METANOMICS: BUILDING IMMERSIVE INSTRUCTIONAL EXPERIENCE
AND LEARNING COMMUNITIES IN SECOND LIFE
OCTOBER 21, 2009
ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is brought to you by Remedy Communications and
Dusan Writer’s Metaverse.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hi. I’m Robert Bloomfield, professor at Cornell University’s
Johnson Graduate School of Management. Today we continue exploring Virtual Worlds
in the larger sphere of social media, culture, enterprise and policy. Naturally our
discussion about Virtual Worlds takes place in a Virtual World. So join us. This is
ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is filmed today in front of a live audience at our studios in
Second Life. We are pleased to broadcast weekly to our event partners and to welcome
discussion. We use ChatBridge technology to allow viewers to comment during the
show. Metanomics is sponsored by the Johnson Graduate School of Management at
Cornell University and Immersive Workspaces. Welcome. This is Metanomics.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Welcome to Metanomics. I couldn’t begin to count the
number of educators in Second Life, especially from higher education. You name the
college, the university, there is a professor, a librarian, a staff member, maybe even an
official presence here in Second Life, but not many have tried to do what Leslie Jarmon
has done with the University of Texas. She has brought in an official presence not just
for one person, one department, one college or one campus, but for the entire state
university system. That’s 15 campuses along with the university chancellors. So it is
quite the achievement. Leslie, congratulations, and welcome to Metanomics.
LESLIE JARMON: Thank you, Rob and everybody, for coming. First let me offer a
caveat here. It’s never one person alone in Second Life, is it? So there’s just been an
incredible team, and I have to say a wonderful, bold responsiveness on the part of the
chancellors of the University of Texas system to bring this all into place. And we’ll also
just getting started so it’s not as though we’re all done yet. It’s a one-year program, and
we’ve got about eight months left.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We’ll be talking quite a bit throughout the hour about the fact
that this is an infrastructure-building initiative, and it’s also, well as Leslie indicated, it’s a
short-term project that, hopefully, will have long-term effect.
Before we get into that, just a quick welcome to all of you who are watching on the web
at metanomics.net or in Second Life at the Metanomics Sim here or any of our event
partners. We’ll be tracking the text chat, so please keep those questions and comments
coming, and we’ll address them and have Leslie address them as we can.
Leslie, I understand that the Second Life project is part of a grant from a university-wide
call for proposals to transform undergraduate education. Can you just walk us through
what you proposed?
LESLIE JARMON: That’s exactly right, Rob. So the chancellors created an initiative
which they called Transforming Undergraduate Education, just as you said, and put out
a call for proposals around the whole state, to all 15 campuses. And just to clarify that,
let’s clarify right now. Nine of those campuses are full academic campuses, with
undergraduate programs through doctoral programs. Six of those campuses are
medical and health-science center campuses, many of which you would recognize, for
example, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. That’s actually a University of Texas campus.
They have graduate students and researchers, of course, as well as the medical
institutions affiliated with them.
So the statewide system was sent to this call for proposals, and they asked for a letter
of intent first, but they had some pretty strict criteria. The proposal had to somehow
enrich the quality of the learning experience for the undergraduates and, at the same
time, lower the cost of delivery of that instruction in some way, some innovative ways.
This couldn’t be some old program that was being modified or revised. It also had to
involve all 15 of these campuses so it had to be applicable and usable by the medical
and health-science campuses as well as the academic campuses. And finally, it had to
somehow encourage or support new collaboration among all of us. So these were the
criteria they set.
And my proposal, those of you who are familiar with Second Life, you can see how I
could pretty much check off all of those boxes very easily. My proposal was that the
system provide the virtual infrastructure to the 15 campuses, much as they did in the
early ’90s with the advent of the internet, providing some infrastructure support, without
directing or determining in any way which directions the various campuses would chart
for their path, for their entry to the Virtual World. So in one sense, we have a very
autonomous system with the University of Texas system. The campuses have their own
mission statements. They have their own presidents and faculty and so forth. So the
chancellors didn’t want to step on any toes in that regard.
But we did want to use this possibility, this opportunity, to provide the virtual
infrastructure complemented with training, information, resources, all of which would be
deliverable during the first year. And I have to say, four months in, it’s already exceeded
my expectations of where we would be now and what I could even have imagined.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I mean it’s not like you’re starting from scratch and there was
no one from the University of Texas system in Second Life. To what extent are you
actually just sort of trying to keep up with the people who are doing things on their own
through Second Life at U of T, and to what extent are you out there trying to sell people,
pitch new projects?
LESLIE JARMON: It’s a wonderful question, Rob. There were some pre-existing
islands in Second Life already for some of the campuses. For example, the University of
Texas El Paso already had an island. The University of Texas-Pan American down in
South Texas, in Edinburg, had a wonderful island. The University of Texas campus up
in Dallas had three islands. The University of Texas Austin had five pre-existing islands.
But, for the most part, all of the other campuses--and I’ve probably left out
someone--but, for the most part, all the other campuses had no previous experience
with Second Life at all, not to mention any islands. Albeit when you introduced the show
today, you referred to some of those pioneer professors, the individuals out there
forging their way through the new frontier, the new virtual frontier.
