Confronting the Fear of Public Speaking via Virtual Environments

Confession: In the past, I’ve been extremely quick to dismiss the value of Second Life in the context of teaching and learning.

Even worse, my dismissal was not fact-based … and, if truth be told, I’ve gone out of my way to avoid opportunities to ‘gather the facts’ by attending presentations at conferences, conducting my own research online, speaking with my colleagues, etc.

So I, dear reader, am as surprised as any of you to have had an egg-on-my-face epiphany this morning …

Please allow me to elaborate:

It was at some point during this morning’s brainstorming session that the egg hit me squarely in the face:

Why not use Nortel web.alive to prepare graduate students for presenting their research?

Often feared more than death and taxes, public speaking is an essential aspect of academic research – regardless of the discipline.

image004Enter Nortel web.alive with its virtual environment of a large lecture hall – complete with a podium, projection screen for sharing slides, and most importantly an audience!

As a former graduate student, I could easily ‘see’ myself in this environment with increasingly realistic audiences comprised of friends, family and/or pets, fellow graduate students, my research supervisor, my supervisory committee, etc. Because Nortel web.alive only requires a Web browser, my audience isn’t geographically constrained. This geographical freedom is important as it allows for participation – e.g., between graduate students at York in Toronto and their supervisor who just happens to be on sabbatical in the UK. (Trust me, this happens!)

As the manager of Network Operations at York, I’m always keen to encourage novel use of our campus network. The public-speaking use case I’ve described here has the potential to make innovative use of our campus network, regional network (GTAnet), provincial network (ORION), and even national network (CANARIE) that would ultimately allow for global connectivity.

While I busy myself scraping the egg off my face, please chime in with your feedback. Does this sound useful? Are you aware of other efforts to use virtual environments to confront the fear of public speaking? Are there related applications that come to mind for you? (As someone who’s taught classes of about 300 students in large lecture halls, a little bit of a priori experimentation in a virtual environment would’ve been greatly appreciated!)

Update (November 13, 2009): I just Google’d the title of this article and came up with a few, relevant hits; further research is required.

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5 responses to “Confronting the Fear of Public Speaking via Virtual Environments”

  1. Jim says :

    Interesting.

    I wonder if this method of delivery would work for presentations to a geographically dispersed organization like the one I recently did. I have seen live video presentations but they lacked interactivity and the graphics and sound were of poor quality.

    Thanks for highlighting this product.

  2. Ian Lumb says :

    In the demo I saw, Jim, one of the participants was located in the UK – the rest of us were at York in Toronto. The UK participant came across with excellent audio quality.

  3. Joe Rigby says :

    Please try the other web.alive environments available with a single “one click on the URL and you are in” The MellaniuM Dome showcases the potential to import high polygon models into web.alive at http://ec3v3.projectchainsaw.com and “Tipontia” for sick kids in Childrens Hospitals of Eastern Ontario
    http://rmh.projectchainsaw.com

  4. Tele3dworld says :

    Good application; well done Noretel!

  5. Shaun Delaney says :

    I always saw Public Speaking, at least for the first time presenting something relevant in your area of expertise, as a rite of passage. You have this idea, or this research, or this paper; you want to get it out to the community. The best way for people to remember you is a face to name (or to a voice, depending on the medium), especially if your presentation is interesting and useful.

    But when you can’t exactly be in person, this looks pretty useful. I might use it to teach an online course at York, but I still wouldn’t substitute it for a traditional classroom session.

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