Recap of Grand Debate at ITC09

This is the first of probably three posts about the Grand Debate at the ITC eLearning 2009 Conference. This will be the most basic (just the facts, please) of the three posts.

  • When: Sunday, February 22, 2009 at lunch
  • Where: ITC eLearning 2009 Conference at Portland (OR) Hilton Grand Ballroom
  • What: Debate Topic – Virtual Worlds are the Second Life for Online Education
  • Why: The Grand Debate is a tradition at the ITC conferences
  • Who: Chris Collins and Barry Dahl (me)

fleep-small vs.

We used Turning Point clickers to measure audience reaction before, during, and after the debate. Many thanks to Turning Technologies for providing the clickers on very short notice. The technology worked flawlessly.

Initial vote – it is a tradition at the Grand Debate to take a straw poll of audience position before beginning the debate. 294 people voted on the slide shown below, clicking either button #1 for the Pro position or button #2 for the Con position.

After the coin toss by Michael Catchpole, ITC Board Member and debate moderator, Chris Collins (Fleep Tuque) made her opening statement taking the pro side of the argument (10 minutes max for openings).

A few of the points made by Chris during her opening argument include:

“Loyalist College is training their students to be border crossing guards between U.S. and Canada, and we’ve seen already from the initial reports that the retention rate is high. Students are actually learning valuable skills when they can be in the virtual environment and see what the spaces look like and role play searching the cars and doing the interviews. It has a tremendous affect on what they’re learning and how much they retain.”


“Also, regarding the Language Lab as shown below, “They can role play; if you’ve taught a foreign language class or taken a foreign language class, you know how stilted it can be in the classroom to get students to role play with each other. What if you could take them to Paris and actually speak with native speakers of French? How much different would that learning experience be for them”?

Fleep shot of language lab in second life

A few points made by Barry during his opening argument on the con side include:

“Linden Labs provides their users with no significant means of I.T. support, besides some frequently asked questions and a help page. So, is your college help desk ready to handle these new problems – and there WILL be problems. Second Life sucks up an enormous amount of bandwidth and requires superior processing power on the PC. Your minimum technology requirements will need to be severely upgraded if you begin requiring SL for your classes. Any student with a PC more than two years old can probably forget-about-it. Distance student on a dial-up connection? Forget-about-it. Second Life on a Mac? Forget-about-it, mostly. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Linden Labs has admitted that they have a hard time making their grid work with Apple products – and they don’t really seem to care. Do you care? Will you care when your help desk gets to handle these calls?”


Have any of you been paying attention to one of the hottest topics in distance education during the past year – the whole student authentication deal-ee-oh? The whole “how do you know that it’s the right person at the other end of the fiber optics that is taking your online course”? That deal-ee-oh? (Side note: I was beaten up by someone posting online who couldn’t believe I used “deal-ee-oh” in a debate.) Is that robot really who he says he is? What about that silver surfer on the left? Who is she really? Is she really a she? (Chris said “no.”) Most people in Second Life do some combination of the following – gender bending, age shifting, or they resemble animals or other unworldly creatures – NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT!! – and of course, none of them use their real names. Come on now – is this really what you want your classroom to look like?”


During the rebuttal sections, the audience voted with their clickers. The idea was that they would give a thumps up for points that they thought were useful, powerful, or on target; and they would give a thumbs down for points that they thought were the opposite of those things. #3 on the clicker was a neutral rating, with 1 and 2 being negative and 4 and 5 being positive ratings. The line chart updates every five seconds.

Chris’ rebuttal chart is shown below.

Barry’s rebuttal chart is shown below.

A few quotes from Chris’ closing argument: “Where are we in terms of using virtual worlds for education, we’re in the very beginning stages, we’re experimenting.” … “Why is Second Life the one that all the educators are flocking to and interested in? Because of all the virtual worlds, what SL does that no other virtual world at this point does is it allows you the ability to build and create and start experimenting with what it means to create your own virtual environment.”… “It’s the first software to make some of these tools available to somebody who has a lower level of technical skill. I’m not a programmer; but I can create a virtual environment and experiment, so that’s one of the reasons why Second Life has really taken off.”

