Wednesday, August 27, 2008

UIS Office of Technology Enhanced Learning takes part in public health initiative

The Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning at the University of Illinois Springfield is collaborating with the Illinois Department of Public Health and Chicago State University in a project titled BASUAH (Brothers and Sisters United Against HIV/AIDS), which takes place in the virtual world Second Life.

BASUAH is an initiative of the Governor Blagojevich's Office designed to address HIV/AIDS among members of the state's African-American communities. IDPH launched the project on August 1, 2007.

The IDPH Center for Minority Health Services created a space (an "island") for BASUAH in Second Life that acts as an e-learning and teaching tool. The Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning at UIS is responsible for delivering this training, which promotes open discussion on a variety of topics related to AIDS.

"We need to reach out to and educate people in a way that keeps up with the times," said Dr. Damon T. Arnold, IDPH director. "Our goal in creating BASUAH in Second Life is to provide innovative opportunities to keep the dialogue on HIV/AIDS education and prevention in the fore front of peoples' minds."

Students in a biology class taught at Chicago State University by Dr. Julian Scheinbuks this spring were the first participants, holding discussion forums and building presentations.

OTEL Director Ray Schroeder noted that, to date, more than 1,000 students from around the state have completed this training and been certified as BASUAH Ambassadors. "This is an important collaboration between UIS, CSU, and IDPH," said Schroeder.

Deborah Antoine, an instructional designer in OTEL, explained that the immersive
experience of Second Life fosters interactive role-play, which helps Ambassadors become comfortable in their role as peer educators.

Antoine said that UIS is "enthusiastic" about its collaboration with the Department of Public Health and Chicago State. "After certifying more than 1,000 Ambassadors through our online training program, we are excited about breaking ground in this new environment. We look forward to our continued collaboration and success in this very important initiative," she said.

In virtual worlds such as Second Life, users create representations of themselves, known as "avatars," with a wide range of physical characteristics from which to choose. As avatars interact with each other, "real" people have an opportunity to explore different personas and learn what it would be like to be in someone else's situation.

Certified BASUAH Ambassadors become peer educators – someone from within a group who can deliver information that is understood, accepted, and acted on by other members of the group. Sensitive to community norms, values, cultural beliefs, and traditions, peer educators are trusted by the group they serve and act as role models.

More information about BASUAH is available at www.basuah.org, or contact Deborah Antoine at 217/206-8261.

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