Of course, there were pre-existing individuals who were already in Second Life, but not
as a department, not as a college and certainly not as a campus university. So for most
of the people, it’s been a very high, fast learning curve. Once the proposal was
awarded, we got notice in June of this year, mid June, I wanted to start the grant July 1
so we could really hit the ground running, put the team together the first month.
The chancellors sent a letter to all of the presidents of these universities and asked
them to please identify and appoint a campus lead who would facilitate and manage this
year of exploration and discovery and entry into Second Life, and that’s just what they
did. And these folks, I have to tell you, are just marvelous, and we’ll probably get to
more detail about that in a minute.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We have some questions already, and one of them comes
from, I believe, Devon Alderton, which is, “Were the trustees hard to convince?” And I
guess--so for you it’s chancellors? We have trustees, but I think you have chancellors?
LESLIE JARMON: Yes. Every public university system and private systems as well
have their own sort of hierarchical organization. Here at the University of Texas system,
they’re chancellors, with a board of regents appointed by the Governor at the very top.
But the chancellors are really the operational folks.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And so they bought it.
LESLIE JARMON: That’s right. I was on an ad hoc committee about a year and a half
ago, and I’m not quite sure how they got my name, but somebody must have heard
something about Second Life. I don’t know. The committee was called Serious Gaming
and Education or something like that. And most of the folks at the table, they were all
from the University of Texas system, mostly individual faculty, some IT or information
technology staff, and most of the folks had had experience with virtual games.
Wonderful serious games funded by DOD or Institute of Health or NSF or something
At the meeting, I just brought up, “Well, what about Virtual Worlds? What about online
open-platform Virtual Worlds?” And not a lot of folks knew much about it. So in our
second meeting, I asked one of the chancellors, vice chancellors, David Prior, who is in
charge of the nine academic campuses, very huge responsibility, if I could use the lunch
break to do a live demo, and he agreed. And so we were all together at lunch, and I
brought in, of course, Pathfinder Linden, some of my colleagues from the Educators
Co-op, which my colleague Joe Sanchez and I co-founded a few years ago. Wonderful
And then Troy McLuhan and some of our friends at NASA CoLab pretended to be
rebuilding the International Space Station in the background and things like that, just to
give them a taste of what this might be. And then at the end of the session, we took
them to Dublin, teleported to Dublin, to drink a virtual beer and dance a little dance. That
raised all kinds of questions around the table, particularly from the chancellor about
cultural aspects, artistic aspects, social aspects of this Virtual World that is whole
‘nother domain of informal education complementing the more standardized or
conventional kinds of educational curriculum we’re more familiar with.
And then we didn’t hear anything for a long time, until the call for letters of intent came
out just last January 2009, under this umbrella grant for transforming undergraduate
education. So I’d have to say I think that vice chancellor David Prior got it right that day,
as did vice chancellor Ken Shine who manages the six medical and health-science
center campuses. They just got it right away.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let’s walk through some of the projects that are going on in
Second Life. I think the one that I’d like to start with is--you’ll have to help me with the
pronunciation here--Tracy Villarreal.
LESLIE JARMON: Villarreal. Uh-huh. Tracy Villarreal.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And he’s an oceanographer and has an oceanography class.
Can you just talk about what he’s put together?
LESLIE JARMON: This is a marvelous example, everyone, and I really hope you do
share this story back on your home campuses or in your states or wherever you’re from.
Last spring semester, we had a design instructor, Riley Triggs, who--a design course,
you teach your students, and you learn about the constructs of design. You’re supposed
to learn how to create visual representations of any kind of knowledge domain. And I
asked Tracy, “Well, what about marine science? What about oceanography?” And he
said, “Oh, the domain doesn’t matter. The students have to learn how to do it for any
domain.” So I said, “Well, what if we went to Second Life and that was their semester
project, learning the concepts and constructs of design based on the learning objectives
in your curriculum, but what they focused on was marine science?” And he loved the
idea. He was one of those pioneer individual professors who’d been in Second Life, as
had been Tracy Villarreal who is a professor of marine science here at the University of
Texas at Austin. He’s actually located down in Port Aransas, Texas, on the Gulf of
Mexico. So the two of them and the three of us teamed up together and got with our
crew here at the Division of Instructional Innovation and Design, at the University of
Texas, and really brainstormed together.
So what ended up, in a nutshell, was that Riley Triggs’ design class spent the entire
spring semester learning design, but while they were building the underwater classroom
and a research vessel in Second Life, that would become the classroom for Dr. Tracy
Villarreal’s marine science and oceanography class which is being held right now in
Second Life. So it gives a whole new meaning that we really couldn’t have done before
to the idea of interdisciplinary collaboration and teaching where the class one semester
in a different discipline actually builds the classroom for the class in another discipline. I
think some of the images you’re seeing reflect that.
