Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Getting the hang of Second Life

Deciding what outfits to try on

Despite being a member of a major Second Life research project, I have always been a tad ambivalent about it. To be honest, at times I have found it intimidating and boring. It has taken me ages to build any sort of skill level, and I am limited in the times I can go into Second Life by poor Internet connection and inadequate computer equipment. So if I feel like that (and I am motivated to use Second Life in my teaching and professional life), how can we engage students and lecturers who lack motivation?

Engaging newbies
I think the answer to engaging newbies in Second Life is to make their experience a 'fun' and social experience. If people have fun and enjoy themselves, then they will keep returning and build their skills. Once they are comfortable in Second Life, then they'll be ready to take on the more complicated scenarios that we are asking them to work through in the virtual birth unit.

Aastra (Deborah Davis)

Having fun in Second Life

This is no new revelation - but it was really brought home to me today.

Usually I look around places in Second Life by myself. I very rarely see anyone to speak to, and even if I do, I often feel too intimidated to talk to them. So if there little or no interaction, I get very bored very quickly, take myself out of Second Life and go and talk to people on Twitter.

Petal (me) - does this purple dress make my skin look sallow??!!

Learning in Second Life is a social experience

But today I had a quick look at the Centre for Interprofessional e-learning (CIPeL) with Deborah Davis (Aastra Apfelbaum), which has been developed by Coventry University. Deborah and I had been alerted to the work of the CIPeL by midwifery educator, Elinor Clarke - Elinor is showing people around the CIPeL unit next Tuesday as part of the 24 hour Virtual International Day of the Midwife celebrations.

We had planned on looking for the midwifery section of the Centre, but got no further than the ground floor where we had the opportunity to try on new frocks and have a dance. To say we were thrilled is an understatement. We have been thinking that we need to get dressed up for the opening of the virtual birth unit and International Day of the Midwife. And let's face it, Petal (me in Second Life) is long overdue for a makeover.

Working together
What struck me was how much I learned about Second Life whilst having fun and being frivolous. I become so much more confident with changing clothes, using animations and accessing my inventory. The key to this experience was having someone to share the fun with - to give me advice about whether my bum looked too big in the purple outfit - and to problem-solve together.

Doing the salsa!

Introducing newbies to Second Life
As I said before, this concept is nothing new to the people like the SLENZ team who are designing learning activities in Second Life.

But it is worth emphasing: if you are thinking about using Second Life as a teaching activity/resource, make sure you integrate time for people to become familiar with how Second Life works, with fun activities. And also make sure that people work together so they can share experiences and support each other as they are learning.

What advice would you give people new to Second Life? If you are new to Second Life, what would you like more information about?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Makeup and massage

How about this for a fantastic idea?!

One of the schools of midwifery in Perth has a wonderful program organized for their students on International Day of the Midwife, which includes organizing a massage and make-up session for the students. This is one way of emphasizing the importance of midwives taking care of themselves.

Never did things like that in my day!!

Image: 'gylcerin army' vidrio

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

IDM 24 hour virtual event: two weeks to go!

International Day of the Midwife is in two weeks time, and things are starting to come together for the 24 hour virtual event. Have a look at this wiki to see what we're planning.

The theme for International Day of the Midwife 2009 is The World Needs Midwives Now More Than Ever! According to the International Confederation of Midwives, 350,000 midwives are needed to make a difference to mortality and morbidity on a global scale - over 60% women still do not have access to skilled care during childbirth.

Learning about midwifery
In the meantime, I am really keen to hear from any midwife who would like to take part in the virtual celebration of IDM - would you like to give a presentation, write a paragraph, make a video or podcast, or do anything that can be published on the Internet - tell us about your life as a midwife or student midwife, or an issue that affects your practice as a midwife or interests you.

If you have any questions about this, please get in touch by leaving a comment here or emailing me: sarahstewart07 (at)

Image: 'Jewellery seller, Jaisalmer' Dey

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Celebrating pregnancy and birth

This is another fabulous video celebrating pregnancy, and birth at home of baby Olive.

