Archive for February, 2010

Published by Joe Sanchez on 25 Feb 2010

Video – Project-based learning

This is the second video in a three part series about my Spring 2009 course. This video features students discussing their final projects in Second Life where they had to partner with a third-party client in Second Life and create a project to help them meet their organizational goals. Two groups choose to host events as fundraisers, Under the Sea and Horns for 100K while a third group worked with a role playing group to get a better understanding of what community can mean in a virtual world. I hope you enjoy this video and as always, i welcome feedback!

P.S. follow me on twitter @joe_sanchez

Published by Carina on 21 Feb 2010

Gadget Loon: Charting the Course of Experiential Learning

Gadget LoonI had the auspicious pleasure of interviewing Gadget Loon at New Mexico State University’s Aggie Island, where the NMSU Geography Department hosted what is the first known GIS Day event held primarily in a virtual world.

GIS Day provides an international forum for users of geographic information systems (GIS) technology to demonstrate real-world applications that are making a difference in our society.  More than 80 countries participate in holding local events such as corporate open houses, hands-on workshops, community expos, school assemblies, and more.

Gadget’s students met in NMSU’s Island learning community to share projects and posters demonstrating their GIS class activities with attendees in both the real and virtual worlds. Students were available throughout the day to describe their projects and help educate those not familiar with GIS about the technology. The event was mainly designed for university educators interested in the use of Second Life as a venue for teaching GIS but was open to everyone.

GIS Day PosterFor GIS Day, Gadget’s students were assigned the task of displaying examples of their actives using GIS to analyze or communicate some information.  Geography matters – that’s the GIS motto!  Posters began with the term, “GIS means…” and ended with such eye-opening statements as:

  • Never seeing the world without a rainforest
  • Building safer communities
  • Saving the forest from fire

This was all done using a piece of software called ArcGIS – which usually retails for $19,000 by the Environmental Systems Research Institute or ESRI.  ArcGIS is a digital geography system that allows one to analyze maps, combine maps, measure elements on maps, find the shortest path between two points, establish good places for land uses, predict fires, or anything else within the confines of imagination.

Gadget appreciates the ability that SL provides to get students from a variety of places together for classwork.  SL also provides a certain anonymity due to the avatar allowing some to open up and answer when they would otherwise be mute.  He also enjoys the ability to create shared intellectual spaces and landscapes.  Gadget has been bringing students into SL for four semesters of learning.  His classes have evolved from traditional lectures to experiential exercises to a complete suite of tasks including Sunday night review sessions.  And Gadget’s educating exuberance doesn’t stop at students.  He also helps other instructors (gratus) for beginning and advanced courses.

So what are geographic information systems?  In short – anything that can be mapped!  From topography to ants, and houses to ideas, absolutely anything that can be tracked geographically may use GIS technology.  A geographer’s primary task is to explore, describe, explain, and predict spatial patterns.  Climatology, for example is often taught in geography departments as meteorology.  Geographers are the data support structure for all things that might be mapped including the military, intelligence community, homeland security, and commerce.

GIS Day BannerGadget Loon is  a GIS Specialist and Associate Professor at NMSU where he teaches Fundamentals of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), GIS Institutional Design, Geodatabase Design, and Landscape Ecology.  He puts a lot of energy into learning how to use virtual worlds like Second Life as a venue for teaching GIS concepts and ideas.  His research areas are effective methods of GIS Education and rapid environmental assessment methodologies in arid environments.  Gadget also write textbooks and tradebooks on GIS – the latest of which is GIS for Dummies.  Currently Gadget is writing an article entitled Second Life as a Surrogate for Experiential Learning and writing a chapter entitled Subject Matter Content Creation for Second Life Delivery:  Teaching GIS in Second Life in the book Multi-User Virtual Environments for the Classroom:  Practical Approaches to Teaching in Virtual Worlds.

