Learning ‘virtually’ everywhere

Learning ‘virtually’ everywhere

CSULA teachers-in-training build a presence in Second Life

Master’s degree candidates in “Multimedia Design & Production” have their portraits taken with their avatars, their online personas in the world of Second Life.

Master’s degree candidates in Professor Penny Semrau’s “Multimedia Design & Production” show off their avatars during one of their few in-person meetings. The class is run almost entirely in the virtual world of Second Life, and the “avatars” will represent each of the students online.

Students in the Greenies Home Rezzable exhibit in Second Life.

Students visit an exhibit located at the Exploratorium in Second Life.

Tour the Sistine Chapel without boarding a plane to Rome. Stand at the heart of a Tsunami without feeling a drop of water. Eat lunch with educators from across the planet without leaving your living room.

Sound impossible?

In the real world—yes. But virtually, anything can happen. At least that is what Charter College of Education master’s degree candidates are discovering in “Multimedia Design & Production,” a class taught by Professor Penny Semrau entirely in the virtual world of Second Life (http://secondlife.com).

Second Life is an innovative 3-D world where all the content is created by its users, who are referred to as residents. In Semrau’s class, for instance, student residents have built a virtual CSULA coffee house, art gallery, designed class tutorials, and more on a plot of land that she leases annually on “Eduisland.”

Her goal in introducing students to Second Life, Semrau said, is to increase their comfort level with and knowledge about the virtual environment, while also demonstrating how technology’s tools can expand learning opportunities in the classroom.

“This is the wave of the future for educators,” Semrau said. “It’s good for my students to be exposed to this now because they are going to be teaching in this world or in a similar 3-D virtual environment eventually.”

In weekly virtual classes, students work on group projects, participate in discussions, do critical thinking and navigate around the virtual world. Favorite Second Life field trips of past classes have included expert-led tours of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association and a precisely replicated Sistine Chapel at Vassar College.

“I think that is one of the ways the virtual environment is the most useful,” said student Chad Parker. “It creates an opportunity for people who would normally not meet, due to geographic location or language issues, to work together.”

Since taking Semrau’s class, Parker said he has continued to use the virtual environment as a tool to gather information about new trends in education and teaching.

Pasadena Unified School District teacher Cletus Ganschow, who is getting his first introduction to Second Life this winter, said he already plans to integrate what he learns into his teaching.

“I think it’s the next step in interactive learning,” he said. “It’s great to be able to participate in a group but from different locations… And anything that you can do in the real world, you can do in Second Life.”

Other students shared similar experiences, explaining how they have used the environment in group presentations, to attend conferences and even to lease land and develop a place for families in Africa to learn about cooking with solar ovens through demonstrations, tutorials and readings.

Second Life offers a full array of interactive possibilities ranging from texting each other to near-physical interactions,” student Scott Dayman ’08 said. “… And as a teaching tool, it bridges distances and offers environments and simulations not available in real life.”

Professor Semrau expressed that she has been very pleased with her students’ response to the course and their enthusiasm for creating teaching tools to help future students and visitors to the coffee house navigate the world and learn about the University.

“I’d like to teach more classes here,” Semrau said of her virtual classroom. “I think it offers great potential and educational possibilities for learning and teaching in many disciplines.”