Home birth of beautiful boy with cleft lip and palate

This is a beautiful video of a home birth. What is so special about this video is that baby Aleksander is born with a cleft lip and palate. But despite the very noticeable disability, he is a gorgeous little chap. I think this is a great resource for parents who want to know more about this condition.

Lesson plan - Treasure Hunt

Here is the quiz that is the activity for the lesson plan: The Treasure Hunt, which accompanies the SLENZ virtual birth unit project.

Have a look around the birth unit first - the quiz will make more sense then.

Living in 'The Matrix'

Yesterday I heard something I thought was really funny, but got me thinking about how my 'real' life is merging with my online or virtul life.

For those who do not know, I normally live in Dunedin, New Zealand but am currently in Brisbane working on a six month contract. I flew back to Dunedin for Easter, but returned to Brisbane on Tuesday.

Yesterday I heard from Erika Pearson on Twitter, who lives in Dunedin - she said (talking about Leigh Blackall who is a mutual firend and colleague who also lives in Dunedin):

@SarahStewart you are back in Qld, right? Leigh B. swears he saw you at the Poly this morning. we think he needs his head examined! ;)

Erika and I had a laugh about this, thinking that Leigh was one step nearer senality. But what had actually happened was that Leigh had 'seen' and spoken to me in Second Life earlier that day, and we had spent a good hour and a half working together on the virtual birthing centre project.

Is 'The Matrix' nearer than we think?
The concept that the film 'The Matrix' explored of people moving in and out different worlds has clearly come true for some of us.

I love the idea that Leigh and I are able to communicate and work together together over a huge distance in such a way that he felt I was still physically in his geographical location. It gives me a sense of comfort - that I am not forgotton now that I have moved away from Dunedin.

Sorting out the virtual from reality
But at the same time, how much of a problem is it when reality starts to merge with the virtual in this way? Are we isolating ourselves from people who have no access to the Internet - have no ability to have a virtual life? Does that matter? What harm can come of this integration of 'real' and online/virtual life? Is The Matrix going to take over our humanity as forecast?

Image: 'The Matrix' Nick Slide

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Flexible Learning 2009: What is flexible learning?

Image: 'Some of my fans'

I have recently started the Flexible Learning Course which is being run by Otago Polytechnic - at the moment I am an informal student accessing the course online. You can see the whole course set out in Wikieducator.

The activity for this week is think about flexible learning, what it is and how it can be facilitated to meet individual needs. And then we have to write story about a student and how flexible learning would meet that person's needs.

Australian Flexible Learning Framework
In the past I have been guilty of getting flexible learning muddled up with eLearning. I have tended to think that any educational courses delivered online is 'flexible'. But flexible learning is more than that - it involves delivering education in modes that suit individual learning needs, as well as in a form that suits different learning styles.

The Australian Flexible Learning Framework talks about flexible learning being focused on the learner as the center of the learning experience. The learning experience should encompass a range of learning activities and resources that totally engage the learner, and makes the learner an active participant as opposed to a passive listener.

My experience of flexible learning
Over the last 18 months I have taken part in three courses - Facilitating Online Communities, Connectivism and Constructing Courses. The flexible elements of the courses that particularly appealed to me as a learner were:
  • I was able to enroll as an informal learner, in other words I was able to access the course without paying - to get the formal qualification I had the option of enrolling and paying the fee to have my work assessed and processed.
  • Able to do the courses in my own time at my own pace - one course I took ages to complete, another course I finished before the end of the course.
  • The courses had a range of activities and options for communicating with lecturers and fellow students including blogs, wikis, web conference, Twitter, video, Skype etc.
  • I was able to 'manipulate' the assessments to meet my own personal learning needs ie integrate the assessments into my work so that one complemented the other, and visa versa - the assessments has relevancy instead of being an academic exercise.
  • I learned from fellow students, not just the lecturers - what we as students had to say was valued by lecturers.
Aged care health professionals and flexible learning
As an educator I have a specific scenario in mind for the development of a flexible course. I am currently carrying out a project for Aged Care Queensland which involves developing an eMentoring program. I am recruiting aged care staff to be mentors. The mentors will be required to attend a 2-day workshop about mentoring, and then they 'mentor' their mentee. At the moment this is a voluntary activity with no outcome other than a certificate of participation and the feeling of satisfaction. My aim is to develop a course about mentoring. The key will be to integrate the learning from the workshops and the experience of being a mentor, and turn this into a formal qualification.