A quote from Barry’s closing argument: “I didn’t write my own closing argument, but I’d like to share with you a little piece that I found that I think will serve quite nicely. I’ll give the citation at the end.” Then I read most of the information from section 5 of the blog post titled “2008: The Year of Limits” (section 5 is titled “Limits of the Second Life platform and our current Metaverse”). Of course, at the end of the closing it was revealed that Chris/Fleep had actually written my closing argument for me, for which I will be eternally grateful.

After the closing arguments, Michael asks the audience to indicate whether their opinions have moved during the course of the debate. This doesn’t indicate that they changed positions, a Pro person can now be more pro and that would register the same as a con person who is nor more pro, but still a con (etc. etc.)

None of the votes previous to this point really mean anything at all. I always think that the slide above is the best indicator of the success of the debaters – how many people were influenced one way or the other? However, the debate is considered to be won or lost on the basis of the final vote, shown below. In this case, the con side did get the most votes, and more than the number cast at the pre-debate straw poll. So this time there isn’t much question about the debate winner. However, we have had the situation before where the final vote was closer than the initial vote and still the winner was crowned despite losing some of the audience support during the debate. Therefore, it is fairly easy to conclude that you want to be on the most popular side of the argument, regardless of whether you have the best points, issues, and illustrations or not.

The debate did cause quite a stir, from audience reaction in the room, to tweets and live blog posts that included people in the room as well as many people not in the room. Some people really take this stuff seriously which you can get a sense of by reading the comments posted to Bryan Alexander’s live blog post about the debate. I was particularly saddened when someone who I respect and admire took shots at me for not being serious enough. I’ll talk about that more in a later post. Luckily, I did receive many favorable comments from people who were in the room. There were many first-timers in the audience who were unfamiliar with the tradition of the ITC Grand Debate at the eLearning conferences. The impression of these first-timers is most likely that the debate is not at all a serious exercise – and they’re somewhat correct in that conclusion, but not entirely correct or even close to it. There is definitely a serious nature to the debate – but we try to do it in a fun and entertaining way (this is my first and only time as a debate participant). My “performance” (please suggest a better word for that) was a bit more over the top than most. They’re usually a bit irreverent, they’re usually a bit strongly stated, and they’re oftentimes a bit snarky. In all cases my shot at it was more than just a bit of all those things. More about that in a later post when I plan to write about how I really feel about SL/VW.

To end this first post, let me say that meeting Chris was really a pleasure. She is a fabulous young lady who is working on some amazing things and who has an incredibly bright future. She is a great example of the many younger people who are working so hard to reshape the way that we do education. A tip of the virtual hat to her for her participation in the debate, for her enthusiasm about the topic and about education in general, and for her very good nature and kindness.

Image credits:

  • Loyalist College Border Simulation – (Fleep’s slide)
  • Language Lab in SL – still looking for citation of Eiffel Tower pic (Fleep’s slide)
  • Tech Support – original CC Flickr photo by Alan Levine (Barry’s slide)
  • Student Authentication – original CC Flickr photo by Chris Collins (Barry’s slide)
  • Cill Creel at ITC09

    Gill Creel presented a great session at ITC09 titled: Cool Idea, But How Did It Really Work?

    Description: In Fall 2008 two instructors revamped their online American literature course from print, static Web pages, and a limited learning management system to Web 2.0. They threw out the textbook and went to the Web to provide all of the content and interaction. They tried to strong arm the LMS into acting like a Web 2.0 application. The presenters will discuss integrating Web 2.0 tools – such as Google gadgets, Google Calendar, Blogger, Trailfire, Pbwiki, Survey Monkey, Zoho Creator, WebEX, Adobe Captivate, and Diigo – into an online course from a pedagogical and technical perspective. They will show some “how-to” and explain “how-they-do” by offering a faculty level report on their successes and failures. What did they learn? Did the technology help or hinder? What didn’t work due to the technology, due to the personnel? What will they keep? What will they jettison?
    Here’s the tools he talked about.

