I just returned from a grand adventure at the AHRD conference – my annual walk on the other side of the street. The Academy of Human Resource Development is an organization where scholars, practitioners, and scholar-practitioners meet to talk about current research and innovative ideas for human resource development. A lot of the discussions I attended had to do with how to apply theory to practice and how to use practice as a fertile research ground. I learned about ideas and research projects that are still in the beginning stages, and synthesis of current literature in these areas is helpful on its own even before a new study is completed.
Unlike many of the other conferences I attend, I have made real friendships with like-minded people through attendance at this conference over the years – so the event has the flavor of a reunion as well as an intellectual retreat. I always come away from the weekend feeling inspired on the scholar side – mulling over writing and research opportunities and considering how to apply new research conclusions. I highly recommend membership in AHRD, and the Scholar-Practitioner Special Interest Group is a great group of people to get to know.
One of the conference sessions has inspired my next grand adventure: I’m going to take a trip to Second Life. (Nope, I’ve never been there.) While I don’t imagine my employer will be using 3D virtual environments anytime soon, I am able to create Second Life activities for some of my graduate classes if I like. I think MUVEs (multi-user virtual environments) are an innovation that will become more integral to our way of doing business in learning and development in organizations, and I prefer to learn the ins and outs now rather than have to come up to speed quickly sometime in the future. Plus, the planned Second Life adventure is making me look really hip with a 16-year old friend, who was really intrigued by how I might be using these tools. (It’s amazing how quickly he jumped to the observation that having an avatar in 3D space would make students feel more “together” even though they may be in many different locations. I’m pretty sure he’s a good representative of our future employees, and he often jars my thinking on what the future of learning will be.)
As I learned at the conference, many academic institutions have space in Second Life and they are exploiting the unique capabilities of this medium. One of the sessions I attended was led by professors out of North Carolina State University who are assigning project work in Second Life and other virtual environments. I met a doctoral student doing research on learning in Second Life, and I discovered that a friend is having her students experiment with both Second Life and Adobe Connect as options for online collaboration. These folks shared their teaching experiences and discussed possible research on the effectiveness of educational activities in virtual environments, and it was thought-provoking to be a part of that exchange.
So I am inspired to go out and explore Second Life myself, which, frankly, is not a light commitment for me. I have often told folks that I equate Second Life with “the big city” – one doesn’t go there unescorted – it’s too scary, and too big, and it’s too easy to find yourself in the wrong neighborhood. One of the presenters told a story of a student who accidentally removed her avatar’s clothes in the middle of a presentation, thereby living everybody’s worst nightmare of being naked in the front of a room. Mmm… this does not alleviate my trepidation.
True to my own learning preferences, I’m going to read up on Second Life and do some advance planning and reconnosaince before I go exploring. (I especially want to learn how the locals manage to keep their clothes on in public.) If you have advice on what to read before my trip (guidebooks and web sites), or advice on where to go and what to see while I’m there, I’ll be pleased to hear it. I am especially interested, of course, in exploring educational spaces. I’m planning my big excursion to Second Life for sometime in late March or April, so stay tuned.