So the students’ final project will be they’re collecting data. They’re learning how to use
the sensors that the design folks and some of our wonderful scripters and collaborators
in Second Life out there helped us all put together, and our team here at UT, which
consists of our graduate research assistant Jessica Mullen and five amazing
undergraduates on our team. They created the research vessel with the detectors and
so forth, and the students are learning how to actually take samples of scientific data all
in Second Life. And it’s part of the basic curriculum. So it’s a marvelous project.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So it’s highly interdisciplinary. One of the things that I find
interesting is, this is one way to break out of the very siloed approach that most
universities have, where the idea of having people who are in oceanography actually
thinking about any sort of building or design or technical issues. Difficult to do in a
university setting. Kudos on that.
We talked a little bit about another case, which was the registrars. So this is out of the
classroom and more on the administrative end where you have registrars meeting in
Second Life, to do their jobs. Can you tell us about that?
LESLIE JARMON: I’m so glad you asked about that, Rob. This is wonderful. Again, in
their proposal, although the focus, of course, is on undergraduate education, included in
the proposal are research activities, scientific activities of all kinds, as well as staff and
administrative functions. We wanted to make sure that campuses felt that they could do
anything with their three islands and that they included administrative staff in their
discussions, in their training sessions, in their brainstorming.
A case in point: At the University of Texas San Antonio, the president there appointed
as campus lead the campus registrar, Joe De Cristoforo. So not only is he the registrar
for the entire campus, and this is an academic campus with a full array of courses and
students at all levels. He had already gone into Second Life months ago, as an
individual--once again he’s a pioneer--and had gotten a little bit of land somewhere and
started setting up, I think every two weeks they meet, meetings with other registrars
from the other campuses. And what is so important about this is that it doesn’t always
have to be about a class or office hours or discussion sessions, it can be that
administrators begin to see the return on the investment for the time savings in creating
new opportunities for collaboration and meetings and very basic pragmatic kinds of
administrative and management activities that can be held in Second Life.
In a state as big as Texas, and I’m just being practical here, that’s a lot of nonproductive
time spent traveling if you’re in a situation where you’re having to go from campus to
campus, that’s just a lot of time and cost at a time with the economic downturn where--
we’re all looking for cost savings. So Joe De Cristoforo set up with six or seven
registrars from the other campuses; they’ve been meeting in Second Life for quite a
while, collaborating, sharing ideas, comparing notes and trying to improve their own
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We have a whole bunch of questions. I’d like to go back and
get to some of these before we look at more cases. Olando7 Decosta’s asking, “Is the
audience at large, the public, invited to any of the U of T activities in Second Life?”
LESLIE JARMON: Oh, of course. Again, that’s a great question, Olando. I’ve been
getting lots of emails, “Please, Leslie, send me the SLURL to the UT islands. Well,
remember, a lot of these campuses and the campus leads had not even heard of
Second Life until about six weeks ago. So in a wonderful collaboration partnership that
Linden Lab very generously worked out with us prior to the grant being awarded, they
appointed a _____ liaison to work with us and a special concierge to make sure--you
know, we were purchasing 49 islands in one purchase, so it was a very big deal. Lots of
spreadsheets involved. But all that collaboration went very well.
But remember, these are new, undeveloped islands. Where the pre-existing islands
existed at some of the university campuses that I mentioned before. Where they chose
to do so, they were allowed to relocate and join this now large University of Texas
system archipelago, but many of the islands have yet to be developed. We just haven’t
had time. So again, every campus within our system is very autonomous, and they are
deciding how they will develop the three islands. They may make some of the islands
totally closed for administrative and research purposes. Other islands open to the
public. Or, as many of you know, parceling out an island to different professors, different
classes and courses where advents or conferences or final presentations might be open
to the public. At other times, they may close them down to keep the students protected
from griefers and so forth.
But they’re all beginning to learn what it means to be estate managers, and we’re all
learning and exploring and discovering together. So there’s a yes/no answer to
Olando’s question. We have encouraged, however, every campus to reserve some land
on one of their three islands as a public sandbox, at a minimum, to allow everyone to be
able to come in. But remember, everybody, we’re at the beginning of a one-year project
so most of the islands have yet to be developed, though I will say the campus leads
have been coming up with some marvelous plans for what to do.
I want to give a tip of the hat here to the medical and health-science center campuses,
again, M.D. Anderson, University of Texas Southwestern, up in Dallas. They have really
taken their imagination and their exposure to Second Life, taken that ball and run with it,
so we hope to see some wonderful collaborations with other people outside of the
University of Texas system. Really, that’s the whole idea, isn’t it? And we open this
learning community, not just between the campuses, but to everybody.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So there are a number of questions that deal with, I guess,
the confusion--I mean you’re an accredited university system, and then you’re also, to
the extent that you open up to the broader community, Doubledown Tandino has a
question which is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but he’s saying, “I’ve spent 250,000 hours
in Second Life. Will those hours transfer into credits?” On a slightly more serious note, I
see Jackie Rexen is asking about plans for distance learning, “Are there any plans for
for-credit classes fully held in Second Life?” Do you see this panning out mostly as just
a little bit of enhancement of traditional local teaching on the UT campuses? Or are you
looking more at actually doing distance learning and providing people access to the
University of Texas via Second Life?
