouse where I grabbed a kmz file of a build of La Louvre. To the right, you can see that I’ve dropped the Louvre kmz file into my avatar’s space in Cobalt. Very cool. I love the idea of drag and drop building like this. You can see how one could easily render a quick and relevant 3D space for learning, meetings, collaborations, whatever. Once you’ve built it, you name the space, and then generate a directory link to it. You share the directory link with whomever you want to invite to your space and they join you there. Easy breezy.
Right after lunch, Richard Gilbert (Loyola Marymount University) gave a fascinating talk on the psychology of immersive worlds. This is one that I had circled and starred when I first reviewed the conference agenda. Gilbert, who is on the Immersive Education board, set out his goal to talk about the human and cultural dimensions of immersive worlds and the impact of the technology on users and culture.
He described the PROSE project (Psychological Research on Synthetic Environments) at LMU that focuses on three overarching research questions:
1. What are the characteristics of active participants in virtual worlds (demographics, personality, mental health characteristics)?
2. Do the principles of psychology that operate in the actual world also operate in the vw?
3. Do experiences in virtual worlds have the capacity to influence behavior and subjective experience in the real world?
He described two examples of research where the principles of psychology in the actual world, apply as well to the vw (organizing yourself in physical space, changing behavior based on seeing someone else rewarded). He also referenced the research of a Stanford grad student where subjects watching their avatar exercise (on a treadmill), increased their own exercise in the actual world as a result.
On LMU’s virtual research island (in SL) Gilbert and his team conduct psychology research. They recently conducted surveys with over 800 avatars in-world, looking for subjects through SL groups and various leaders. The LMU team screens their subjects – looking for avatars who have been in SL for at least six months (more stable usage patterns) and pay them in Linden dollars (1000L). Subjects come in, sit at a virtual terminal, see a drop down menu for a number of studies, select the study they are there for, and are connected to their survey in a browser. The completed survey is submitted and downloaded to a statistical engine. Some candidates are also interviewed.
Here are the studies that Gilbert and his team are working on now: The first study explores the prevalence of addiction to SL and it’s co-morbidity with real life addictions (this one will be appearing in Journal of Addiction Research). The second study looked at sexuality in the 3D world and its relationship to real world sexuality. A third study looked at intimate relationships in the 3D world – communication patterns, satisfaction levels, and comparison to real life relationships. A fourth study looks at psychological and social adjustment of active users of SL. A fifth study looks at personality characteristics across multiple identities of self, primary avatar, and alts by asking subjects to complete a survey of psychological characteristics of themselves, then the same survey considering their avatar, then their alt (30% of SL users have more than one avatar). Gilbert reports that the two physical variables that people most often modify on their avatar are eye color and weight. The sixth study looks at the impact of SL on individuals with significant RL disabilities. This last project surveys new SL residents (within the first week) and then again in 3-4 months to see what impact being able to interact with others through a different lens than that of their disability has on the human driver. They’ve intentionally aimed to publish all of their findings in mainstream psychology journals.
Gilbert co-chairs Immersive Education’s Psychology of Immersive Environments Technology Working Group. He’s looking for people to join their collaboration, if you’re willing to participate in their basic and applied research. In addition to ongoing conversation about the studies he described, the working group wants to gather a central bibliography and to identify and promote beneficial psychological practices in virtual worlds.
Unfortunately, Gilbert didn’t talk about any of his results in these studies (big disappointment!) but I, for one, will be looking for his published articles. In the Q/A session, someone asked him to sum up what he thinks the avatar represents for most human drivers – his response: the avatar represents an idealized self for most people. A few people in the audience mentioned how put off they are by the “sexed up” look of many of the avatars and how problematic that is for them with their institutions.
When asked about vw projects that involve students, Gilbert talked about two interesting sounding builds. The first is Dream World – a gigantic 3D brain with an escalator (immersive equivalent of the spinal cord). You enter the brain, where you are transported to a place called the Dream Museum which is a multimedia exhibit created by an interdisciplinary collaboration among psychology, graphic arts, and computer science students. He also talked about a new build called Language Island Promenade where they’ve built a replica of the actual world promenade in Nice. Students are invited to an immersive French experience.