Image: 'Vintage to use!'

A day in the life of one of my potential students
My potential student is a middle-aged woman called Deidre. Deidre is a nurse by profession, and has been working in the aged care sector for 15 years. For the last five years she has been the manager of a residential aged care facility in a rural town, three hours drive from a major urban center, in Queensland. She is very experienced and knowledgeable about the aged care industry.

Deidre is committed to supporting her staff, professional development and education. She likes to mentor junior staff and she is very cognizant of the problems of recruitment and retention. Deidre did her nurse training when it was hospital-based, and would like to take some management papers at degree level. However, she is very busy on a day-to-day basis with running of the nursing home, writing funding applications and preparing for audit.

There is little funding to support her to take time off to study or pay course fees. And there is no one available with her experience to back-fill when she goes on study leave - she finds it difficult enough as it is to take annual leave. Deidre has some computer skills - she uses databases and financial programs at work. Her daughter is doing her OE in the UK and has been nagging her about using Skype for communication, but Deidre just hasn't got around to finding out about it yet.

The challenges for education design
  • time
  • finance
  • access
  • skills
What do you look for when you think about doing an education course? What is a selling point for you?

Maternity units in Second Life

I have had a look around Second Life at the various different maternity cum birthing units to see how our work compares. When you do a search in Second Life and Google for maternity/birthing centers/units you will find that there are a number of results. Here are a few I have visited over the last couple of days.

Dreamscapes Maternity Center

The Dreamscapes Maternity Center is quite medicalised but it did give me a sense of what can be achieved in terms of animations and objects.

Here I am using an animation, ready to catch a baby. There are also animations for the birthing mother, and support partner.

Looking at the baby resusitaire.

Jungle Baby Birth Center

The Jungle Baby Birth Center is quite different and great fun.

There is a pool where you can give birth. I tried to be the birthing mother but nearly drowned in the rock pool. But I loved the fairies and elves that flew around keeping me company.

I am just not sure this environment would be considered 'appropriate' for teaching students by the serious amongst us, but I loved it.

Rock a Bye Babies Maternity Clinic and Birthing Center
The Rock a Bye Babies Maternity Clinic and Birthing Center seemed to be focused mostly on selling pregnancies, babies and baby regalia.

For the life of me, I cannot imagine why anyone would want to be pregnant and have a baby in Second Life. However, what it is really important for me to remember is that for many people, Second Life is a game and they have a completely different take on it compared to me, who looks at it mostly as a teaching tool.

TLC Babies Maternity Pediatric Clinic
The TLC Babies Maternity Pediatric Clinic has a similar feel to Rock a Bye Babies.

I had a chat with the owners of two of the maternity centers. They do big business selling baby regalia to people and having 'births' on their premises.

One of the owners had a medical background in real life but did not give out advice for real life situations because of the issue of litigation.

I asked one owner if women wanted natural birth in Second Life because they were unable to do so in real life, but she had the sense that that was not the case. It's a research project just crying to be carried out - anyone fancy funding me to do it!

All in all, I was pleased to see that our birth unit was dissimilar to the others that I visited, which will hopefully help it stand out in Second Life. It looks very different because it is not a commercial endeavor. And of course, it's purpose is very different. Nevertheless, I enjoyed talking to people I met and I think it would be very interesting to involve them in future research, looking at how people view birth in Second Life from a consumers' point of view, as opposed to an education perspective.

Do you use Second Life as a game? Have you ever had a virtual pregnancy and birth. If so, why? And how was your experience of virtual pregnancy and birth?

International Day of the Midwife 2009: Reaching midwives who do not have Internet access

I am currently working with Deborah Davis to organise a 24 hour virtual event to celebrate International Day of the Midwife on May 5th. We have started making plans on this wiki - so please check it out if you would like to know more.

