This past week I had the privilidge of attending the Sloan C conference. For those of you not in the know, it is a online educational consortium that tries to educate its community on best practices for online education and technology trends.
Overall, I was pleased with the chance to connect with others.
My primary reason for attendence centered around the virtual world of Second Life. As with all bleeding edge uses for existing technologies, the presenters had as much knowledge as I did, and in some cases not as much knowledge.
The scale and scope of the use of virtual worlds in education seems to fall under the concensus that we all know its important, that something is happening, but it is really hard to measure the results.
I wonder if Second Life is up to partnering with companies such as Tech Smith to work out a way for Morae to help gauge if the sims that are created are doing anything new or diff than the flash games?
One of the things needed in the research seems to be a way to get clear data from virtual worlds.
That being said, what IS the data we want?
We know the ages of the users, we know some of the basic uses, but we can't effectively know how much students are learning in virtual environments without assessements and study groups.
I would love to see someone set up a group of students learning the same content in two different environments. Perhaps a third in a traditional classroom. So there it is. An LMS delivery, a Second Life delivery, and a Face to Face to see which is more effective or if they are all effective, which parts of the course were more effective in comparison to the others.
Another concensus that seemed to be reached is that the 21st century teacher is going to have to generate all content three or four different ways to incoporate the age range and learning styles of students. It may not be so necessary in 10 years or so, but for right now the spread of the haves and have nots of technology is wide.
Most people in distance and online education forget that in large portions of the accredited institutions who offer online programs, the technology gap is very wide. That applies to students and instructors alike; dial up to T3.
There is a larger gap for students in rural areas where landlines are the ONLY option. It might be cool to do Second Life or other collaborative software, but those on a land line at even 256K will find they cannot join into the online or virtual classroom with the same immediacy and ease as the on campus or even broadband students.
Yes, there are mobile wireless cards, but most of the affordable ones are no better than the 256K modems.
What do we do then?
Education can drive the online industry market. As with anything in our economy, if enough people demand it, the industry finds a way to deliver it.
We can get affordable flat screen TV's because everyone wants it. Money is put in by investors to make sure it is possible to get the mass distribution going.
A great deal of money was put into the internet at its inception by investment companies. Maybe it is time for Google to look at partnering up with AT & T or other companies that provide internet access via broadband. Increase your users and their speed. Create satisfied users. Like television, the massive jump in internet usage creates a group to market to. Open up the rural community, make it affordable and the industries will have a market.
We in education will benifit too!
One of the complaints I hear DAILEY from our online students is that they cannot get broadband where they live. The companies do not have the up front capital to run the lines and will not invest unless there is good reason to believe they will have subscribers. It is very easy to lay fiberoptics in a place that was primed for it. The rural areas are not primed, but need to be.
I have a fabulous idea--everyone write your senator---maybe Al Gore can "re-invent" the internet?
Second Life--is no life unless we catch our students up!