Thursday, March 20, 2008

Educators, Second Life & Higher Education

It's taken a while, but I am beginning to see real value in Second Life (SL) for educators. I've been a member of SL since 2006, but at first I spent very little time there. I just wasn't sure about a number of things, and I questioned its potential usefulness in higher education. I didn't want to use the technology just because I could, especially since it wasn't simple or intuitive to use for a nontechie beginner.

There were two main reasons I kept going back in and didn't give up on SL when others in higher ed said I was wasting my time. Number one - it makes a lot of sense economically. In our globally connected digital world more students than ever before are looking to online education. Here is a post with statistics from the Sloan Consortium on growth in online learning.

Using Second Life or other virtual worlds to help facilitate teaching and learning can save universities money while providing students a richer experience than more traditional online learning systems.

How can I confidently make the above statement? I attended graduate school through a hybrid program at UIUC, graduating in 2004. They used what, at the time, was considered cutting edge online technology to deliver courses to the students in my cohort from all over the world. We also met on campus once a semester. I was very satisfied with my experiences through that program and have been using that standard to evaluate my experience with teaching and learning in SL.

And this brings me to the second main reason I believe virtual worlds will take off in higher ed. When comparing my experience in a high quality hybrid graduate program using traditional online systems with my experiences attending discussions and classes in SL, I can now say without hesitation that my experience in SL has been richer. I'm still reflecting on exactly why and how that is so. Partly it's the ability to easily connect with others, and at a potentially deeper level.

Recently, I have been attending discussions/classes on information literacy led by Sheila Yoshikawa (Sheila Webber in RL) from the University of Sheffield. Sheila is Director of the Centre for Information Literacy Research at the university. She publishes and runs workshops on information literacy and on SL as a learning environment. Shelia's group discussions are small (averaging from 7-15 students) and I believe I am the only one from the USA. I am getting to know some of the regulars and Sheila a little better. I am very interested in making global connections of this sort for many reasons. It is helpful to hear the more diverse viewpoints and I believe it can lead to opportunities to expand my research interests. But there is more than that. It is easier to collaborate in various ways. And it feels different. Even though my online hybrid graduate school was in real time, and therefore much like SL in that way, not seeing the other students, not interacting with avatars in the way you can in SL made a difference. It is a richer experience, one that may need to be experienced to fully understand.

I have also attended a few other events and classes where I have been able to see how new technologies are now being implemented within SL in new ways. Ways that better serve educators. Enabling voice in SL a few months ago was important, and others are working to provide ways to incorporate technologies that add value to the learning environment.

In an Educause (ELI) online conference I attended yesterday a prof was demonstrating a tool he developed for his art students, who have posted their art work in a gallery the prof provided for them in SL. This ELI session taught by Michael Connors, Associate Professor, Digital Printmaking, University of Wisconsin-Madison, showed him walking around live in his gallery in SL demonstrating his new tool, Critique_It, which "provides an environment for simulating authentic learning strategies and allowing the possibility for feedback from peers and experts from outside the campus." This is just one example of the types of technologies that educators are bringing into SL to create a learning environment that goes beyond what currently exists. There are many others.

New Media Consortium (NMC) is developing nicely in SL and providing opportunities for educators by offering some free space to get started. An event at NMC in SL on Monday demonstrated new technologies for video in SL that was most impressive. It drew a large audience which included many educators. I believe many educators are only recently beginning to understand the potential that exists within virtual worlds. I do believe they will continue to develop, whether in SL or other immersive education environments.

The snapshot I included here is of me attending a recent Information literacy discussion at the University of Sheffield in SL. For now, I am a male with orange hair in black. I am sitting next to the prof with blue hair. Click image to enlarge.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Google Book Search API & Library Catalogs

From the Chronicle yesterday - Google Unveils Tools to Integrate Its Digitized Books Into Campus Library Catalogs. I took a look at what the University of Texas did with this and adding the Google Book Search to our catalogs would add value, for sure. I've asked my university library to add this to our catalog and hopefully our unified consortium catalog will do the same. What a real added value service this provides, and the price (free!) can not be beat. Thanks, Google! I can't think of a reason why we would not want to do this.

