Second Life Connects Idaho Educators for Larger Learning Network

Tuesday, August 18 2009


Aug. 18, 2009

Written by Joni Kirk

MOSCOW, Idaho – When University of Idaho graduate student Nichole Scott struggled with the classroom sound system during a recent class presentation, accounting instructor KD Hatheway-Dial quickly walked to the podium to provide some technical assistance. It all seemed fairly straightforward and natural for a classroom setting.

However, Hatheway-Dial's class actually took place in Second Life, a virtual reality computer environment that simulates real life; technical assistance was performed via instant messaging. And while the action of walking to the podium also was virtual, it signifies just how real the classes "in world" – as Second Life commonly is referred to – have become.

Scott, a graduate student from Juliaetta and Kendrick working on a master's of accountancy, just completed Hatheway-Dial's summer course that was a hybrid of in classroom and online learning. Initially, she was intimidated by the virtual world concept.

"I was skeptical of Second Life to begin with," Scott said. "However, after completing this class, I think it's a great program for online classes. I learned a lot and, in the end, enjoyed using Second Life."

She cited interaction opportunities that aren't available for most online courses, such as the ability to give a presentation or engage in debate, as some of the strengths. "It gave me a chance to actually interact with classmates, which usually isn't the case in an online class," she said.

Now, thanks to a $186,700 State Board of Education technology grant, Hatheway-Dial and her colleagues plan to use Second Life to connect educators around Idaho in a similarly seamless fashion while maximizing interactions.

The grant, "Connecting Educators Across Idaho Through Virtual Worlds," will prepare educators across Idaho to utilize evolving technologies and assist them in taking the first steps in an expanded methodology of educational delivery. The primary emphasis of the project will be to assist those in K-12 and higher education classrooms, but the project also has benefits for the university's statewide Extension program.

"We are thrilled for the opportunity to share our passion for using virtual worlds to further education with educators around our state," said Hatheway-Dial.

Educators from school districts and Extension offices around the state will be invited to eight “face-to-face” workshops on how to use virtual world technology in education. During these workshops, Hatheway-Dial and her colleagues – Brian Cleveley, University of Idaho adjunct professor of Virtual Technology and Design, and Lori Wahl, faculty member in Family and Consumer Sciences – will demonstrate how virtual world technologies can support Idaho educators by increasing their connectivity with state-wide, regional and global educational communities. This increased connectivity provides opportunities for collaboration.

The team acknowledges that use of Second Life will take time, but it's time well worth the investment for those teaching a generation that is technically savvy.

"Part of the grant is to help people get safely up to speed in a good work/play environment," said Cleveley "We want to help educators be informed so that when they work with students – who are miles ahead in technology use – the teachers don't look out of place."

Hatheway-Dial agrees. "This is an awareness project. We want to show educators the opportunity, hold their hand as they take their first steps and introduce them to other educators for networking purposes."

The benefits of connecting via a virtual environment extend beyond educators. A science teacher providing a course that's of interest statewide can connect to classrooms and reach more students. The virtual presentation then could be converted to video-on-demand and posted online for general access.

The virtual world builders at the University of Idaho have developed expertise and are available to help educators create whole environments for study and student interaction. Further support in virtual world building also will be available through students in the Virtual Technology and Design program. Once virtual educational items are created, they are easily stored and can be set up with just a key stroke.

"The impact of this is immense," said Cleveley. "We have an abundance of rural areas in our state, and this provides opportunities across the board from education to small businesses. The cost of building a facility is enormous, as are the continued overhead costs. By conducting business in world, you may get more bang for your buck."

While Scott would prefer real-life classrooms, she agrees Second Life is a great alternative to online classes. "It's just good experience. I think the more experience we have in college for all sorts of situations, the better prepared we will be for the real world," she said.

View the University of Idaho’s current presence in Second Life at www.sl.uidaho.edu.  
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit www.uidaho.edu.  

Media Contact: Joni Kirk, University Communications, (208) 885-7725, joni@uidaho.edu  
Images are available at www.today.uidaho.edu/PhotoList.aspx





About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit www.uidaho.edu.