To access Gadget’s latest articles, visit:

Gadget Loon CertificateGadget began his Second Life journey in March of 2007.  He had been taking a class in NMSU’S first Online Teaching and Learning Certificate Program called Fostering Online Communities.  At the time, he’d already had a Graduate Certificate of Online Learning in addition to his PhD in geography.  Gadget’s foray into the Educators Coop was through his attempts at learning how to use SL for education.  He had been interacting with another who knew of the Coop and suggest that he speak with North Lamar and Bluewave Ogee.  Today, Gadget can’t enough on the subject or stop writing about it.

In addition, Gadget is also part of a group of 4 professors that just received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build a prototype environment (perhaps some in a virtual world) that will allow for the seamless sharing of geographic data, information, and expertise.

After touring the GIS Day displays, Gadget then showed me NSMU’s Library complete with a Geography section.  NMSU’s geography section connects directly to the live campus library, making it eminently functional.

So why the name Gadget Loon?  Due to Gadget having written the Fundamentals of GIS textbook that his students use, as well as GIS for Dummies, his students became intimidated and wouldn’t speak up in class, obstructing Gadget’s ability to educate them fully.  So, one day, Gadget came to class with as many electronic gadgets as he could possibly attach to himself.  He proceeded to teach his class as usual until finally one of his students pointed to the assorted electronic paraphernalia and said, “what’s with all the … um … ummm,” to which Gadget replied, “Gadgets”?  The student replied in the affirmative and Gadget responded, “Didn’t you know my nickname was Dr. Gadget” and the name stuck forever more.      At the conclusion of this light-hearted tale, Gadget released scores of Inspector Gadget emblazoned bubbles into the NMSU library.  Would that my camera had been fast enough to capture the scene before the bubbles popped on the library shelves.

Dr. Gadget’s story was inspirational, his sense of humor uplifting, and his dedication to engaging his students on a higher level of learning a beacon of light in a sometimes dim and repetitive educational world.

In “real life” Gadget Loon is Dr. Michael DeMers, Associate (not-for-long) Professor of Geography at New Mexico State University.  He has a Bachelors of Science in Earth Science and Biology and a Masters of Science degree in Geography from the University of North Dakota.  In addition, he has a Masters of Philosophy degree and a PhD in Geography from the University of Kansas.  Gadget is also an Associate Editor of the International Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning Environments and teaches Intermediate Second Life for Educators via the Sloan-C group.

Published by Joe Sanchez on 17 Feb 2010

Second life Learning Curve

Last spring I shot video interviews of my students talking about various aspects of Second Life. I collected about thirty minutes of footage from each student and from those interviews I created a series of three five minute videos. Each video focuses on a different aspect of learning in Second Life; the learning curve, project based learning, and what makes learning in SL different. As a recap, I taught a course called Working in Virtual Worlds as an undergraduate Information Studies course. The class was scheduled as a face to face course but we primarily met in Second Life. Students worked on a variety of projects where they engaged members of the Second Life community in a variety of activities.

This first video focuses on overcoming the learning curve in Second Life. Over the years I’ve conducted quite a bit of research in this area and i wanted to provide an avenue for current and potential teachers in Second Life to hear directly from students about their experiences.

I hope you find this video useful and I look forward to hearing your comments. I will release the next two videos in this series over the next three weeks.
Joe Sanchez

Published by Carina on 13 Feb 2010

Quercas Minotaur: Marine Scientist Extraordinaire

Quercas MinotaurToday we highlight the work and ingenuity of Quercas Minotaur.  Quercas hails from the University at Texas Marine Science Institute at Port Aransas, Texas, which is near Corpus Christi.  With his orange skin, green hair, and the companion koi that can always be seen swimming around his head, it is clear that Quercas has an unrivaled dedication to marine science.

Quercas came to Second Life in the fall of 2008 through none other than our beloved Leslie Jarmon (SL: Bluewave Ogee).  He teaches to the main campus from 200 miles away via an admittedly awful video link.  While visiting the main campus one day, he decided to stop by their Division of Instructional Innovation and Assessment (DIIA) where Leslie worked to see what aid they could provide.