But I'm still wondering about what this all means. This Lawrence Lessig video titled "Is Google Book Search "Fair-Use?""is an informative video on fair-use, and also explains how 16% of the 18 million books Google plans to digitize are in the public domain (PD). This means that those PD books that have already been scanned by Google are digitally available to our patrons. Having a link from our catalog to those digital books provided by Google will mean that our students will be able to easily find and access those ebooks. That part seems clear to me.

But 75% of the 18 million books are copyrighted, out of print books. And 9% are currently under copyright and in print. So there are three kinds of access Google will grant. Full access to public domain books, the in copyright out of print books will allow at least "snippet" access, and for books which are in copyright and in print, Google will grant as much access as the publishers and authors allow. This is all useful information, and of course more access is always most beneficial.

I'm wondering about other ways in which this might develop. I'm sure that some day these books will all be available to our users digitally, but the economic model is not yet in place and I'm not at all sure how that will end up working (and there's still a lot of digitizing to get done). In the meantime, I'm wondering about other ways that library catalogs might be able to use what Google is providing us with this API.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

University Gives Away iPhones & Apple Computers

Yesterday I posted on Abilene Christian University and their plan to give students a choice between an iPhone or an iPod Touch and the teaching/learning applications they hope to implement on these devices. Days later another Chronicle article announced that Oklahoma Christian (OC) University will give away both an iPhone/iPod Touch AND an Apple laptop computer to all incoming freshman this next fall. According to the OC web page regarding mobile learning:
The vision of incorporating instructional technology tools into teaching and learning is critical to our future success and the success of our graduates. We are excited about this new phase of mobile learning at Oklahoma Christian University and will continue to search for ways to enhance teaching and learning.
On March 5, 2008 yet another Chronicle article suggests that giving away gadgets such as these is just a gimmick.

If they were giving away gadgets and computers with no plan in place to incorporate these technologies into the teaching and learning process, then I might agree. But as Phil J. Schubert, executive vice president for Abilene University stated, "What separates us from some of the fads of the past is that this is not a technology initiative, this is a learning initiative." And this is what I feel is important to understand. It doesn't really matter what device is used, what matters is what they will do with that device to add value. Students are already attached to handheld devices of some kind, therefore there is no need to wonder if they will use them. If colleges and universities implement teaching/learning applications that make sense and are easy to use, I believe they will be successful and mobile learning in the U.S. will finally take off.

So once again, if/when this happens, what will it mean to educators (and that includes librarians), in higher education? How might we contribute to this new teaching/learning platform?

Monday, March 10, 2008

iPhone, Mobile Devices & Higher Education

Abilene Christian University (ACU) plans to give all incoming freshman their choice of an iPhone or an iPod Touch. They recently uploaded two videos to YouTube. Titled "Connected Part 1: Social Uses" and "Connected Part 2: Academic Uses." If you work in U.S. higher education you will benefit from watching these two videos. The videos are fictional day-in-the-life accounts. The ACU vision is to make this a reality and that should be doable. Below is the summary from these videos posted on YouTube and the ACU Mobile Learing website under "A Vision of Convergence in Higher Ed."
What might a university look like with a fully deployed program of converged devices like the iPhone? Connected is one possible vision. This fictional day-in-the-life account highlights some of the potential benefits in a higher education setting when every student, faculty, and staff member is "connected." Though the applications and functions portrayed in the film are purely speculative, they're based on needs and ideas uncovered by our research - and we've already been making strides to transform this vision of mobile learning (mLearning) into reality.
It is good to see the U.S. getting caught up with other nations in the mobile device arena, and especially so within higher education. Many believe that 2008 will bring the most significant developments yet in the mobile device market. The cost for mobile devices has been continually dropping, the functionality has increased to the point that even the least expensive devices have quite a bit of smartphone functionality. Most importantly, young people in the U.S. are finally biting. The marketing has been successful largely due, in my opinion, to Apple's amazing marketing of the iPhone. The latest iPhone ads showing students how easily they can access their facebook accounts appears to have sealed the deal for many. And many devices costing much less than an iPhone will do the same. And don't forget Google's Android, which will be a part of many new devices released in 2008.

This will finally begin to impact U.S. higher education. Although higher ed is typically slow to adopt, once others like ACU implement these devices in the way the videos demonstrate, I'm sure others will follow. If they want to keep up and remain competitive, they may have no choice.

So what might this mean in 2-5 years for higher education? Why does it matter? What will it mean for academic librarians and all educators? How will this change what we do?