Program for IDM 2009
I have been merrily emailing various contacts around the world asking if they would participate, thinking that online events would be one way of reaching midwives who would otherwise be unable to afford to go to face-to-face conferences etc. I have been surprised at the number of midwives who do have access to the Internet in developing countries. And I have been careful to include asynchronous events to the program for midwives who do not have the technology to attend real-time web conferences.

My arrogance?
However, one conversation with a colleague who works with midwives in a developing country has made me stop and reflect on the assumptions I have which underpin this initiative. When I asked him if any midwife he knows would be interested in joining the events he pointed out that the Internet was too expensive and what was available was of very poor quality. He went on to say:

I often think that it is a strange sophistication that we would expect people to access the internet for learning and life when most people have no electricity, poor water and are the victims of multiple morbidities. It makes teaching and learning for most western people very challenging as it relies on the use of what are now referred to as "outdate(ed) modalities".

So where does this leave me and the work I am trying to do using online technology?

Looking at myself
OK. So I can't change the lives of the millions of women and children who suffer horrendous living conditions. There's not a lot I can do about providing good quality Internet access to midiwves who would dearly love to be able to communicate with colleagues around the world. But what I can do is look at myself and my attitudes as a privileged westerner, and try to work out what I can do for the environment and world I live in.

When searching the term "outdated modlaities" I found a post "Back to the Future? Time, Technology, and the Ability of Academics to Create Real Change" by Tim Terway. In this blog post Tim says:

I can’t help but to return to a comment made by my girlfriend Tara on Saturday night, the self-professed “Homer Simpson” in the room. “The only way to change the masses is to directly affect their quality of life.” Rather than throw invisible life preservers around the necks of outdated processes in an emergent universe (everything from auto-industries to bloated, slow-science practices that only set targets meant to be missed), why can’t we realize the value of attempting to change ourselves instead of hopelessly attempting to change how others think?

Where to from here?
I am not really sure where this leaves me personally except that I have to continue to be mindful of the many midwives who are un-connected, and have little or no way of reaching out to the wider international midwifery community.

So how do we in developed countries support these midwives to support the families who do live in appalling conditions? How can we connect with midwives who do not have access to free and easy-to -use communication tools? How do we step back and re-evaluate our use of "outdated modalities" to teach and learn with colleagues in developing countries. What do you think?

Image: 'Mape choir kids' kahunapulej

Monday, April 13, 2009

First half of my great adventure

I am back in Dunedin, New Zealand for Easter which seems a good time to stop and reflect on the first half of my stay in Australia. As regular readers know, I have taken a six month contract, working with Aged Care Queensland to implement the eMentoring grant they received from the Department of Health and Aging.

Appreciating what I have
It goes without saying that I miss my family very much, but at the same time there are certain advantages to living the single life, not least having total control over what I watch on TV, and not having to cook meat and two veg every night for my darling husband. But I have come to appreciate that my family are more than my husband and daughter - they are also my best friends.

In the meantime, I am making lots of new friends in Brisbane and finding the opportunities for learning, networking and growth far exceed to what I am used to. In the next couple of months I am invited to speak at three workshops about blogging and social media in education and work. I have become a very social animal, which Ellen finds impossible to believe because she knows me as being quite an unsociable, boring old f..t! know what they say...there's life in the old girl yet!

Five great things about Brisbane
  • The wonderful warm weather - beats cold, damp Dunedin any day!
  • Wonderfully friendly people who are very obliging and keen to learn and share.
  • Public transport - I get around everywhere by bus and train.
  • Lots of events, including social media events such as the Brisbane Social Media Club.
  • Shops and the Brisbane Broncos!!!
Five worse things about Brisbane
  • The amount of traffic on the roads -compared to Dunedin's idea of a traffic queue which is five cars lined up at the traffic lights.
  • The very silly uniforms that boys wear who go to private schools - I can't believe boys would be seen wearing those hats!
  • Corporate attitude to work-people need to lighten up.
  • Fragmentation of everything-so many little projects all doing the same thing-needs to be greater communication and collaboration
  • Corporate dress code. This is a good thing in some respects because I have been 'forced' to smarten up and buy new clothes. But at the same time, I miss the relaxed attitude of Dunedin to dress and image. At my grand old age I want to be myself, not forced into a uniform.
I have another three months in Brisbane and then I will be looking for a new job. I have no idea what I'll end up doing or where I'll end up. And where this leads us as a family is also up in the air. But I am loving this great adventure and looking forward to seeing where it takes me next.