LESLIE JARMON: I think that these are wonderful questions, and, like everything else
in Virtual Worlds, we’re at the threshold of really understanding, just beginning to
understand, what this new Virtual World technology in an online, open more or less free
platform is going to mean for all of us as human beings. I’ve kind of written about this as
“homovirtuales”, a new dimension for human activity. So yes to all of these. Again, the
different campuses have their different missions, and they’re pursuing different although
related pathways. There is a tremendous interest in distance learning and extending or
complementing distance learning classes into Second Life.
The idea of just taking a basic traditional course and moving that into Second Life, in
our pedagogical information and resources that we’re giving the campuses, we’re really
encouraging people to understand that this is a different world. And when they do that,
the data shows, and we have the data, as do many other people, that student
engagement drops. They get bored. They get annoyed, and they give a lot of bad
teacher reviews, the instructors. However, when the learning activities are designed
creatively, using the affordances of Second Life, really folding in that experiential
learning components and requiring the students to demonstrate their learning by
building something or creating something or doing a public presentation, not just to their
classmates inside a brick and mortar classroom, but to invited guests and experts from
around the Metaverse of Second Life, who can give them critical feedback.
When the learning activities are designed in those kinds of ways, the student
engagement we know goes up. It increases. And when student engagement increases,
the retention of their learning of course concepts increases. So yes to all of those, with a
caveat that it’s very early, and we’re all learning and exploring together. Yeah. Does that
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. And I’ll just say the questions and the comments are
coming fast and furious. What I want to do is cover a little bit, one more case study, and
then we’re going to take our mid-show break, and, when we come back, it’ll be primarily
Q&A. I’d also like to talk about research and metrics, which I know you are collecting.
But before we get there, the last case I’d like to cover is, David Ford, at the Houston
Medical Campus, is looking at pulling together some simulations of cancer cells.
As I understand it, the process by which you would do this is, in part, inspired by the
simulation of a human ear and throat by Jim Ziegler, of Northern Michigan University. I
believe we will have some images of that to show people. So just to be clear, that’s
something done by Northern Michigan, not University of Texas. But can you talk about
what it is you’re planning to do--or I should say Houston Medical Campus is planning to
do looking at cancer research and education?
LESLIE JARMON: Sure, and I thank you again, Rob, for asking that question.
David Ford, he’s actually the campus lead for the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, which
is one of the University of Texas campuses. There are two located in Houston. The
other is the Health Science Center campus there at Houston. This is a marvelous
process. Following some of the images--I hope you’re seeing those--that Jim Ziegler
has created. He’s from Northern Michigan University, and he’s created with builders and
scripters in Second Life--remember this is all about collaboration. I have a side note to
remind me to say something about Jim in a second.
So David saw some of these wonderful medical builds in Second Life, and there are
many others, but these in particular, I think, captured his imagination. And, in their
research at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, he has already set up a collaboration. In
fact, we’re going there next week to work with two high school teachers in the Katy
Independent School District in Houston. One is a digital media class. The other is a
computer science class. And the design students in the media class will actually be
designing the anatomically correct and so forth--I don’t know all the specific details; this
is not my language--of the cancer cells and the structure and the process.
And the computer scientists will be learning Second Life language, the Linden
language--scripting language, and actually be writing code to animate this dynamic
model. And then builders and scripters in Second Life will take their designs, bring them
into Second Life and actually bring these builds or simulations into fruition. It’s just a
wonderful example of outreach in a vertical kind of way or horizontal kind of way beyond
the boundaries of the brick and mortar M.D. Anderson school.
And, if we have time, the last thing I want to say about Jim Ziegler is, we are in
communication with Northern Michigan University right now, to invite Jim to become our
first virtual visiting scholar here at the University of Texas Austin. He was running out of
time he could stay on the land where he has those builds right now, and they’re just
marvelous. So we have invited him to come be the first virtual visiting scholar, and we’re
working out all the contract things about that, to move his build down to one of our
undeveloped islands at the University of Texas Austin and begin collaborating with our
wonderful Department of Communication and Speech Disorders and Sciences here. We
have a big graduate program. He has a wonderful undergraduate program.
So again, these examples begin to point toward, as many of you already know, the
wonderful capacity to collaborate and break beyond the brick and mortar boundaries,
not only of our campuses and campuses across campuses, but across states, and, of
course, across the country and the world. So we’re very excited about that opportunity,
which has not yet been finalized, but we’re working on it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay, great! We’re at the halfway point of our show. To spice
up our third year of broadcasting, we are this season splicing in excerpts of discussions
from our archives. So we will be right back with Leslie Jarmon after we spend a couple
minutes looking back.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: With Metanomics now in its third season, we thought it would
be fun to take a look back at some of our past shows and guests since September of
2007. With over 80 episodes to choose from, we chose some of the most interesting,
engaging and occasionally contentious discussions. As always, you can see the
complete episodes at metanomics.net or on our iTunes channel.