The DIIA integrates the resources of three university centers to enhance teaching effectiveness, support innovative technology-enhanced learning, offer a comprehensive portfolio of instructional support services, provide and expand assessment methods, and coordinate Web-based outreach efforts. So Quercas walked into the office and asked for help.  After explaining his situation, he was told that Leslie was “the one to talk to” and so he did.  Twenty minutes later Quercas was born.  Leslie enthusiastically introduced Quercas to Second Life and all it has to offer.  She also introduced him to other key members of the Educators Coop, like Eero Enzo, who uses SL in one of his design classes.

Leslie, Quercas, the previously touted Chade Villota, and other Educators Coop members gathered several times to brainstorm innovative ways that Quercas could use SL to communicate better with his distance students.  These sessions led to the creation of his island and the virtual oceanographic expedition.  Eero had his class design and build the content of the island based on Quercas’ specifications.  External programmers were brought in to make the RV (research vessel) work realistically and the island was used in Quercas’ class entitled Human Exploration and Exploitation of the Sea.

In the course, Quercas was able to test the RV, the students learned to build in Second Life, and the island itself was used for office hours.  Leslie created a questionnaire to track the effectiveness of the project.  Her intent was to have an entry questionnaire and an exit survey, but sadly she passed before the exit survey could be completed.

Quercas’ main research is on the biology and ecology of symbiotic associations in plankton.  The particular group he works with has blue-green alga that live inside a one-celled plant called a diatom.  These diatom float around in the open sea.  The symbiont can take nitrogen gas and turn it into proteins.  This process is very important in understanding the flow of nitrogen in the sea.  Since nitrogen is always linked to carbon, it is directly connected to how CO2 moves from the atmosphere to the ocean.  It’s all about global change and the climate-change issue.  Quercas is currently growing the beast in culture to understand what it needs to survive, and a 27-day research cruise is planned for this summer and the following summer in the Gulf of Mexico to study how the Mississippi River affects these creatures and the process of nitrogen-fixation.

Teaching in Second Life was an exciting and educational experience for Quercas.  SL allowed him to connect with his students on a level that was previously unattainable.  The students also found him more accessible since they could reach him during office hours in Second Life where Quercas was actually able to help them solve problems in the data analysis.  The virtual oceanographic expedition also proved invaluable as the students learned unexpected lessons from the interaction.

This summer, Quercas is teaching a course for non-science majors and he is once again interested in using Second Life to enhance the experience.  Quercas learned a great deal from his first adventure in Second Life teaching.  He has many ideas on how to reduce the degree of the SL learning curve, and increase the realism and applicability of the experience for his students.

Research VesselDuring my interview, Quercas graced me with a tour on the RV.  The vessel smoothly pulled out of the harbor and into an ocean teeming with life and more importantly – data!  Quercas lowered a device into the water  known as the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth).  The CTD sampled the water at a pre-determined location and sent back continuous data as it descended.  The data is set up on a 1×1 degree grid covering the entire ocean.  Information collected by the CTD is publically available from the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).  As the RV slowly glided through the water – just as an actual RV would move – the CTD constantly shared information with the students in the form of green scrolling text.

In order to execute the assignment, students were broken into groups called expeditions.  Each expedition had to plan the cruise around 10 sample destinations, and then coordinate their data with the other students.  Data collected included latitude, longitude, depth, temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, phosphate, silicate, and nitrate.  The information is expressed in a specific format so that the students can export it to software for analysis.  They then use the data to produce graphs, contour plots, and other visual interpretations to illustrate features in the ocean.

When asked if there were anything further he would like to add, Quercas simply stated, “I miss Leslie.  She was  a force of nature.  A gentle one, but quite powerful and huge in her presence.”  Experiences like those of Quercas, his students, and those of us in the Educators Coop would never have been realized if it weren’t for Leslie Jarmon, her dedication, and fervor.  Once again, we raise our glasses – virtual and otherwise – in tribute to her.

