Early childhood intervention program uses virtual world of Second Life to connect students

Alyssa Conner

Students who enjoy the advancement of technology have an opportunity to virtually learn in a three-dimensional world called Second Life.

A federally funded doctoral training grant for the leadership program is in the process of developing two classes to be taught through Second Life.

Currently, the classes, Foundations in Early Childhood Services and Curriculum in Intervention and Early Childhood Services, will only be available to doctoral students, but if undergraduates are interested in the classes, they would need to get approval from the Leadership Program.

“Our program is for graduates only, but it could be an elective,” said Kristie Pretti-Frontczak, director of the Early Childhood Intervention Leadership Program. “If an undergrad came to us and said ‘I want to take that class,’ just as if they would in first life, we would give them approval to take a graduate class, but in Second Life.”

Students will sign up for the classes the same way as any other class through Banner, and the price of the classes would be equivalent to any price of the graduate classes. Also, there will be no prerequisites for the class, she said.

“We have tried different ways to expand our knowledge base and Second Life is another technology that will enhance our ability to get input and to reach more people without being geographically close, and the technology is free,” Pretti-Frontczak said.

Pretti-Frontczak’s explanation of Second Life is that everything someone can do right now in reality is known as “first life,” and anything we can do in reality we can do virtually in “second life.”

“So it is endless with the possibilities,” she said. “You can’t even dream them up because you are limited in first life. You can also look at your teaching objectives and say I can learn these eight things that I could never find possible in first life, so that’s what we are really exploring.”

According to the Second Life Web site, it is “a global community working together to build a new online space for creativity, collaboration, commerce, and entertainment. We strive to bridge cultures and welcome diversity. We believe in free expression, compassion and tolerance as the foundation for community in this new world.”

Pretti-Frontczak said Kent State bought an island in Second Life and is in the process of constructing buildings. The Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Research and Training is one of the buildings on the island where students would go for the early intervention service classes.

The Second Life Web site states that a game focuses on personal expression and a player’s avatar, and Pretti-Frontczak said that students and faculty will be able to create their own, depending on their preferences.

Sandy Robbins, doctoral and leadership student, said even though the classes are Web-based, the technology allows her to feel as if she is face-to-face with other students and the professor because of the avatar.

“Even though I am in my living room at home and you’re in your office at school, we’re standing next to each other” she said. “We can walk together, experience things together, we see the same things and talk about things.”

Pretti-Frontczak said there is no difference in how the classes will be conducted besides the fact they will be virtual.

“Kids will be graded exactly the same as they would in first life,” Pretti-Frontczak said. “If I am going to do a small group, I’ll do small groups, or if I want to do a lecture, I will lecture in there. And all of the class content can be accessed 24 hours of the day.”

Pretti-Frontczak said as for students who can’t access Second Life from their homes or from school, the Leadership Program will look for more stations on campus and on regional campuses that could be set up.

“Geographically we are trying to cut down on drive time so people can have more study time and more social interaction time, so we would see what the regional campuses could do for us,” she said.

For first-time users, there are tutorials available to help understand the logistics of Second Life.

“The college helps us create tutorials, and the library in Second Life has tutorials that students can go through,” Pretti-Frontczak said. “That’s why we are just starting with two classes, so we can start small.”

For students who do not have the certain equipment or the computers compatible for Second Life, the College of Education, Health and Human Services is setting up stations in White Hall for access, she said.

Robbins and Pretti-Frontczak said they are hoping the two classes will be available for students by fall 2008.

“I think it’s going to be a time issue,” Robbins said. “If it doesn’t work this fall, then maybe we wait till spring and see where we are at. I definitely don’t think we should give up on this. There’s so much potential there.”

For any additional information about Second Life, visit the Web site at http://secondlife.com, or for any additional information for the doctoral training program in early childhood intervention feel free to contact Kristie Pretti-Frontczak at [email protected], 330-672-0597.

Technology Setbacks

Although Pretti-Frontczak and Robbins are taking a step in the virtual world, they do have concerns with Second Life.

The first concern is the technology replacing the whole learning in-classroom experience.

“We’re not giving up the classroom or the face-to-face learning,” Pretti-Frontczak said. “We are really looking internally to enhance learning, and externally to relate our center to be known and to share our work.”

But Robbins said they have taken precautions to prevent that.

“In every aspect of building the center and thinking about ways in which it could be accessed would always lead back to our intent and how is this going to support student learning,” she said.

But that’s not the only concern Pretti-Frontczak and Robbins have to worry about.

The Kent State Island on Second Life is password-protected, and if the program doesn’t receive more funding for all students to access the password, they can’t have students in Second Life full-time, Robbins said.

“Then we can have students in the program at least visiting and accessing the content,” Robbins said. “It’s more interactive than a Web site- it’s giving students that ability to interact with each other.”

Pretti-Frontczak said she worries that she is not advanced in technology, which could affect her ability to cover all the content in the Second Life class.

“I am not a digital native, so sometimes I am barely hanging on with the terminology,” she said. “Sometimes I worry that we spend so much time with the technology that I won’t cover the content, or students will get frustrated by the technology and then be frustrated with the course- but it’s not the course, it’s the technology. That’s my biggest fear.”

Even though there are concerns with Second Life, Pretti-Frontczak said she wants students to see the opportunities through technology.

Robbins said she feels the virtual nature of Second Life will allow students to feel as if they are face-to-face.

“What we are hoping to get out of Second Life is that it’s different when you can see someone’s face, when you’re actually talking to somebody like on a discussion board or e-mail you’re kind of losing the momentum of the discussion,” Robbins said. “Being able to see each other face-to-face makes a big difference in the ability to collaborate and to have discussions.”

Contact education, health and human services reporter Alyssa Conner

at [email protected].