    Tools I Use

    Flickr Creative Commons
    Google Calendar
    SimpleRSS Google Gadget
    SurveyMonkey *
    Vimeo *
    Zoho Creator

    (Sorry Gill, but that’s the best pic that I got. Ouch)

    ITC09 – Portland – Bryan Alexander Keynote

    Bryan Alexander was the keynote speaker for the Sunday morning “sermon” at ITC09, the eLearning 2009 conference in Portland, OR. Heads were exploding throughout the nearly 90 minute session. Really great stuff. I shot some video snippets and will try to get it posted soon. Lots of talk about Web 2.0, Web 3.0, and gaming (and about 20 other topics). Hope to post more later.

    Spam-free Email Linking

    Saw a tweet from Jane Hart about an e-mail address HTML encoder from SiteUp Networks. The idea is to format your e-mail address so that it is NOT readable by an extractor or search engine in an effort to prevent HTML e-mail harvesters from getting your address off your web pages.

    LearnTech Newsc4lptnews HTML Encoder will format your E-mail address in a way that IS NOT readable by any E-mail extractor or search engine

    I used it (it’s free and very simple) and quickly received some strange-looking (i.e. not easily readable) HTML code that I can use to replace the normal “mailto:” type of an email link.  This is the result.

    2009 Student Technology Survey – Post 12

    One of my goals with this survey is to inform students about services available as well as gather information from them. The final two questions on the survey fall into this category. Inside Desire2Learn we provide an optional tutorial titled “LSC Online Skills” that new students are encouraged to use to learn about course navigation, technology requirements, word processing expectations, and how to use various tools inside D2L. Question 24 is used to determine how many students have already used the tutorial or are planning to do so (the survey is given at the very beginning of the semester), and also to help inform students that this resource is available.

    The survey indicates that only about 27% of the students have gone through the tutorial, that 36% are planning to use the tutorial, and that 36% DON’T plan to use the tutorial.

    Question 25 is similar in that we also use a D2L course shell to provide information in each student’s account about academic dishonesty and plagiarism. The tutorial is titled “Academic Honesty at LSC.” Several instructors have included a requirement at the beginning of their courses for the students to go into the utorial and report back in some form about something they learned in there.

    Only 25% of the students report that they are NOT planning to visit the academic honesty tutorial, and there are 35% that have already done so. I was initially a little surprised that more students were using this tutorial than the online skills tutorial. Most likely that is attributable to the directions that students are receiving from their faculty members.

    That is the end of the questions for the LSC Student Technology Survey for 2009. Hallelujah.

    2009 Student Technology Survey – Post 11

    Question 22 was mainly interesting to me with regard to the percentage of our students who have never used some of the services that we provide them. Below is an approximation of what percentage of our online students have NEVER used these services:

    • Online library services = 59%
    • Online career services = 82%
    • Online tutoring services = 77%
    • e-Campus Help Desk = 76%
    • Student web portal = 33%
    • Online bookstore = 52%
    • Minnesota Online website = 69%

    Click image to enlarge

    2009 Student Technology Survey – Post 10

    The results from question 18 indicate that about 30% of our students do not consistently protect their computers with anti-virus software. Granted, a small percentage are not using Windows-based machines and probably don’t have the same concerns as a Windows user, but that percentage is relatively small. This begs the question of how best the college should protect the networks and other users from the (potentially) virus-carrying student users. (Click screenshots to enlarge)

    Question 19 indicates that over 94% of our online students have Internet access at home. Clearly, not having access at home would be a disadvantage for most students.

