The University of Houston department of health and human performance is expanding into the virtual world of Second Life (SL) thanks to grants from the UH Faculty Development Initiative Program (FDIP) and the Network Culture Project of the University of Southern California-Annenberg School for Communication.
"These funds will allow our faculty to stake ground in Second Life for the benefit of our students and our community," said Charles Layne, professor and department chair. Layne received a $30,000 Technology and Retention Research award from the FDIP to investigate whether students who use SL for academic reasons get better grades than those who do not, or if they earn their degrees sooner (or at all) than those who do not.
"We know young people easily accept new technology, but we want to know if using technology like Second Life, which immerses participants in a new world, can create an environment that is supportive of students' academic endeavors," Layne said. "There isn't a lot of literature on the use of virtual environments in this way." This program evaluation began during summer 2007 and will continue for at least the next three years and may become a permanent fixture if it proves to be successful.
Brian McFarlin, assistant professor of health and human performance, is no stranger to instructional technology. His study on 'hybrid classes' found that students who took a hybrid exercise physiology class earned a letter grade higher than their counterparts who took the class in traditional settings. He's now received $25,000 from the FDIP to move an entire class, Public Health Issues in Physical Activity and Obesity, into Second Life. He says SL technology will allow him to present material in ways that are not possible with traditional online teaching tools.
"For example, in discussions on how obesity impacts the heart, I can make a 3-D model of a healthy heart and a diseased heart and allow the students to view the inside
|Contact: Marisa Ramirez|
University of Houston