NARRATOR: In order to meet the expanding needs of our student population, Duke University has been offering various distance learning options. But with some of these options the students might miss the interaction of the classroom; seeing and hearing the professor and participating in library discussions, both in class and out of class.
DR. CONSTANCE JOHNSON: Distance education has the history of being unidirectional or flat. Discussion boards help to make it collaborative and add some depth to the flow of information. But there is still asynchronous. What virtual environment offer is social interaction and presence; which helps to promote learning.
NARRATOR: If Dr. Johnson is not sitting in her office on the Duke University campus these days you might want to see if she is sitting in her virtual office on the third floor of the Duke University School of Nursing in Second Life. Dr. Johnson’s Second Life persona or avatar, Elena Harsley, teaches Informatics students in virtual DUSON that allows advanced social networking and, thus, an enriched educational environment.
ILANA HARSLEY: I stepped into Second Life not knowing what kind of adventure I was about to embark on. I emerged from the Second Life back in my real life six hours later, forever changed and enriched by the experience. I thought that I have travelled around the world, yet I realized I only navigated a minor part of this vast nanoverse from the confines of my study.
NARRATOR: Second Life is a 3-D virtual immersive environment created by Linden Lab and maintained, populated and constantly re-imagined by its creative residents. With its growing population of 13 million registered residents, there are over 300 universities and museums who have a presence in Second Life.
ILANA HARSLEY: Virtual environment can enhance distance education through synchronous communication. This medium provides users with ego centric perspectives and allows users to speak and hear others; thus, making the environment very similar to the real world exchanges. It gives the users the illusion that they are really present in the environment.
NARRATOR: It works like this. An agent, you, controls a virtual character called an avatar, your online persona. You choose its name, how it looks, what clothes it wears, everything. Your avatar can fly, walk around, socialize with other avatars through voice, type-chat, or if you prefer to keep your chats private, your personal voice call or instant message, IM.
In the classroom, you are fully present. You feel fully immersed in the experience. You see and hear the professors; you can see and hear any audio-visual aids they present; you see the classmates around you; you see them stand up or sit down in a number of poses. You can even raise your hand to ask questions. You can get fine-tuned feedback and you can enjoy the advantages of the mentor-mentee interactions. While the professors are lecturing, you can instant message them or another student you wish with questions or comments. You can discuss content while it is being delivered without disturbing the class. This type of synchronous communication helps to spawn new ideas. The professor can also send you materials you can download into other programs and you can upload content in assignment you have done for the professor as well.
Field trips in Second Life use no fossil fuels and emit no greenhouse gases. And they are only an instantaneous teleport away. Real life lab environments can be virtual as well; presenting you with realistic stimulations to which you must respond and make critical decisions as you would have to in real life, without the downside of making mistakes on real patients. And when class is over, you can socialize with other students talking over coffee in the DUSON Café comparing class notes and getting to know your fellow students or you can enjoy the rest of Second Life or simply log off. No need to go out to an empty parking lot if it’s late or have a long commute home.
KAREN BAVUSO, BSN, RN
DUSON Informatics Graduate Student:
I am a registered nurse and a student of the Duke School of Nursing Informatics Program. Since I live in Massachusetts and attend Duke, it is really important to have a good way to communicate with my class. On Second Life I just end up feeling much more connected with Dr. J and with my classmates because it is just a very realistic environment. There is auditory and visual within Second Life that just made it very real; the sense of the presence. Second Life really took distance learning to a new level. Initially, Second Life was very foreign and it took a few sessions to learn how to navigate, how to communicate and how to get through some of the technical problems of the system. So you know, in campus is certainly great and wonderful but Second Life really is the next best thing.
NARRATOR: The future of distance learning is now, here at the Duke University School of Nursing and DUSON SL. We believe we are providing a maximally affected learning environment to meet your educational needs by bringing the classroom to you, on your computer in Second Life. DUSON Second Life. See you in class!