Saturday, August 1, 2009

What midwifery students think of the show so far

This week I have have a number of meetings with the first year midwifery students who are trialling the virtual birth unit in Second Life as part of the Second Life Education New Zealand project. These meetings have taken place in Elluminate and Second Life. Here are the impressions and feedback I have been left with.

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.
Understanding what the project is about
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.

Having fun
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.


Mark Northover said...

Hi Sarah,

There are clear parallels with your experiences here and our own experiences (at AUT) with the introduction of an e-portfolio for student placements, especially for teaching students. They are (in general) quite unsure about the purpose and extra benefit, which points to a need for better training and support in a new technology.

My recommendation is that we stick with it for at least another couple of years to examine whether familiarity removes some of these barriers and the true worth of the technology can be measured.

Excellent potential though!

Mark Northover

Sarah Stewart said...

Thank you, Mark, for your very supportive comment. I totally agree.

The other thing that will help our cause will be to integrate the birth unit and normal birth scenario into classes, as opposed to an additional extra. You know what it's like when you are a only do what you have to do. At the moment, looking at the BU and scenario is a voluntary activity. If/when it becomes a integrated into a lesson, it will have a credibility that I think it lacks at the moment.