Sloan-C ALN: Trends and Highlights

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I went to my first Sloan-C ALN conference last week somewhere in central Florida near some lovely historic towns and lovely lakeside scenery. Location aside, I found the Sloan-C conference interesting because it is appealing to a wide audience from K-12 to higher ed and from advanced experts to total novices. There was a lot to pick and choose from in terms of presentations. Here were some trends and highlights I did get to observe.

Second Life and Virtual Worlds

We've taken a breather from Second Life here at Penn State, but there were actually a lot of sessions devoted to it at the conference. One class in social work used it for both virtual tours (e.g. to both the U.S. Holocaust Museum) and for "social experiments" such as "The Store", a scenario where avatars had to buy emergency food from a grocery store, but were locked out or admitted based on the color of their "HUDs." Lots of interesting use of scripting here.

Best Second Life tip - If you want to show a movie in world, set up multiple video screens so avatars can get a good view no matter where they are.

Another presentation discussed science themed exhibits and locations in Second Life, particularly those designed by NASA. But other virtual worlds were discussed including a virus lab in Why Ville, ancient world simulations on Heritage Key and project management in World of Worldcraft. Now that Second Life has discontinued its academic discount, many are predicting that schools will leave for other alternatives like the ones described here as well as places like Xenos Island (foreign language) and various sim grids in the OpenSimulator model (very much like Second Life).

It appears that there will be interesting times ahead for virtual worlds.


The good news is that accessibility was on people's minds. There were several presentations available, and they were reasonably well attended. The bad news is that the general mode remains reactive rather than proactive. The bulk of the presentations focused on quick fix strategies one might need should a student with disabilities appear on your student roster. Interestingly, the audience shared some very good tips at how to be a little more proactive and really work the challenge. The MovCaptioner tool was a much appreciated suggestions.

Global Snapshot

My main purpose at being at ALN was to participate in a joint presentation on the Global Snapshot report completed over the summer. I was pleasantly surprised at how many people attended despite the topic seeming a bit obscure (although maybe not so obscure with many presentations coming from outside the U.S.) You can see a summary of my portion in my blog post on M-Learning in Africa

Speaking of global outreach, one of my favorite presentations was one about how to market to Japanese students for your virtual program. The presenter, Annie Shibata, noted that although the Japanese market was far ahead of the U.S. in terms of mobile technology, access to the Internet via laptop/desktop was lagging behind. She was not sure how much Internet tech was being introduced in the higher education curriculum today as it had not been encouraged in the past. However, I later attended a session on blogging with Moodle from an ESL program in Japan, so some programs are adopting e-learning strategies.

Most of Shibata's strategies were about marketing, specifically - being willing to invest 2-3 years in building a base, including a residency option in the U.S. (even if it's just a short time) and investing in Japanese translators or local liaisons (who may be in the time zone as Japanese students). Some of these tips may already be known to World Campus who has a profile of a Japanese student in their marketing, but it was good information for anyone working with international students.

My Favorite Presentation

I think the presentation that intrigued me the most was a report of mental models using the mechanisms of graph theory (nodes are nouns/concepts and lines are verbs/relationships). As instructional designers I think a lot of us would agree that learning is understanding the student's initial mental model and then guiding to one the instructor feels is more accurate. A stumbling block though has been to determine how to consistently document a mental model so that models could be systematically compared. Any progress in that area would be a welcome development.

Although we were not able to see a specific model, she did have some interesting results to report on misconceptions of incoming instructional design graduate students. My favorite was that instructional designers needed to know specifically where a course would be taught before it could be designed (even if that were true, it would be impossible in most of the real world).

Another interesting outcome was that she showed that two SMEs did generate different models for the same process. Again, this is not a surprise, but the two models could show different strategies in processing information. Could there be a future where instructors and students sharing similar models were matched up? Would that be a good thing or would it not allow for enough diverse information? Interesting questions. This is one presentation I hope to download in a few weeks.

This is a presentation I will want to review once it goes online.

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