IU professor teaching class with avatars

IU professor says Second Life could expand online learning.

This fall, an Indiana University Kokomo professor will teach an art philosophy class to students who might be disguised as robots, dinosaurs, or vampires.

Gregory Steel is the only IU professor to teach a course in the virtual reality world known as Second Life.

Instead of meeting on the IU Kokomo campus, students create avatars and log in to move their avatars through a virtual classroom, according to IU Kokomo officials.

Second Life is an environment that crosses cartoons with real life. IU’s Second Life campus includes landmarks like IU Kokomo’s Hunt Hall and Bloomington’s Sample Gates. The virtual campus also includes ocean views from most directions.

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Steel said he combines the virtual classroom with video chats, eMail, and Facebook to meet all of his students’ academic needs.

“I have found that the students are more engaged in learning because there is more room for interaction than in a traditional online course,” Steel said. “This offers the flexibility and convenience of an online course but still allows for a significant amount of the kind of interaction you find in a real classroom. We’re not located in the same space, but at the same time, we are.”

Steel first taught the virtual class in the fall of 2011. He said he found more students participated in class discussion than in a traditional classroom.

Tarja Harney took Steel’s first virtual class. She said she felt less pressure when she was participating in the online discussion.

“When the teacher asks a question, you don’t feel like, ‘Oh no, he’s picking on me, and everybody is looking at me,'” she said. “You could say something without worrying about what everyone else thought because it’s your avatar’s comment, not yours.”

University officials are looking for other ways to use the Second Life program to enhance course offerings, said John Gosney, IU faculty liaison for the Learning Technologies Division of University Technology Services.

The virtual classes are more interactive, so nursing students could use it to treat virtual patients in a safe environment. Or an archaeology class could virtually visit a dig site.

“This has infinitely more possibilities than the current standard of online teaching,” he said. “I think we have an opportunity to look at something that would extend the classroom out into the world. It could become a pretty powerful tool.”

Copyright (c) 2012, the Kokomo Tribune (Kokomo, Ind.). Visit the Kokomo Tribune online at www.kokomotribune.com. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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