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‘Virtual’ learning environment

After managing a deeper jump into the world of Web 2.0 by adding Twitter and Facebook to my repertoire – I was open to try a ‘virtual’ environment.  Second Life (SL) was suggested as the platform to use as CSU has a dedicated area for the purposes of teaching and learning about and through this tool.  My first two visits earlier in the course were ‘tech heavy’ as I refined my avatar and her abilities.  Then I experienced a very frustrating group tour episode where I couldn’t hear instructions and the text support was limited.  I certainly questioned how this environment could support ‘learners’ if the technology hurdle I was experiencing was likely to be prevalent for others.  Does one commit lots of tech-tool learning time to simply read signs in a library-look-alike building?  I did wonder at the value of a ‘virtual world’ for a while.

Then, having read more about the number of people (esp. youth) experiencing virtual worlds and realizing there is something in Ilene Frank’s (2008) suggestion  – “that is where our users are headed”, I reviewed my opinion.  As I became in just four visits, Frank has suggested that many users are becoming comfortable and more familiar within a virtual environment and the software is likely to continue to evolve and improve making it more accessible to folk with various languages and / or disabilities.  When the tech difficulties are overcome, it’s a ‘playful’ place – being able to create a persona with a certain degree of anonymity can be fun – even more so during the tech-learning stages when all sorts of ‘silly’ things happen.  Being able to enjoy the learning process is encouragement to come back for more.

Fiona presenting in SL

Then our study group had some volunteers verbally present in a virtual seminar room, overviews of their assignment projects with accompanying slide presentations. Other students were the audience and allowed the opportunity to ask questions at the conclusion of each presentation.  The presenters were well supported and coached to enable a ‘realistic’ impression for both speaker and listeners. The auditory dimension added to the visual slides was very effective and feedback later through our facebook page indicated that this could be a valuable experience for future course participants. This experience has clarified for me how this virtual environment can provide a place to participate and share knowledge with a particular interest-group.  This has confirmed for me the effectiveness of auditory input in the online teaching/learning process.  My previous experience of interaction using voice (Skype) had been a successful project involving a group of 5 students collaboratively creating a slide presentation within specific parameters.

I am yet to visit a virtual library populated with librarians – where according to Frank (2008) most questions concern Second Life software itself, but some ‘reference’ questions are answered.  ‘Librarians are providing programming in the form of book talks, art exhibitions, meetings for professional development, and opportunities for networking’.  She spoke of the ‘Teen Grid’ for 13 – 17 year olds – though the need for adults in an instructional role is still to be sorted.  There appears to be a push to develop ‘education only’ virtual worlds where both adults and students can participate together.  I now see the potential of a ‘virtual classroom’ (albeit without the avatars at this stage) in a ‘flipped’ fashion where the information is viewed at the learners convenience and then discussed and applied with the whole group at a future time.

I moved from a skeptical beginning to the realization that a virtual space can and will support future learning needs for many people.  For many, access to quality information may only be online.  In searching for suitable services to support our clients’ needs we can ourselves learn in the process.  Farkas (2008) believes we need to ‘make mistakes and learn from them’ as we continue to assess and service the information needs of our clients.  I’m pleased I persisted with the ‘virtual’ environment.  Second Life is yet another way to be connected to people for my own learning needs and to support the learning of others.

Farkas, M. (2008), The essence of Library 2.0?  from blog: Information Wants To Be Free.  Retrieved from: http://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2008/01/24/the-essence-of-library-20/

Frank, I. (2008) Librarians in Virtual Worlds: Why Get a Second Life?, in First Monday, 14(8). Retrieved from: http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/viewArticle/2222/2010

Saba, D. (2012) Flipping the Classroom.  from blog:  Virtual Learning.    Retrieved from: http://virtulearning.blogspot.com/2012/01/flipping-classroom.

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Filed under Digital Tools, Library/Librarians, Social Media, Social networking, Study response, Technology Web2, Virtual Environments