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Source: Elizabeth Barrett, 785-532-2208, ebb@k-state.edu
Image available. Contact media@k-state.edu or 785-532-6415
Note to editor: Candice Nelson is a 2005 graduate of Hiawatha High School.
News release prepared by: Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, 785-532-6415, ebarcomb@k-state.edu

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Elizabeth Barrett's classroom in Second Life. (Image courtesty of K-State department of hospitality management and dietetics)



MANHATTAN -- Students in Elizabeth Barrett's convention and event management course put together a launch party for Kansas State University's recently renamed department of hospitality management and dietetics.

They procured a location, catering, flowers and promotional fliers -- all in Second Life.

Barrett used the virtual world to not only teach the class, but also to teach students how to plan events in Second Life.

"With events getting more expensive, Second Life is going to be utilized more," said Candice Nelson, senior in hotel and restaurant management, Manhattan, who took the course in the fall. "Unlike other forms of teleconferencing, this gives people a face. They can virtually sit in a boardroom and see other faces."

Barrett said using Second Life for meetings, conferences and other events is still somewhat of an experiment.

"This is probably the most out-there way to do it right now," she said.

At the launch party, the students gave a PowerPoint presentation in Second Life, and they had displays of the department's faculty members in which avatars could pick up note cards with information about each professor. All the while, avatars could swing over to the  bar for a virtual cocktail and hors d'oeuvres.

"We had to have food, catering, flowers -- you really want to make it feel that it's a realistic experience," Nelson said.

Class members built their own meeting space in Second Life, but Barrett said the future of meetings and events in Second Life might be to rent a virtual ballroom from a hotel, for instance, just as event planners would in real life.

Planning and attending an event in Second Life has some challenges, Nelson said.

"I think you plan for failure a lot more in Second Life," she said. "There are so many technical problems that can come up."

Barrett, who also taught part of the class through Second Life, said she had a hard time finding a professional outfit for her avatar among the fun and eccentric outfits available in Second Life. Barrett said she eventually let out the hem of her virtual skirt.

One class session in which Barrett taught entirely through Second Life allowed the participants to dress more casually than their avatars.

"It was a cold, rainy day and the students all got to sit at home in their pajamas," she said.

That doesn't mean students can slack off easily in a Second Life classroom. Nellie Feehan, junior in hotel restaurant management, Olathe, helped Barrett put together the Second Life classroom and helped her generate assignments for the class.

"You can see who's in class. If their avatar is not active, they 'fall asleep,'" said Feehan, who plans to take the convention and event management course herself next fall.

Barrett said that Second Life proved to be a great teaching tool and would be particularly useful for distance education.

"I think students ask more questions in Second Life than if they were sitting in the classroom," Barrett said.

She said that the biggest barriers to teaching in Second Life were the differing technical capabilities of each student's computer and getting them excited about using Second Life.

"Just getting students used to it was the hardest part," Barrett said. "The students are not as technology-savvy as I thought they would be. Second Life can be difficult to understand and explain. But once they got used to it, they liked it."



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