Sheila YoshikawaSheila Yoshikawa came to Second Life in May of 2007.  She attended one of the many events hosted by the Educators Coop where she met North Lamar and discussed their mutual affiliation with information schools.  Already an experienced land owner by then, Sheila had no need to rent Educators Coop land, but she still joined the group and invited North Lamar to lead a discussion on her sim instead.

Sheila Yoshikawa is a UK educator at the University of Sheffield in their Department of Information Studies where she teaches students pursuing their Bachelors of Science in Information Management.  Last semester she successfully brought in 34 freshman students in her Information Literacy class into Second Life on a rotating schedule.

Getting her students into Second Life was no small task, as SL was not “really” accepted by her administration and is not on their “managed desktop.”  Therefore, SL was only accessible to the students via their department computer lab, which is closed on evenings and weekends.  However, both Sheila and her students persevered and together accomplished some innovative learning experiences.  Even if that meant Sheila had to unlock the computer lab for the students late at night.

Office chatProviding sufficient access to the computer lab was only one obstacle Sheila Yoshikawa and her students had to overcome in order to commence learning in Second Life.  Many of her students were new to SL and virtual worlds in general, so the basics of navigating Second Life had to be addressed first.  Those that were used to virtual worlds found the graphics wanting, compared to the latest games on the market today.  The computers available to the students were also sub-optimal to the performance requirements for Second Life, decreasing graphic presentation, and increasing lag.  This led to obvious frustration for a generation used to immediacy.

When speculating how Sheila would circumnavigate these issues the next time she brought students into SL, she thought it would be helpful to build relationships for the students with others in Second Life ahead of time.  This would make the students more comfortable.  Without a guide, SL can be overwhelming and quiet if you don’t know where to go. A guide might shorten the learning curve and increase enjoyment and learning.  It is quite difficult for one teacher to do this with 34 students alone.

posterIn the students’ study of information literacy in Second Life, the students focused on two key elements.  First they exhibited Power Point slides on models of the “7 Pillars of Information Literacy,” effectively giving lessons to the public on information literacy.  The Seven Pillars of Information Literacy was the  initial task of the Advisory Committee on Information Literacy (then the Task Force on Information Skills) of the Society of College, National, and University Libraries or SCONUL.  As a result of the committee’s work, the “Information skills in higher education: a SCONUL position paper” briefing paper was produced in 1999. An important part of the paper dealt with the Seven Pillars model of Information Literacy, which has since been drawn upon in a number of curriculum developments.  In real life, the students had learned about the 7 pillars as a 2D pantheon of information literacy, but in Second Life, Sheila was able to present it to them as a navigable 3D structure.

signIn addition, each student performed a “critical incident” interview with a patron.  A critical incident, or CI, is a time when that person needed information in Second Life for one reason or another.  It is the beginning of the information search process.  Following an inquiry-based approach, the students took the information from their interviews and proceeded with original research and data gathering.  The research was then analyzed as part of an assignment on information behavior theory and they were assessed on their performance as interviewers.

In other words, the students had the opportunity to study human information behavior immersively and experientially with people from around the world.

Overall, the student’s reaction to the experience was positive.  Most found it “quite cool,” but for many it was unfortunately just another assignment competing for their time.  Sheila noted that, as college freshmen, many were overwhelmed by the college experience in general, especially living away from home.  This preoccupation, coupled with the workload from other classes, did not provide a relaxed and exploration-encouraging atmosphere engaging the students in a way that was meaningful to them.

chatWhat the students did find the most engaging, however, were the critical incident interviews.  They considered the real life interaction with patrons from around the world refreshing compared to the transmissive “pretend research” they felt they had always done in school to that point.  Here in Second Life they were seeing theory in practice, candidly, and in real time.

Assessment, for the educator, was more successful in Second Life as well.  Previously, the students were given an essay to write on information behavior, which of course takes hours to grade, is more difficult for students for whom writing is not a strong suit, and are easy to plagiarize.  However, the assignments in Second Life were easier to grade as it was visually apparent whether or not the students grasped the theoretical models by looking at their displays.  In order to “succeed” in the assignments, the students had to apply the theories they learned, allowing them to do what they had been reading about.

sky platformAnother interesting assignment partaken by Sheila’s students was to fill an information void regarding the swine flu epidemic.  The students were to address the problem of how to “get the word out” and then orally present their findings back in the RL traditional classroom.  In addition, they posted slides of their findings in Second Life which were made available to the public.

Sheila also teaches a Masters level class in Second Life.  The class of 20 students is called Educational Informatics for students looking to achieve a Masters of Science in Information Management or a Masters of Science in Information Systems.  In Sheila’s master level classes, the application of Second Life is more obvious, but the students actually spend less time in grid.  In addition to attending the recently completed Third Annual Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference, the students are living immersively in a village that Sheila created for them.  Each student gets their own home, which they themselves claim.  The scripting of the village was designed by Black Kelley while Sheila contributed elements such as a nearby pool, and a beautiful pink glass dome.

These locations provide more than just aesthetic appeal.  The students can visit these locations and record chats and then publish them online.  It’s a space where they can record their thoughts as in a diary.  To visit the Educational Informatics Village 2010 at Infolit iSchool, visit http://slurl.com/secondlife/Educators%20Coop%202/195/198/251
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ferris wheelIn the Educators Coop, Sheila Yoshikawa was instrumental in a project wherein different educational areas were created around the sim.  Joined with Lorri Momiji, Black Kelley, and Piratelionecu Humphreys, they created a fun fair area.  Sheila specifically contributed to the surrounding woodland of the area, a sky platform, and work on the ground level.  While riding on the ferris wheel, Sheila explained the purpose of the project.  The idea of the fun fair was learning to move and do things cooperatively.  For example, to use the ferris wheel, one person has to stop it so another person can get on it.  Not to mention the fact that people who are terrified of heights – as Sheila herself admitted – have the opportunity to experience the beauty and joy of a ferris wheel.

picturesSheila’s favorite part about Second Life are the colors and shapes of the world.  The landscaping, the clothing – everything – are manipulative tools for an educational environment.  A photographer in real life, Sheila  sells her photography in grid.  To see her photography visit, http://slurl.com/secondlife/Juicy/156/178/25.  Sheila also loves the diversity of the people in Second Life.  She claims to have had so many meaningful connections with the people she’s met here and has learned so much from those interactions.

In “real life,” Sheila Yoshikawa is Professor Sheila Webber of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Information Studies in the UK where she teaches undergraduate, graduate, and phd students.  To learn more about the adventures of Sheila Yoshikawa in Second Life, visit her blog at:  http://adventuresofyoshikawa.blogspot.com/