Archive for June, 2010

Published by Carina on 25 Jun 2010

Togashi Jun: Library Designer

Togashi Jun is a librarian at the University of South Dakota who came to Second Life three years ago to experiment with library displays.  The University of South Dakota Libraries have been undergoing major reorganization. There used to be two libraries in one building: ID Weeks Library (main library), and Lommen Health Sciences Library. The libraries were merged into one, which freed up space on the first floor of the building where the Lommen library used to be. Under a new dean, the librarians at the University of South Dakota are now moving to bring other student services into the building in a move to make the library even more of a center piece on campus.

Some of the services that will be brought in are the writing center, the IT help desk, the career development center, the math help center and supplemental instruction, academic advising, and tutoring. With this many new services coming into the building there was a need to design the physical space. The space is being designed in the traditional method with an architect doing the preliminary design.

Togashi thought this would be a good opportunity to promote the use of Second Life by developing a 3D model based on the architect’s plan and sharing that with various constituencies around campus. The university has not developed a SL presence yet, so he needed to scale the model down to roughly the size of a tiny avatar.

Initially Togashi attempted to establish a scale and manually place all of the objects. When this proved too frustrating, he scanned the original layout of the library and brought the texture into SL and put it on a 50 x 50 megaprim. He built the walls, pillars etc. according to this plan.

When the new plan was available, Togashi was able to then quickly adjust it to reflect the new design. When the dean introduced the plan to the library, Togashi was in the background walking through the model to each part of the building as she talked about it. Most of the new construction will be glass walls, and Togashi was able to represent that in SL by using a glass block texture.

In addition to using Second Life for library design, Togashi is excited about the capabilities for bringing the internet into SL with the new browser.  He hopes it will revolutionize library presences in Second Life.  Now, instead of linking catalogs, librarians can bring them directly into SL.  These capabilities will also improve the use of Second Life for conferencing and community, which are Togashi’s favorite part about SL.  He is looking forward to a day when using Second Life for conferences is common place, particularly if the economy continues to make travel for conferences difficult for professional educators.  Togashi would like to see more library associations develop, or at least make use of, spaces in SL.

Previously, Togashi had been working on using holo technology to make displays that would change to make greater use of space.  However, thanks to the new browser’s ability to put a web page on any surface, the possibilities are literally endless.  Togashi believes this is a significant step towards creating a 3D internet.  For example, a library could potentially have a bookshelf displaying books and, depending on which author was selected, the books could change to display actual book covers, showing people the real resources.

Togashi heard about the Educators Coop through another organization, joined right away, and has owned land with the Coop ever since.  His main involvement with the Educators Coop has been keeping an eye on how libraries are developing in Second Life.  He also presented at the Brick & Click Symposium last fall, and an article was published in the proceedings.  Togashi also works with Indian Studies and the local Indian Community in South Dakota as a liaison to the American Indian Studies Department and is responsible for the book selection in that area.  There is also a Native American center where he holds office hours once a week.

The name Togashi Jun is a combination of Togashi’s wife’s family name, and a role-playing character he created long ago.

In “real life,” Togashi Jun is Dr. David Alexander, the Digital Access Manager (an academic librarian) at the University of South Dakota.  He manages the interlibrary loan and serials departments, plus work with maintaining the university’s electronic resources.  Togashi has a BS in Business Administration from Truman State University, a MA in Asian Civilizations, a MA in Library and Information Science from the University of Iowa, and an EdD in Adult and Higher Education from The University of South Dakota.

Published by Carina on 08 Jun 2010

Metaphor Voom: Multi-Dimensional Educator

Metaphor Voom was interviewed in one of his creations – the Ensemble Pavilion on one of the Educators Coop sims. The pavilion was created as part of a grant from the National Science Foundation for computing education. Metaphor is responsible for the social networking part of the project, called Ensemble.

When one arrives at the pavilion, they are presented with three arches. The arch is a metaphor for the Ensemble project, as one is walking into and through passageways when they use social software. There are several floors to the Ensemble pavilion. The first floor is the original part of the pavilion where sits a slide viewer providing an overview of the project. The green arrows on the side of the viewer allow the user to navigate the presentation.

Ensemble is a new National Science Foundation (NSF) National Science Digital Library (NSDL) Pathways project working to establish a national, distributed digital library for computing education. Their project is building a distributed portal providing access to a broad range of existing educational resources for computing, while preserving the collections and their associated curation processes. They want to encourage contribution, use, reuse, review and evaluation of educational materials at multiple levels of granularity, and seek to support the full range of computing education.

Initially, SL was to be only a key part of the social networking component of Ensemble. However, the Ensemble Pavilion in Second Life instead became a virtual mirror of the Ensemble website, and it became an Ensemble portal with tools, communities, and collections all its own. The Ensemble Pavilion is the portal to their portals, and it is only available in Second Life.