In “real life” Quercas Minotaur is Dr. Tracy Villareal, Professor at the University of Texas, Department of Marine Science.  Dr. Villareal earned his PhD. at the University of Rhode Island, and his B.S. and M.S. at Texas A&M University.  He has been teaching since the early 90’s and encourages questions and contact at

Published by Carina on 08 Feb 2010

Chade Villota: Pioneer for SL Accessibility and Educational Reform

Chade VillotaIn the spirit forging ahead and “keeping it real” we want remind ourselves, and each other, who we are and why we got involved with the Educators Coop.

We begin our reflective journey with Chade Villota.

Chade has been with the Educators Coop since its beginning.  He may very well have been the first member and is almost certainly the first tenant.

He is no stranger to Second Life and virtual worlds.  Chade has been in SL since April of ’07, and has been involved with 3D virtual spaces for almost 9 years as a natural outgrowth of his interest in online multiplayer spaces.

His interest in online multiplayer spaces began in the early 90’s in text based worlds working on MUDs and MUSHes.  Chade became involved with the Educators Coop through the Embodiment Research Group where he was working with Bluewave Ogee.  They announced the Educators Coop project and its goal to help educators make the transition into virtual worlds.

Chade currently works with the National Center on Severe and Sensory Disabilities and so he channeled that knowledge and passion into Second Life and the Educators Coop.  He is working to help make SL accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.  His work on the board of Virtual Helping Hands makes this possible as they’re in the process of rebuilding Accessible Guilds and Club Accessible.

One of their latest projects was the creation of  a virtual German Shepherd guide dog named Max, who can also appear as a cane or completely incognito as a ring for those who choose not to share that they are using an assistive device.

Max has  scripting that tells the owner where they are.  The owner can also tell max to follow, find, or read – among other commands.  Chade also created Marco/Polo scripting which annotates a 3D space.  Max can read the description of an area and tell the owner what’s there based on the description.  Assistance devices like Max make it possible for the owner of a region to tie descriptions to locations.

For example, if you teleport into a region with Max, he can tell you who is there and, if desired, to speak to someone or bring you to them.  Max even does text-to-speech and clicks mouse buttons.

To learn more about the completely free and innovative Max and the Virtual Helping Hands organization, visit

In the Educators Coop, Chade primarily helps other members with building and scripting.  He also works to reform education in Second Life; encouraging educators to use and explore all of the possibilities of a 3D virtual space instead of merely recreating more traditional transmissive classrooms.

One exciting example of his assistance with Second Life education was for a project at UT Austin’s Oceanography Department.  Chade designed a simulator to help the students learn  virtually, thereby avoiding the cost of taking research vessels out to the Gulf of Mexico.

In Chade’s simulation, a harbor was recreated complete with salinity, dissolved oxygen, plankton, temperate, wind, air pressure, and any other scientific element the students may need to measure or observe.  In addition, Chade designed instruments that would read the models and display them in real time.  This allowed the students to practice real science; collecting and managing data, making hypothesis and then testing them.  Chade is eager to show other educators of possibilities such as this one that they may use all that Second Life has to offer.

In “real life,” Chade Villota is Dr. Nathan Lowell, professor at Morehead State in Kentucky and currently working at the University of Northern Colorado.  He achieved his M.A. in Educational Technology and his PhD in Educational Technology with concentrations in Distance Education, Instructional Design, and Interactive Media.

Published by Joe Sanchez on 07 Feb 2010

Introducing Carina Gonzalez

I want to introduce you to Carina Gonzales, she is a graduate student pursuing her Masters of Library Information Science inthe School of Communication and Information at Rutgers. She is working with me on an independent study about social media and she will be a guest contributor for this blog throughout the semester.

Carina has a BA in English with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies, though she spent much of her time in the music building singing opera.  In addition, Carina penned an undergraduate thesis entitled, “The Language of the Night: An Illumination of Ursula K. LeGuin’s Science Fiction” which led to her founding a free critique service for speculative fiction writers called The Zen Pen.  Carina works full-time at The American Boychoir School where she runs their social software and website.  Carina currently lives in Branchburg, NJ with her husband Mike, her daughter Emma Rose, her Portuguese Water Dog River, and her Standard Poodle Zen.  For more information about Carina, visit her website at: or find her in Second Life Carina Gonzale(s)