HIGHER EDUCATION - NOVEMBER 26, 2007
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So now, Fleep, you are probably in the best position of
maybe just about anyone in Second Life just to give us a sense of what all is going on. I
mean, we sometimes see numbers thrown around of how many educational institutions
are in Second Life, but it’s not clear how deeply they are involved or how many people,
how much they’re doing, and what types of things they’re doing there. Could you sort of
us give us a lay of the land of what particularly higher education is doing in Second
FLEEP TUQUE: Well, it turns out that that’s a kind of tricky question to answer
because, well, in April and May a colleague and I, Nancy Jennings, wanted to do a
survey. We were getting ready to build our own University of Cincinnati Island, and we
weren’t exactly sure what was the best thing to do with the space that we had. And we
thought, “Why not go take a look at what everyone else is doing?” And we discovered
that there are a couple of stumbling blocks to finding even all of the educational
institutions in Second Life. Some things like they’ll name their lands crazy things maybe
based on their university mascot or something. And if you don’t know exactly what the
land is called, it may be difficult to find.
So we started with the link from Linden Lab’s own website, the SimTeach Wiki, and we
found that 170 institutions were listed either there or something that said university in
the search tool in Second Life. And we started teleporting to these places to see what
everyone was doing. And we found that 71 of those institutions actually had land in
Second Life. And remember, this was in April and May of this year, but already that’s
changed. And a number of other institutions have come online. So it’s changing day by
And we found that most of those institutions, like 68 to 70 percent--something like that--
were physically located in North America with Northern Europe not far behind--20
percent there. And we started looking at what institutions were doing based on what we
could observe on their campus location. And for those of us who are familiar with
Second Life, you know that sometimes it can be like explaining to someone that there’s
this really fantastic class going on, and all of this great energy and synergy is being
created, and then taking someone in to see an empty classroom: you don’t necessarily
see from the artifacts left behind what all is happening.
But we thought that there was some value to at least look and see what campuses are
building, what educational institutions seem to be doing based on the spaces that
they’re creating. And we found a lot of really great stuff. We found that many of the
campuses in Second Life devote space to student socialization. So we found beaches
and bars and dance clubs and all kinds of creative--coffee cafes and even restaurants.
Things like that, in addition to the classrooms and auditoriums and galleries and
libraries and things that you could think of as a more academic setting.
And then in May, we also had the Best Practices in Education Conference, and we were
just completely blown away by the response. I think we expected maybe a couple
hundred educators were here and seriously looking at this. And we found that our email
box just got over-flooded. We had 1400 RSVPs and people come to the event. So I
think the breadth of the individual exploration--so individual faculty members may be
doing serious work here without institutional support, in addition to the actual
institutional groups that are using Second Life and exploring what’s happening here.
And at last count, as far as I know, we’re looking in the range of about 200 institutions
world-wide at this point.
[END OF VIDEO]
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We’re back with Leslie Jarmon, of the University of Texas,
and we’re talking about the opportunities and challenges that this system sees in
moving en masse into Second Life. Leslie, I’d like to start this last segment of the show
by talking about research and metrics. The goal here, as I understand it, is not just to do
things, but to collect enough data so you know what worked and what didn’t. Could you
talk a bit about what you’re trying to do?
LESLIE JARMON: Great, Rob. Yeah, the research component is very, very important
to us so the design of the proposal is actually to collect data at three significant levels
over the course of the year. The highest level or most meta level is collecting data at the
stage of the system, that is to address the question: What does it look like when an
entire public state system of higher education moves into a Virtual Worlds? So we’re
collecting data on that since day one. We did rough pre-surveys of all the campuses,
sort of the Second Life climate, which, in some cases, was zero, on the campuses
before we started the grant.
And then the campus leads and my team meets every two weeks in Second Life. And
there were five questions that they address every week, and we’re tracking all of those.
Probably after December we’ll start gathering metrics on actual space and usage and
object usage and participation and particularly, particularly collaboration across
campuses, between campuses and with other campuses outside of the system.
So in a nutshell, we’re collecting data at the system level, but we’re also collecting data
at the campus level. Remember, these are 15 campuses, very, very diverse in nature,
some simply because they’re medical or health-science center institutions, others
because they’re academic institutions. So that already is a big difference. But also
across the state of Texas, the different campuses have different levels of resources,
different kinds of information technology support. They have different populations of
faculty and students. And so those who decide to step forward and explore and discover
and learn with us on their campus, on any given campus, can be very, very different. On
one campus it might be engineers and art historians. On another campus it might be the
nursing community that steps forward. So we’re collecting data at the campus level.
And finally, although it’s not required, we have in place a pretty easy way for individual
instructors at the campuses to collect data about the learning effectiveness, for
example, of Second Life, for their course at the student level, at the individual course
level, as well as research questions that individual faculty member may want.
So we’ve moved beyond anecdotes. We’re collecting metrics and data at all three
levels, and we then hope to be able to share that information, what have we learned,
what obstacles did we face, how did we overcome them, what did we not overcome,
what continues to be a problem and so forth.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thanks. We have a bunch of questions, one following up on
what you were just talking about. Corcosman Voom is asking what lessons you have
learned from other universities that have been in Second Life for a while. You’re not
starting from scratch. Were you able to take what you learned from others’ successes
LESLIE JARMON: That’s a wonderful question, and, again, as I said at the beginning,
for me it’s all about collaboration and the extreme generosity of the educational
community in Second Life. As I said, I’m one of the cofounders of the Educators Co-Op,
and those members represent all different kinds of universities and campuses. Some
are K through 12 teachers. I’ve learned so much from them, particularly not only at the
level of the class, how to teach a class in Second Life or what seems to work and what
doesn’t, but also taking a note, for example, from Ohio University. They have built a
very representational kind of presence, in Second Life, of their campus.