Stephanie August (also from Loyola Marymount) talked about additional builds they’ve made in SL under a National Science Foundation grant. Stephanie described their tentative plans to migrate from SL to the Education Grid. She talked about issues of support, stability, and standards. One of the factors driving them to the Education Grid is cost – while SL is free downloadable software, in order to build you have to rent land (with annual fees). Their university gave them start-up money but are not funding that ongoing, additional annual expense. They are going down the road of portability – that is, building their assets so that they can be platform independent and migrate when they need to.
Next up, Isaac Peal (who is a Boston College student) masterminded a session to demo the sim Virtual Harlem (in SL) with Bryan Carter , University of Central Missouri (SL=Bryan Mnemonic), who was in-world for the presentation. The first version of Virtual Harlem was built in 1997 – the goal was to create a 1920-30’s version of Harlem. Recreations of various historical locations like the Cotton Club, the Apollo Theater (including performances there), the Savoy Ballroom, and period-based businesses serve as a perfect sandbox for teaching about the Harlem Renaissance and this important chapter in African American literary history. As a next step for the project, they will migrate various portions of Virtual Harlem to the Education Grid this summer. Bryan explained that the two locations will continue (SL and Education Grid) and should compliment each other. The Education Grid instance will allow educators to bring younger students into Virtual Harlem. Bryan provides information about his english courses are taught in SL on his blog site.
After we talked with Bryan in SL for a few minutes, Isaac demonstrated the process for migrating SL builds to the Education Grid. He used the viewer Meerkat to do this (Meerkat is discontinued but he said Emerald or Imprudence would work the same way – and you could do it with Second Inventory; while that product costs, you can import scripts as well). With full permissions of your object, you just right click the object, click more, and then select back up – this creates an xml file of your object. Name it, save it. Remember to make sure that all the parts of your object are linked when you do this. And since there is a max number of linked objects in SL (256), you might have to save a complex object in two parts. Once he saved the xml file, Isaac closed out of SL and went into the Education Grid (with the SL viewer) and, under File, clicked to upload textures + import, looked for the file, and uploaded it. In moments, his avatar built the imported object – and there it was, on the Education Grid.
The last session of the day was a panel discussion on assessment and pedagogy. The panelists were John Belcher (MIT), Cary Polumbo (Principal of South Park Elementary School in Colorado), Jody Clark Madura (Harvard Graduate School of Education), Diane Ketelhut (Temple University), Peggy Sheehy (Suffrin Middle School in NY), and Michael Mayreth (post-doc fellow at Harvard Graduate School of Education). A few gems from the panel:
- Massive inertia on the part of universities to make changes was noted.
- NRC has a good supply of policy-level resources about the way students learn, about the state of assessment, and on games and assessment.
- VWs offer more opportunity for constructivism, situated learning and communities of practice – an umbrella to address a range of solutions.
- Teachers need a rich palette of tools to be able to get to all kids and a full range of learning goals.
- It is difficult to assess learning in virtual worlds but you should attempt to map out what you’re asking students to do and measure that against the students’ participation in the vw.
- Recommendation to include students in any assessment of a program (what worked for you, how could it be better?).
- Think in terms of students’ mental models – what are they imagining? Bring up a simulation, frozen, and ask them what do you think will happen next?
- The Harvard post-docs talked about the Virtual Assessments Project (VPA) as a model for studying student performance in immersive worlds.
- There’s an urgency in public education right now – “this isn’t about rock the boat, it’s sink the ship.”
- One UK participant referenced the “e-portfolio” system used in the UK.
- Surely the fact that everything that happens in a vw can be logged can be exploited?
- “I’m not good at math but my avatar is..” direct quote from one of Peggy’s students.
All in all, a fabulous day. My brain is full. Time to go home and decompress.