vwbpe2010:day02 part 2


Abstract Thoughts to Concrete Examples: Transferring Student Essays to the Virtual Realm in Second Life

Location: East 2

Duration:50 minutes

Speaker: Elphaba Helendale

Elphaba Helendale, known as Rawlslyn Francis in RL, has a BA in Engilsh from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and an MA in English from the University of North Florida. She currently works as a Student Affairs Advisor in the GED Academy and as an Adjunct English Professor at Florida State College at Jacksonville.

Elphaba uses Second Life in her face to face, hybrid and online college courses. In addition to her college courses, she’s currently leading a technology team in the Adult Education Department to implement virtual spaces for experimental learning at FSCJ.


Elphaba Helendale talked about ***How she incorporated SL into her college courses.***

Below is the extract from the presentation. Read how she uses SL for her college courses.

[7:11] Elphaba Helendale: I utilize Second Life in my college writing courses to encourage students to transform abstract concepts in their essays to concrete examples in a virtual setting.

Elphaba Helendale: My goal in using Second Life in my college classes is to improve students’ technological proficiencies and online communication and collaborative skills.

Elphaba Helendale: These skill sets are vital in a Digital Age where a college graduate without these technological proficiencies will struggle to compete in a society of Digital Natives.

Elphaba Helendale: Students become engaged in their writing assignments because they have pride in the virtual replica of their written work that everyone in the class is able to see and experience, as opposed to an isolated experience of writing a paper.

Elphaba Helendale: They are also able to see which parts of their essays are out of place during the process of transferring their written concepts to the virtual display.

Elphaba Helendale: Students conclude that by creating the 3D version of their essays, they are able to literally see how the basic essay structure (introduction, thesis, supporting paragraphs and conclusion) affects their readers’ understanding of their main idea.

[7:15] Elphaba Helendale: ***My first experience with using SL in the classroom – summer term 2009***

[7:15] Elphaba Helendale: After attending the VWBPE Conference in 2009, I was able to visualize how I could implement this virtual simulation environment.

[7:16] Elphaba Helendale: So, in the summer term of 2009, I asked my 3 classes (one hybrid and two face to face) to not only write a final research paper, but to also recreate their written work in Second Life.

Elphaba Helendale: I’m not scared of chaos and uncertainty, so, for better or worse, I encouraged them to create a virtual project in any format.

[7:18] Elphaba Helendale: My summer term students analyized themes from the graphic novel Maus I & II.

[7:21] Elphaba Helendale: The students without computer access were the “researchers” in the group and they assisted with collecting information for the “builder” in the group to upload to their virtual project.

[7:21] Elphaba Helendale: I was not opposed to my students using a wide open space on our island to create their projects, but it was decided that my students would create their projects in rooms stacked upon each other.

[7:21] Elphaba Helendale: Students who were timid of Second Life were comforted by a “contained” space, and most of them met the minimum requirements.

[7:22] Elphaba Helendale: They created clean, structured spaces, but I found them to be almost sterile, too clean.

Elphaba Helendale: It became inevitable that several groups quickly spilled out of the condo high rise (as they lovingly named it). 🙂

[7:23] Elphaba Helendale: We maxed out the prims available, but it became a blessing in disguise.

[7:23] Elphaba Helendale: In these images, you see how students truly used the open virtual space to create their projects.

[7:24] Elphaba Helendale: Once I saw these projects in the “open” space, I could see that they were able to “tell” a story more easily.

[7:24] Elphaba Helendale: In the square spaces of the condo rise, it was difficult to understand where to “start” in a students’ project. There wasn’t a clear beginning and end.


Elphaba Helendale: In the open space, one group was particularly successful in creating a sequential build that represented the progression in their research paper.

[7:25] Elektra Panthar: I love this

[7:26] Elphaba Helendale: And, when I presented my summer term SL student projects to other faculty and deans in the Liberal Arts Dept., they all liked the “structured” virtual build the best.

[7:26] Elphaba Helendale: However, I’m not convinced that such rigid structure is necessary for the success of a build in SL, as demonstrated in this student’s virtual build.

[7:27] Elphaba Helendale: Should we contain and restrict their building area, or give them free reign? In confining them to a particular space, do we contradict what SL offers our students?

[7:27] Elphaba Helendale: I’m not sure. I’m curious to know your thoughts on this subject….

[7:27] Elphaba Helendale: ***The second run – fall term 2009***

[7:27] Elphaba Helendale: During this term, I only taught online English Composition courses. Instead of allowing students to work in small groups within a class, I experimented with having all 3 of my online courses work on one project together, one theme.

[7:30] Elphaba Helendale: The book for this cohort was Welfare Brat. It’s a memoir of a woman who was raised in poverty.

[7:30] Elphaba Helendale: I decided to have all three classes work on one project for a couple of reasons:

[7:30] Elphaba Helendale: 1) I wasn’t sure of the number of students who would participate successfully and I wasn’t sure of my ability yet as their educator to make the experience seamless.

[7:31] Elphaba Helendale: 2) I would not be able help them in person and my intention was to allow a greater number of tech savvy students help the students who might struggle.

[7:31] Elphaba Helendale: Although the product that came out of this semester was a great achievement, I will not merge classes together again for a project.

7:31] Elphaba Helendale: I assumed that online students would, overall, be more computer literate than my face to face classes, and this was not the case!

[7:31] Elphaba Helendale: What occured was mainly a small group of very talented students labored over the project while many other students barely participated, or not at all.

[7:31] Elphaba Helendale: It was very difficult encouraging all students in every class to participate in this format.

[7:32] Elphaba Helendale: Lesson learned. 🙂

[7:32] Elphaba Helendale: But, as I stated before, the Welfare Brat maze was a success. The student who is responsible for its structure (and maintenance) will be able to meet the author in person in a couple of weeks, and the local media will film their encounter.

[7:32] Elphaba Helendale: ***What’s happening now – spring term 2010***

[7:34] Elphaba Helendale: Again this semester, I’m only teaching online courses.

[7:34] Elphaba Helendale: These students will be assigned rooms in the Welfare Brat maze to complete the work started from the previous term.

[7:34] Elphaba Helendale: Students will choose their room based on the theme they decide to write on from the memoir (themes such as alcoholism, teen pregnancy, welfare structure, single parent homes, etc.)

[7:34] Elphaba Helendale: I also included Second Life participation during the first week and included an activity in SL as a requirement during the week 1 assignments to avoid being dropped from the course.

[7:34] Elphaba Helendale: In the last 2 terms, I waited to introduce Second Life to my students as I didn’t want to overwhelm, but I’ve decided against that this term, and, thus far, I recommend this change.

[7:34] Elphaba Helendale: It enforces the importance of using SL in my course and I haven’t received any emails this term stating “Do I have to use Second Life in this class?”


Here is the island for the students.


One of the areas in the island. An re-enactment of a literature story which focuses on the holocaust.

They (the students) even created a maze for a literature story. But I got spooked out as I was lost in the maze and needed the help from the speaker.


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