If you go to Athens, Ohio, and you walk across the campus, and then you log into
Second Life, you will recognize some of the buildings in the space there. And that’s
serving them very well, for a number of purposes: for development, for outreach, for
recruitment to high school students and families. They can go to that Sim and see
something that’s recognizable and not too far out or different, as they think about their
child or daughter or son going to Ohio University. So there are many different tracks,
and we’ve learned a lot from everybody.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: This is also when you’re also supposed to say that you study
all the Metanomics archives and have learned a tremendous amount from that.
LESLIE JARMON: And I will say, about a year ago, I think, Rob, you interviewed
Joe Santos and I on this show, and we talked about the Educators Co-op. It’s a
wonderful website, everybody, so you can definitely go there and hear the various
interviews. There’s so much to learn from the discussion sessions in 25 groups, which is
all you can be in, and I’m having to switch one of those out every week because some
new wonderful group is coming in. But we’ve learned from--SciLands. Please don’t let
me forget to mention SciLands and the wonderful cooperation and collaboration with
that marvelous consortium of agencies and organizations and communities of scientists
and researchers and explorers in this Virtual World. They’ve been fantastic.
We actually requested that our archipelago be located just across a little bit of water
from the SciLands continent so that the population of people we’re going to be now able
to bring into Second Life, whether that’s faculty, students, researchers, scientists or
administrators, the first places they might fly to will be some of the incredible
educational builds that are part of SciLands.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great! Let me ask you about just a couple of the
administrative difficulties that universities face. And the first one is about privacy. How
do you maintain the level of privacy you need under various federal and state guidelines
LESLIE JARMON: I assume that the questioner is asking specifically about FERPA and
the privacy of students to their educational information and their private information. And
so none of that is disclosed in Second Life. And when we work with training the estate
managers and the campus leads from the different campuses, this is all dealt with in a
very straightforward way. It’s absolutely imperative that we’re all compliant with FERPA
At the same time, for example, if you take a final presentation in a class, that before a
team of students may only have made their presentation to their classmates in the room
and now they have the opportunity to make their presentation to experts and scholars
and even another class maybe because in Second Life people teleporting in to see the
presentations and get feedback from that, what you’ve done is enhanced the
educational quality or enriched the educational experience for the students without
violating their privacy or FERPA. But it is all something we all need to keep our eye on
and pay attention to and be very careful always to be compliant with the FERPA
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I know you’ve gotten some assistance from Linden Lab, and
they wrote a press release about the University’s entry into Second Life. What have
they done to ease your path here?
LESLIE JARMON: They’ve been really terrific. Pathfinder Linden was appointed as our
initial liaison, and what that means is that I could call him on his cell phone when things
started getting dicey. I want to give a tip of the hat to Brandon Linden, to
George Linden, to Dee Linden and to Jay Linden. Jay does all the invoicing. And you
can imagine 15 campuses ordering three islands each in this massive archipelago of
purchase. So we just kept a very reasonable and calm but consistent communication
flow with Linden Labs, and it’s worked out just seamlessly.
The purchase of the islands went off great. The delivery of the islands, setting them up.
We gave them an initial draft map of how we wanted things sort of laid out. That got
done just very, very wonderfully. So the whole concierge service, all of the concierge
service actually, at Linden Lab has been extremely helpful.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great. Let’s see. We’ve got other questions. Here’s one from
Valiant Westland, which is whether you see investing in virtual land and buildings
perhaps lessening the University of Texas’s need to expand their real land and
LESLIE JARMON: Boy! That’s a great question, and I have to say, though it was not
specifically mentioned as part of the grant call for proposals, clearly one of the criteria,
as I said, was lowering the cost of delivery of instruction, and that includes physical
plant, hardware, energy consumption and everything else. So I do believe that this
system and others as well--well, I don’t know what we need to do, but I would suggest
that we keep our minds very, very open to discovering and understanding more about
what Virtual Worlds mean to the human experience. And, if we’re able to provide and
deliver university-level instruction to more people because of Virtual Worlds and we can
invest more in faculty, we can invest more in content, we can invest more and redesign
our pedagogical approaches this wonderful, experiential model that this particular
Virtual World affords us and not spend that money on more parking lots and parking
garages and buildings that, of course, leave a huge carbon footprint, I think we will see
more universities using this space and, in a sense, be greener.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Donna Winsmore responded to Valiant’s comment by also
saying that there is increased need for tech support, bandwidth, hardware, software and
so on. I mean I have dealt with different groups, tech services for different enterprises,
and it always seems like you’re either working with them or working around them. How
would you characterize U of T’s tech services group? Are you working with them or
working around them?
