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Reflecting on the last week

Just finished a full week of conferencing.  CAL last Monday to Wednesday and Best Practices in Education over the weekend in Second Life.  Interesting participating in 2 such very different conferences and one f-t-f and one inworld.  On a practical note, advantages of inworld are being able to do other things in between sessions, having a cup of tea when I want, being able to join in the chat channel, and not having to mess around with trains and stuff.  On the other hand, it was nice to experience the buzz of the f-t-f, to meet people I had met before and make new contacts, and to discuss thoughts and reactions to the different speakers as it happened.

CAL is a general education conference.  It drew a number of ‘big’ names and there was a lot of discussion of learning and education theory and practice.  Somewhat disappointingly, there was not a lot said or demonstrated of current technologies. It is the only gathering I have been to recently where there wasn’t a hashtag for use in electronic media.  It felt as though there were a lot of old debates continuing to be worked out.  Having said that, I did meet some other folk actively involved in working in virtual worlds and we were ale to talk about what we are doing and the challenges we face.  There was also a salutary reminder that not everybody sees or uses the virtual world the way I do; I found myself questioning the seamless integration of real and virtual advocated by one speaker with little evidence of using the affordances of Second Life. Unfortunately, he had to leave immediately after his presentation, but we did swap cards and I have contacted him asking for details of his blog on how to teach in SL.  For me, the best session in the conference was Carina Garvin’s presentation of the work she has done on mapping SL affordances and pedagogy.  This is a work in progress and Carina and I have agreed to keep in touch.

VWPBE was less intellectually challenging for me than CAL.  There were many good presentations of different aspects of using Second Life in teaching and learning.  Perhaps because the territory was more familiar, I was able to focus more on content and methodology.  Although I had heard both Carina Garvin and Lisa Dawley present during the previous fortnight, it was good to hear their presentations again and to ‘hear’ things which I had not taken in first time round.  Some brief notes on some of the other presentations I attended:

Joykadia is an international learning community drawing together a mixture of individual educators, students, organisations, and parents of younger students. The focus is on informality and activity. A number of ‘unconferences’ are held during the year. There is a major emphasis on community (Wenger), design and use of space, facilitation and recognising skills.

Devon Alderton spoke about the ethics of undertaking research in SL and reminded us that behind every avatar there is a person. Linden Labs ToS and Community Standards are very clear about no disclosure of personal IDs.  IRB tends to focus on potential harm to research subjects, and may be phased by avatars and virtual worlds.  Tom Boellstorf offers some useful guidelines, eg double blind avatar names, locked and encrypted storage, waiver for written consent of inworld subjects (written consent would mean revealing ID) and very clear explanations of what would happen.

The Theorists’ Project was advertised as teaching difficult concepts in SL and turned out to be a total learning experience developed by and with counseling and psychology graduate students.  A fascinating place to visit and experience.

Jackie Darkstone (Jackie Marsh from Sheffield in rl) presented her work on literacy and ClubPenguin.  I found this more interesting and meaningful having seen ClubPenguin.  Hopefully she is sending a copy of a paper currently in press.

The DELVE project made two presentations based on different aspects of the current research project.  Interesting for me to hear Shailey and Ahmad talking about what they are doing.  Should be helpful with the work I am doing for the project!

Now the conferences are out of the way, I am hoping to be able to focus on doing some thinking and starting to pull some of my own ideas together and beginning to work out the way ahead!

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