All in a name

We have a name for the virtual birthing unit in Second Life:

"Te Wāhi Whānau/ The Birth Place"

Second SLENZ workshop in windy Wellington

Back in March I attended the second Second Life Education New Zealand workshop. The workshop aimed to focus on the work that was needed to be completed for Stage Two of the project which includes the virtual birth unit.

At one point when we were landing, I didn't even think I'd make the meeting - it was the roughest, lumpiest landing I have ever had - I thought we were going to run right off the runway into the sea.

Leigh Blackall and myself

As with all meetings such as this, I came away with much more work to do. If I stop and think about things too much I get overwhelmed with what we have to achieve in the next few months. So the only way I can deal with this is concentrate on one small job at a time. The priority of these jobs change often so it behoves to be flexible in time-frames and order of working on things.

Apart from minute details that we had to deal with, there were a number of broader themes to come out of the meeting.

Creative Commons

One of the most important things about this project, to my mind, is that all the work, outcomes and product is under Creative Commons license. That means that the process of development is completely open for people to follow on blogs such as this as well as Google Documents. So you can follow our processes, see what works well and learn by our mistakes. It also means that you can take and use any of the Second Life resources we develop.

I am extremely proud to belong to this group of people who are so committed to open sharing of resources. This is in direct contrast to other research projects I have been involved with. I think it is really important for tax payers to be able to see research carried out in a transparent way when it is their dollars that is funding the research.

Terry Neal - project manager

Developing motivation
One of the main challenges to this project is motivating the educators who will be using the birth unit with students. They are very interested in this project and the potential of simulation for teaching, but are leery of anything that is going to take a lot of time in orientation both for themselves and students. So everything we develop takes this into consideration.

One of the most effective ways of hooking people into Second Life we have found has been to show people how it works, with them looking over the shoulders of a person who is familiar with SL. This is reminiscent of Nancy White's method of teaching.

A strategy we are employing from now on is to involve educators in events in Second Life to help them develop their avatar, manage controls and become confident with getting around. So if you know of any in-world conferences or events coming up, especially suitable for newbies, please let me know.

Aaron Griffths and John Waugh

Monitoring visits to the birth unit
One of the things I will be interested in is who visits the birth unit, other than students in our formal evaluation, why they visit and how they find us. We have the ability to monitor visitors from a statistical point of view - to get more qualitative data, we will probably have to employ something like an online survey. It will be important to get this up and running as soon as possible because we're starting to get a lot of interest in our work, and hope to incorporate it into activities for International Day of the Midwife in May.

The future of the birth unit
The big question over the next few months is what will happen to the birth unit once the SLENZ project is finished later in the year. We will have to work out ownership and issues of funding. Nevertheless, I am extremely grateful to SLENZ for providing this wonderful resource for midwifery education and professional communication and collaboration which we can share with the international midwifery community.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Making animations for Second Life

One of the things we have to do for the scenarios in our virtual birthing unit in Second Life, is film the actions of things we do, which are then turned into animations.

So here's Deb and I 'acting' how to listen to a baby's heart rate: note the innovative use of a toilet roll middle and the cushion pushed up Deborah's jumper.

Sign off for the birthing room

Aaron Griffths has completed the birthing room in the virtual birthing unit.

I think it is looking very cosy, and meets requirements for what women want in their birthing environment.

We still have a lot of work to do, but having this element complete makes me feel like we have met one land mark.

My PLE 2009

Last May I wrote a blog post about my personal learning environment (PLE), and in it I wrote about the various online tools I used for my learning and reflection, communication and collaboration. In the comments, Claire Thompson suggested I carry out a similar reflection to see how my PLE has evolved over a period of time - so here is my reflection a year later.

Last year's PLE
To remind you, here is what my PLE looked like last year.

PLE 2009

And here is my PLE one year later.

The main change is that there is a reduction in the number of tools that I use, with a greater reliance on a favored few.

Hub of my PLE
My blog and ePortfolio remain at the hub of my PLE, but I feel there is now an equality of importance between the two activities, as opposed to last year when my blog was the most important tool in my PLE. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to blog in the same way I did this time last year. At the same time, because my employment status has changed and I will be looking for a new job at the end of June, I am conscious of the importance of keeping my ePortfolio up to date so I can use it as a means of attracting the attention of potential employers.

Who's in and who's out?
I rely more on sites like YouTube and SlideShare for obtaining information, and less on Wikipedia and RSS (Google Reader). I am doing more publishing on YouTube, SlideShare and Flickr, and noticing an increase in conversations on these sites as a result.

My use of Delicious has dropped (maybe because I am not currently using it as a teaching tool for students), although I still use it regularly as an ePortfolio tool. I am hardly using Google Reader - I just don't have the time to spend reading many other blogs, I am afraid. But my use of Google Documents has increased substantially as I get more involved with collaborative work at a distance.

Twitter and Skype figure hugely as communication tools especially since I moved to Australia. I haven't had the time to do much blogging, and have found that using Twitter has allowed me to keep in touch with people in between blog posts. I also had huge problems accessing the Internet when I first moved to Australia, and Twitter was about the only tool I could use for synchronous communication.

What's new?
Second Life has made an appearance, and I am starting to make connections with people as a result of Second Life. This isn't so much because we have met in Second Life, but rather because the development work we are doing there is a point of commonality. It will be interesting to see if Second Life becomes an important part of my PLE once my involvement in the SLENZ research project is completed in November/December.

And finally, much to my horror, Facebook has become a reasonably influential part of my PLE. I say 'horror' because I strongly dislike FaceBook as a frivolous waste of time. But....I have been making a steady number of professional connections there, and joining groups which I am using for finding and disseminating information. I feel like I have been dragged into FaceBook kicking and screaming, but I also feel I ignore it at my peril.

How is your PLE looking these days? How has it changed in the last year? What are your favorite tools now, and why?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

International Day of the Midwife 2009: 24 hour virtual event

I can't believe it's a year ago that I was planning for International Day of the Midwife 2008 when I collected stories from midwives about the midwives who had influenced their practice over the years. I also organized a virtual meeting between my students in New Zealand and student midwives in Nashville. And here we year later.

So I have been thinking about how we can celebrate International Day of the Midwife this year. For some time now, I have been thinking that I would like to organize a 24 hour virtual event so that there is something happening every hour for 24 hours of the day, so everyone has access to some thing at some point in time. Here are a couple of ideas:
Do you have any ideas for what we could do in the 24 hours? If you would be interested in getting involved, what would you like to help with?

Image: 'Dorise helps Amy'

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Second Life and occupational therapy

I recently watched a video about the work that Jefferson College of Health Occupational Therapy Centre is doing in Second Life.

The thing that struck me was how Second Life could be used in aged care, for example, planning assistive technology and environments for the elderly. Does anyone know of examples of Second Life being used in the aged care sector?

Waterbirth in Second Life

I have to admit I don't get the whole 'having a baby' in Second Life as a fun activity. But I really enjoyed this video which shows the 'birth' of Jacob Cleo Khandr. What I love is that the birth is a natural one in water - mum spends a lot of time on a birthing ball before she gets in the pool. No sign of any medical equipment or procedures.

Role of the virtual midwife
I know this is 'make believe' but I would dearly like to know if this virtual birth is acting out what actually happened to mum, or if it is what she would like to happen in 'real life'? I would also like to know more about the midwives at the Rock A Bye Babies Maternity Clinic - are they 'real midwives? Do they get paid? What sort of business do they offer - how do 'real' midwives feel about it? What are the implications for 'real life' maternity/midwifery care?

What do you think? Should virtual midwives be regulated in a similar way to 'real' midwives? What if virtual midwives give 'poor' midwifery care? What are the implications for me - could I set myself to be a virtual midwife?