LESLIE JARMON: I think that’s a wonderful question. And, again, it points again too
that we’re working at the system level to provide the virtual infrastructure, but each
campus is making its own choices and decisions about how they’re developing their
entry into the Virtual World, how they’re going to develop their three islands. In some
cases, it’s the IT person him- or herself who’s been appointed the campus lead. In other
cases, we’re working with IT resources which may be less than on some campuses. So
that tension is always there. Again, everybody, there’s never enough, right?
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Right.
LESLIE JARMON: There are never resources or bandwidth or the computers or
computer labs for all the things we want to do. But I will say to date, and we’re only four
months into our one year, we’ve had wonderful collaboration across the board from IT
units. And sometimes, I’ve been told this by some of the campus leads, it’s because it
came from the system. Even though there may have been faculty on a campus in
Second Life, trying to explore it, trying to take their students in, understand what it was,
use it for teaching and learning or research or labs or office hours or whatever, it was
when the chancellors made this very bold decision to provide the virtual infrastructure to
all of the campuses system-wide, that that sent a different kind of message. Right?
Because it had the authority and the credibility of the system behind it.
So I think some folks maybe set up and sort of listened in a different way and perhaps
now are perceiving those individual faculty members on their campuses in a little bit
different light. Certainly respecting more their efforts to have been pioneers on their own
campus, in this Virtual World, that now the system has validated.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: This is really changing gears, but Mercyblu Moorsider has a
comment. She says, “I hope that education will be able to preserve the whimsical,
eccentric aspects of Second Life, especially avatars. It would be sad to see everyone in
a talking-head suit. Well, so here I am in my talking-head suit, but I’m certainly aware
that there’s been concern among the non-enterprise users, as they see all the
educators coming in and the business types coming in and want to make everything
much more boring and real-life “businessy.” So I’m wondering, what do you see U of T
doing? Do you think it’s going to be whimsical?
LESLIE JARMON: Okay. Here’s how we are addressing that, and I know everybody’s
doing this in different ways. As I said the complementary section to this grant, over half
the money went to Linden Lab, to purchase all these islands, a huge investment, but a
great return on investment there. The other part of the funding has gone to do training,
provide resources and information. And, in that training, we are training trainers. We’re
training estate managers, and we’re modeling hands-on in-service training for actual
faculty at the different campuses.
I’ll say it again, I must have said it ten times already, the theme or slogan or mantra of
this entire initiative is virtual learning community, emphasis on learning. Our focus is on
exploration. It’s on discovery. It’s on fun. We’re all learners again, which has a very
joyful aspect to it. And, in our training for faculty, the hands-on for faculty, people say,
“Oh, how should I make my avatar?” And my response is, “Well, you can make it into a
refrigerator or a tree or a gift box.” One of the members of our Educators Co-op always
shows up at meetings as a gift box. And, in the beginning, we wondered who the
present was for, and then we realized it was Chris.
So the playful, ludic nature--to be academic about it--of Second Life is something we
have to explore. We’ve not begun, in my opinion, to scratch the surface of that whole
domain of engagement and the kinds of offerings that that lightness and whimsical spirit
has for education, so we definitely are encouraging everybody to keep that open. Yes, I
have on my business suit. I got a makeover. But we can all have so many avatars. We
can look however we wish.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We have time for one more question, and I’ll pick up a related
one that just came in from Julala Demina, which deals with the other side of this. You’re
bringing in a bunch of young adults to Second Life, a World that has lots of content that
is usually viewed as inappropriate for students. How do you address that?
LESLIE JARMON: That’s a wonderful question, and thank you for asking. Our
administrators, that’s very often one of the early questions that they ask right at the
beginning. I like to use the analogy of, well, it’s not an analogy, it’s the fact of whatever
we do as human beings in the world, whatever kinds of intentions we have, hang-ups
we have, interests we have in the world, many people who have access to the internet
have found a way to realize those kinds of activities on the internet. And school systems
and university systems around the planet, where there is access to the internet, have
not hesitated to make that technology available to students, to use as a tool for learning
and exploration and everything else.
So whatever you find in real life, we find on the internet. And then I say, if we think of
Virtual Worlds as simply a three-dimensional extension of all of that human activity from
the internet into a virtual dimension, you’re still going to find everything that people have
an intention to do, and so if we be sure and include our teachings of ethics and
Linden Lab already has an 18-year-old minimum age limit to join. And even though
that’s violated sometimes. But just as we do when people are admitted to the University
of Texas, they have an ethics agreement that students sign off on and are informed
about and that kind of behavior. So I think we have to respect people’s ability to take
responsibility for their own decisions and, at the same time, keep them informed that,
yes, these things are out there and do with them as we do on the internet or in our own
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Great. Well, thank you, Leslie Jarmon, for coming all
this way to Metanomics Island and telling us about the University of Texas’s initiative
there. So best of luck to you and to statewide university system.
LESLIE JARMON: Thank you.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And I should mention, as I’ll mention at the very end of the
show, we’re actually going to be hearing more from the University of Texas and some
researchers in a center studying brain science next week on Metanomics. So again,
thank you, Leslie.
LESLIE JARMON: Thank you so much, Rob, for having us here, and please keep your
IMs and your emails coming, and we’ll share as much as we can as quickly as we can.
