Barriers to using Second Life
The barriers to Second Life are all things we have heard before but are very real concerns for students.
- Perception that Second Life is an unsafe place to be.
- Fears that it is time-consuming and can be addictive - haven't got enough time for their 'real' studies, let alone playing around with Second Life.
- Second Life uses up a lot of band width in rural locations.
- Don't understand what to do or how to do it.
- Don't understand relevance of Second Life to midwifery studies.
One of my main impressions is that the students still do not realise what the project is about. This is either because they have not read the information and instructions properly, or we haven't explained it very well. There have been lots of questions about what they are supposed to do in the birth unit, both in terms of how to interact with it and what they are supposed to be 'learning'. Several students have admitted they do not even know how to get to the birth unit, and many of them have not read the information about the learning activities.
When I have showed students around it has been obvious that they have not worked out how to click on the objects in the birth unit such as the birthing pool, heating system, birthing ball etc. The result of this is that they have not full appreciated what we are trying to tell them about the 'hows', 'whys' and 'wherefores' of the design of the unit. Consequently, they have been left with the impression that their 'learning experience' is incomplete and have been slightly bored with looking around an "empty" and "static" place.
How to engage the students
My other impression is that the students are enthusiastic to learn more and once they have a better understanding of what we are aiming to achieve, they see the benefit for their learning. However, they have needed me to explain everything in a 'real time' context (using Elluminate and Second Life) - they haven't 'got it' by just reading the orientation material we have given them.
The students have also required a lot more 'tutoring' in Second Life in terms of how to do very simple things like retrieving information from objects and notecards. Spending the extra time in SL with them and demonstrating these basic tasks has been very beneficial. Several of these very constructive sessions has been with small numbers of students and in spontaneous meetings which has required me to be very flexible in my time management.
I know I have said this a number of times (and is old news for educators who regularly use Second Life), but I am realizing more and more that students need to have fun in Second Life and do things that may not have any particular relevance to the learning activities that are planned. It helps them develop their skills, build their confidence and immerse them more fully.
One of my favorite activities that I have started doing regularly is taking the students to the TLC Maternity Unit. There we play with the interactive animations and do silly things like the kids chicken dance and hand stands.
Some people would argue that this sort of fun activity is wasting students' valuable time, and we should be concentrating on the serious learning activities such as the normal birth scenario that we are currently developing. Nevertheless, the more confident and skilled students are when they come to the 'serious' activities, the more they will get out of them.
Reflecting of the implications of this feedback for learning design
The main lessons for me personally (and not necessarily that of the SLENZ project or the other team members) is that students need a lot more real time support than I anticipated. This shouldn't be news to me when I consider my own personal learning in SL.
I don't think that real time support needs to be in a face-to-face computer laboratory but it does require time spent with students in SL or other online places where students can be shown how things work and guided in their learning, as opposed to being left to get on with it.
I believe midwifery students are a lot more motivated to explore Second Life than I originally gave them credit for. It is up to us as educators to harness and direct this motivation into meaningful learning experiences.