    Question 20 below indicates that over 90% of our students access their online courses via a broadband connection. That may be closer to 95% depending on what the “Other” category might include for ways of accessing the Internet.

    From question 21 above, you can see that 70% of our online students live within 30 miles from our main cmapus. The percentage of online students who live further away than 30 miles has actualy shrank in the past couple of years. I mainly attribute that shrinkage in the attendance of students at a distance to the greatly increased offerings in similar online learning opportunities from many of our sister institutions within Minnesota.

    2009 Student Technology Survey – Post 9

    Student Uses of Web 2.0 Tools

    I added a new question for the first time this year in an effort to get at the level of usage of various Web 2.0 tools by students. Of course some students have used these tools because they were assigned to do so by one of their instructors, although that appears to be a fairly small phenomena at my school. This data helps debunk the theory that some people promote, thinking that all the students (or maybe all of Gen Y) are using these web tools all the time. Wrong again, Kemo Sabe.

    This is a big chart, sorry about that. You probably want to view the chart full-size at Flickr so that you can read it better.

    Out of 1,080 students, only 14 say they have used Delicious, and only 2 of them use it frequently. About 20% of our students use Gmail, but less than 20 people (17) use Meebo for instant messaging. About 3.5% of our students use Twitter. Only 6 of our students say they have used Second Life occasionally, frequently, or very frequently. By contrast, 73% say they use YouTube – so they’re clearly using some of these tools – butnot many of the tools that are considered more mainstream by the people I hang with. (click chart to enlarge)

    The results here remind me of a poster I put together for use in workshops whenever people start thinking that everyone is using these Web 2.0 tools:

    Original photo (CC) by ocean.flynn

    2009 Student Technology Survey – Post 8

    Question 14 asks the students about how much they use some of the various web services. I ask them which they use “regularly.” Blogs come in at less than 10%, wikis at 9%, Skype and similar at about 6% and podcasts at only 5%. Social networking sites such as FaceBook (59%) and MySpace (35%) are popular, but not as much as I would have expected. As soon as I can get the individual data report to run (if I can at all), I will be able to slice the data to look for age and gender differences in some of these sites. Instant messaging (28%) will probably also have some interesting data when broken down by age. (Click screenshot to enlarge)

    Online shopping and online banking come in at lower percentages than when I ask the same questions of the educator audiences at presentations and workshops. Still, 64% engage in online banking.

    For all the talk about electronic portfolios in higher education, our students come in at about 2% usage of this tool. Ouch.

    Questions 15 & 16 aren’t interesting enough (to me, at least) to warrant inclusion in the blog. You can see the charts here. Question 15 asks about how many previous online courses they have taken: 28% are newbies but 36% have taken three or more previous online courses. Question 16 asks whether they intend to take more online courses: 14% don’t plan on it, but the majority do expect to.

    2009 Student Technology Survey – Post 7

    Question 13 looks at the technology devices that our students have and use. Digital still cameras top the list at over 78% ownership. Yes, most digital cameras also shoot video which means that the need to have a stand-alone digital video cam is decreasing all the time. Only a little over a quarter of the students report having a video camera. The biggest surprise to me is probably the less than a quarter of the students who have a webcam for their computer – either built-in or attached. Apparently the image of all the young people flirting on Stickam is not all that true. Of course, a lot of our students are not young, but still, a webcam is a great communication tool, IMO. (click screenshot to enlarge)

    Laptop ownership exceeds desktop computer ownership, with a fair number of students having both. Less than half the students have a Wii, PS3, Xbox or similar gaming console. Makes a person question all the talk about how we need to develop all kinds of educational video games for our students. Cell phone ownership is high as would be expected, although not all students have one. Also, 16% have a cell phone but don’t have the capability of sending (or receiving, most likely) a text message. That also shows that we wouldn’t be ready to go to a service like Poll Everywhere (which I do like) on an exclusive basis, nor can we rely on text messaging as the major (or only) mode of communication in an emergency situation.