We have a small team, and we’ve got a lot facing us right now, but we are most excited
about the collaboration with all of you. So thank you so much.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We now move to the closing opinion segment of Metanomics:
Connecting The Dots. If you are an educator or you have kids in school, you’re probably
hearing a lot about H1N1, otherwise known as swine flu. Here at Cornell, we have had
hundreds of cases so far, one death already, and the campus is positively swimming in
hand sanitizer, instructions on how and when to wash our hands, how to cover up when
we sneeze and any number of techniques that will curtail the spread of this flu. So
there’s one bit of advice I’m not hearing, but I wish I were. Use Virtual Worlds.
Now enterprises and educators are already in Virtual Worlds because of all the things
that Leslie Jarmon, from the University of Texas, talked about today. It allows a high
degree of engagement, modeling, exercises, no travel costs, which are such a big cost
of face-to-face contact. H1N1 raises the cost of face-to-face contact, even if travel
consists only of leaving your office, walking down the hall and taking a seat in a
In fact, the U.S. government has been taking a very close look at proposals to close
down schools, to lower the peak attack rates of flu. That’s the greatest number of
people sick in an area at any one time. It turns out the peak attack rates are a big
concern because they can overwhelm the health-care system. And if you’ve been
watching news today, you’ll see that actually the state of Michigan is having a number of
school closures and a lot of concerns today about swine flu.
Now the Brookings Institute has reported on the controversy over school closures
because they are so costly. Part of the cost is that education is interrupted and that
costs cash when the schools make up the missed time later, and it also harms
educational outcomes because kids don’t just stand still during an interruption, they
actually go backwards. The other big cost of school closing comes in the form of worker
absenteeism as parents stay home with their kids, rather than going to work, even if the
parents are healthy. So the Brookings Institute estimates that the absenteeism cost is
about $142 per child per week that a school is closed.
Now they’ve been saying that widespread school closings are still seeming pretty
unlikely for this particular epidemic, though looking at today’s news makes me wonder.
And certainly Virtual Worlds aren’t yet in a position to provide a large-scale solution.
But, next time around, they really had better be. Virtual Worlds allow education to
continue through the epidemic, and they also allow parents to telecommute more
effectively so they reduce the costs of worker absenteeism.
And, more generally, Virtual Worlds provide a cheap way to collaborate, whether it’s in
schools or other enterprises, without the risk of spreading illness in the first place. So
maybe I’ve missed it, but I just haven’t seen people talking publicly about the role Virtual
Worlds can play in epidemics. Now I understand no one wants to sound like they’re
rooting for disasters because it’s good for their business, but, really, someone needs to.
After all, we spend so much time thinking about the wonderful things Virtual Worlds
might be able to do in the future, but shouldn’t we also be spending time thinking about
what terrible outcomes Virtual Worlds might prevent.
In fact, you know what? Let’s broaden our focus. What about other disasters? The
Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) helpfully provides a list of the
disasters under their jurisdiction. So here we go, in alphabetical order. We have:
Chemical emergencies, dam failure, earthquake, fire, flood, hazardous material, heat,
hurricane, landslide, nuclear power plant emergency, terrorism, thunderstorm, tornado,
tsunami, volcano, wildfire and winter storm.
Now note they don’t include pandemic. I think that’s because it’s under the jurisdiction of
the Centers for Disease Control, and they don’t include nuclear war, perhaps because
no one wants to even think about it. But, again, someone does need to think about
these issues and determine what role Virtual Worlds can play. To get you started, I’d
just like to note the two key dimensions we need to be thinking about. First, to what
extent does the disaster create the need for virtual collaboration? What about the need
for personal engagement during those meetings, which is the difference between Virtual
Worlds and, say, telephones? If you think getting together in a Virtual World provides
only a little bit more personal connection than a phone call, well, remember, every little
bit counts a lot when you’re worried about friends and family.
Second, to what extent does the disaster damage the infrastructure on which Virtual
Worlds rely? Virtual Worlds are not a great solution to nationwide blackouts. So if you
look at it this way, epidemics provide something of a perfect storm for Virtual Worlds.
They generate a strong demand for high engagement, distance collaboration, and they
cause little damage to our infrastructure. So this seems to me to be the right place to
As I said, I know no one wants to use disasters and misfortunes to hawk their product,
but, if you sincerely believe that your product can help society and diminish the cost of a
very serious problem, you’re not being selfish, you’re being a good citizen. So, citizens,
let’s start talking.
Okay, well, that’s all I have to say today. Join us next week when we talk about brain
science and substance abuse therapy in Second Life. We will be joined by Dick Dillon,
known in Second Life as Coughran Mayo, who’s been using Virtual Worlds to treat
adolescents for substance abuse issue. We will also be joined by Sandra Chapman and
Dan Krawczyk, of the University of Texas Dallas Center for Brain Health. They have
been using Virtual Worlds, and Second Life in particular, to examine the role that Virtual
Worlds can play in understanding and treating autism spectrum disorders. So that
should be a very interesting show. Please do join us Wednesday, October 28th, at noon
Pacific Time. And, don’t forget, you can see over 80 hours of Metanomics in our
archives at metanomics.net and on iTunes. Bye bye.
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer