“Second Life” in education, and other tools

We had our first “Innovation Exchange” at Lansing Community College today – basically just a bunch of professors sitting a room for 1.5 hours, talking. But it was interesting (I wasn’t sure how it would go). Maybe the “strangest” idea I heard was from a writing instructor who uses Second Life to help him teach an online course. Apparently the Michigan Community College Association Virtual Learning Collaborative (say that fast) owns an island in the game specifically for this purpose. He has his students “meet up” in the virtual world at a designated time, and then he holds class in a similar manner to his face-to-face classes, incorporating lecture, group activities, etc. He had one student, who has only taken online classes in college, write him and say that this was the closest thing to a community she has ever experienced in a college class. I guess you can decide whether that is a happy or sad statement – I am certainly glad all the classes I’ve taught have been face-to-face so far! I wondered, though I did not ask, if there was any problem with students getting access to computers capable of running the virtual world.

Aside from that, if there was one big theme of the meeting it was probably that students are more engaged when they feel they are working for more than just the grade. That feeling could come naturally – some students can see their future five years out and they know exactly why they want to learn whatever you’re teaching, after all. But it could also come from explicitly giving them another audience – presentations at a local (or even college run) symposium, or at least in class.

Some other tools that were mentioned! I haven’t had time to really look into these yet.

    Scratch – billed as an “anyone can program” tool. Or you can just steal stuff other people have made.

    Hot Potatoes – specifically mentioned for making crosswords, but a quick glance at the website and it looks like it can do more.

    Omeka – to create an online exhibition of student work.

    Animoto – described as allowing students to upload an image, then “tag” different parts of the image with information or links.

    Padlet – students can upload items (photos of themselves was specifically mentioned), and then you can organize them as you wish, visually.

That’s it! I will say I came away from the meeting wishing there was more time available to try new things – much less work just to reteach a course the same way it was taught last semester, after all. I even remember one instructor in the meeting saying something like “they cut back my teaching load a few years ago, and that’s when I came up with all this cool stuff”. Yep.

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