What Metaphor ideally wants to create in Second Life is the visualization of ideas and how to make a curriculum three-dimensional. Being a “visual kinda guy,” Metaphor naturally saw how Second Life could be used as a graphic organizer. As he stated, “seeing relationships is one thing, but putting yourself inside the relationships is another.” Metaphor wanted to help students “see and be inside” the relationships between and among ideas. For Metaphor, learning, thinking, and interpreting are not linear practices. They are instead multi-dimensional living metaphors that Second Life can animate, while simultaneously encouraging the students to be part of the construction of the ideas and the environment.

Metaphor came to Second Life about three years ago just for the purpose of giving dimension to his curriculum, and his ideas have come to fruition on Glasscok Island for Digital Humanities and Visual Culture. Supported by an internal grant at Texas A&M University, the idea was to create a space for those educators not in the agricultural or mechanical areas. Glasscock is instead a place for the humanities and visually-oriented staff and faculty.

One of the courses that Metaphor teaches at Texas A&M is called Contemporary Visual Culture. This semester, his students were all given apartments in Second Life which they were encouraged to decorate themselves. The students then had to create and display ads from magazines that they interpreted following a methodology from the class. In each ad was a notecard explaining their interpretation. Their work then became part of the landscape in which they live. In addition, Metaphor’s classes are held in a wide variety of places including rooftops, sandboxes, and auditoriums. This creative atmosphere allows the students to be active participants in the construction of the physical and pedagogical landscape. It helps his students change and challenge the ways we think about teaching and learning in real life. Indirectly, the students learn about marketing as well, but the focus is on the interdisciplinary discourse of visual culture. In addition, because all of the work is at all times available to the public, the students can view and assess each others work, which is an essential component of constructivist learning and guided inquiry.

In order to get and keep his students in Second Life, Metaphor dedicates the first few weeks of the course just to navigating SL. He wants to ensure that none of this students drop the course due to technophobia. Before the semester even begins, Metaphor sends his incoming students some basic information via email and encourages them to log 20 hours of SL time before the semester starts. On the first day of class, all of the students are asked to log-in and meet Metaphor in the classroom. By that time, Metaphor and his students have been emailing back and forth about the basics of Second Life for quite a while. Once in SL with his students, Metaphor demonstrates some Second Life tricks and moves, but otherwise, they are fairly comfortable at that point. He makes sure that his students understand that his course is not “about” Second Life, but instead merely uses the SL environment, just as a biology course would use an auditorium. In fact, most of Metaphor’s students are not distance learners – they are students he meets weekly face-to-face. By the second week of class, Metaphor’s students have to meet a set of expectation and have mastered some basic skills within the context of assignments. The first assignment is due the third week, and so by that time students need to know how to upload images and make notecards.

Metaphor first heard about the Educators Coop from a posting. He thought the Coop would be a great place to work out his ideas for Second Life and his curriculum. The first two years of his involvement in SL, his department covered the costs. However, parcels are like potato chips – you can’t just have one – and so he has rented more land every year, opting to cover the expenses himself. After acquiring his first parcel of land, Metaphor taught himself how to build and script.

In addition to teaching in Second Life, Metaphor also uses SL for personal causes. Metaphor hopes to use SL to combat the global water crisis with the help of the TAMU Water Project. There are 5,000 children worldwide who die every day from water-related diseases. Metaphor works on appropriate technology, using clay, sawdust, and silver, that kills 99% of water-borne bacteria. The filter uses a clay bowl, and a five-gallon bucket that sits inside it. One to two liters of water are filtered through the clay per hour, rending water-borne bacteria inert. This device is used all over the world, including Texas. There are 50,000 people in Texas who do not have adequate access to clean water in their homes, and so this project is even being implemented in Texas A&M’s backyard. He uses SL to beta test the design of the filter and to bring awareness to the cause. TAMU’s sister facility is in the Dominic Republic where filters are being created and driven to Haiti. Metaphor works on TAMU with several people worldwide, with the help of the interdisciplinary team working on it at Texas A&M, and consultants at other universities.

If you ever have the chance to meet Metaphor Voom in SL, you will see that he tends to ware a black t-shirt with the name “Henry Box Brown” written across his chest. Henry Brown as a slave in 19th century Virginia. One day, his wife and kids were sold and sent to various places around the country. Naturally upset by these events, Henry decided he would do anything to stop being a slave, especially now that he would never see his family again, and so he and a white man that he knew devised a plan. The white man package Henry in a box and mailed him from Richmond, VA to Philadelphia, PA. It took 29 hours on train, boat, and cart, ½ of which Henry was upside down. Despite the odds, Henry arrived safely; he mailed himself to freedom. This touching and innovative story always inspired Metaphor and so he wears that t-shirt in homage to this hero.

The Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research SLURL:
http://slurl.com/secondlife/Glasscock/112/104/46

Ensemble Pavilion SLURL:
http://slurl.com/secondlife/Educators%20Coop%204/69/238/28

TAMU Water Project Site
http://tamuwaterproject.wordpress.com/

Ensemble Site:
http://www.computingportal.org/

The National Science Digital Library Site:
http://nsdl.org/

Published by Carina on 02 Jun 2010

TracyR96 Sorbet: Bringing International Home

TracyR96 Sorbet’s primary work in Second Life involves a project called Hungry Decisions. The project was inspired by one of her master’s degree students, and today involves more than one student and another faculty member. The project provides students with the opportunity to see what differences exist in student perceptions of third world countries. Some of the students will experience Hungry Decisions via a “static” web site, while others will experience the concept in Second Life.

TracyR96 Sorbet teaches in the agricultural communications and journalism program at Texas A&M University. The program is basically a journalism program with a specialty in agricultural sciences. Similar programs exist in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Florida, Georgia, and Nebraska. She teaches primarily in a traditional classroom, but once Hungry Decisions is fully functional in Second Life, she will be bringing students in grid. TracyR96 is currently building components into her classes to successfully introduce students into Second Life. TracyR96 also teaches magazine production, photography, and graphic design for print.

Hungry Decisions is TracyR96’s pioneer program for a USDA-CSREES (Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service) grant project that she is leading which will use Second Life to teach crisis communications. Texas Tech teaches a graduate level crisis communications course each fall semester. Crisis communications is the process of planning how to share information in the event of a disaster related situation. Organizations and communities develop crisis communication plans to prepare for working with the media and sharing information with the pubic. The ultimate goal is to determine if virtual worlds can provide students with a better “experience” related to globalization and international work. So many of TracyR96’s students just read case studies or listen to others experiences, but they don’t get to participate in cost-prohibitive international travel. Hungry Decisions provides experiential learning for the international journalist on a budget! The hope is that Hungry Decisions will create a stronger emotional and psychological response for students as compared to video or static case studies. These types of opportunities can also bolster general student interest in traveling abroad.

A “typical” experience for a student first logging into Hungry Decisions is a tree-based simulation. Most students will only go through 2-3 times, faced with various choices, and each choice will have difference consequences. The crisis communication project will involve students throughout the semester. Basically the students will be given some information and they have to choose a role – male or female. Then they are told a portion of their life story, which ends with a choice. That choice is made by touching an object which will teleport them to the next decision. For example, if a student begins in the village, and chooses to leave their community and move to the city, they will be teleported to the city section of the sim. This is where the next part of their experience will begin.

TracyR96’s appreciates the combination of creativity and interactivity that Second Life brings. She can make things happen and let her students experience them without causing world havoc. TracyR96 would love to recreate a “safe” hurricane just for the experience it would provide.

When TracyR96 first came to Second Life, she was just an interested observer for the first 6-8 months. Her university does currently have a program that introduces faculty to Second Life and one of the speakers, Metaphor Voom, teaches a photo class and uses SL as a component of the course. Since TracyR96 also teaches digital photography, she was interested in how she could get involved as well. Thanks to Metaphor introduction, TracyR96 became involved with both Second Life and the Educators Coop.

TracyR96 found acclimating to SL as a teacher to be a very different experience than as an observer. There is an additional pressure on educators to develop the materials needed to make it worthwhile for the students to succeed in Second Life, and it can be quite difficult (and rare) to find the time to do so. She also found her students reluctant to try something new; the initial fear is very real. To overcome this, TracyR96 makes sure her students have a purpose. You can’t just say “hey you need to try this new technology.” People seem to get overwhelmed if they don’t have a reason or goal to accomplish when they first enter SL. For the graduate students, TracyR96 had them research locations they could visit during a presentation, so they were able to search for specific criteria while in Second Life. Another faculty member invested in a scavenger hunt script for his students.

Another concern that TracyR96 has about bringing students into Second Life is that her technology-based students will be turned off slightly with the education component. People today are so used to the 3-D effects and extreme graphical capabilities of games and movies. If Hungry Decisions appears “cartoonish” then the learning experience may be devalued. This is a concern that is shared by TracyR96’s colleagues as well. Either way, TracyR96 is looking forward to the variability in the avatars reflecting her students’ personalities. They will get to show their classmates how they see themselves, which could lead to greater self-confidence in the “classroom” and with assignments. On this topic, TracyR96 and her team are hoping to work with our educational psychology department as we develop instruments for our research.

TracyR96 created her name on an admitted “newbie mistake.” Her first name is Tracy, and ’96 is the year that both she and her husband graduated from Texas A&M. She chose Sorbet in honor of the dairy farm she was raised on.

In “real life,” TracyR96 is Dr. Tracy Rutherford. She holds a BS in Animal Science from Cornell University, an MA in Speech Communication, Rhetoric & Public Affairs from Texas A&M, and a Ph.D. in Agricultural Leadership from Texas A&M.

Hungry Decisions website:
http://www.churchworldservice.org/decisions/index.htm