A New Type of Career Fair?
Students preparing for careers in education are often exposed to the latest technology in universities and are urged to help soon-to-be employers learn about and engage with new technologies once on the job. Knowing about the latest technology is certainly important, not simply from a classroom standpoint, but also for knowing what our students are experiencing and engaging with outside the classroom.
My first exposure to Second Life came at the annual conference of the National Association of Colleges and Employers in New York last summer. I was amazed at what I learned about Second Life and similar virtual worlds. All kinds of statistics were tossed out about the percentage of young persons who were involved with virtual-world systems and avatars. When I returned to my office in good old Kansas, my office staff members were as blissfully unaware of Second Life as I. I did encounter a couple of colleagues who had some familiarity with it.
The whole concept is a little creepy to me; perhaps it is just a little more sophisticated than my comfort level. Members of Second Life and similar virtual worlds create "avatars," virtual representations of themselves, which populate the virtual world. One can create an avatar in one's own image, or in whatever image one imagines oneself. Avatars may have the ability to fly. Avatars may have jobs in the virtual world. Avatars may purchase "land" in the virtual world, even their own islands, and build "structures." I understand that some universities are conducting classes in these virtual worlds. [I am painfully aware that I am an old fogey. My main question is, "Why?" And I'm sorry: "Because it's there" is not sufficient for me.]
Most of the teacher preparations educational institutions in our state have career fairs or interview days to which candidates from outside our institutions are invited. These events provide face-to-face contact between job candidates and any number of potential employers. Granted, transportation and lodging costs become factors for candidates from outside the state or from remote areas. Further complicating the situation in Kansas is the fact that there is a large part of southwestern Kansas that has no four-year colleges. In that case, travel for recruiters is costly and problematic. Traditionally, this is also a geographic area to which candidates are not widely attracted.
On March 4, 2008, the Kansas Educational Employment Board (KEEB), which is a web-based recruitment program sponsored by the Kansas State Department of Education, conducted a virtual education career fair to be hosted on Second Life. Ten school districts from the state participated, conducting real-time "visits" (similar to electronic "chat" or messaging) with candidates via their avatars. According to the demo video on the website, "approximately 9" candidates participated. You can get more information about the fair and watch the demo video at http://www.kansasteachingjobs.com/page_add.cfm?PID=16.
Now that the dust has barely settled from the first Second Life virtual career fair, KEEB has two more fairs coming up - one for the entire state and the other only for the southwest Kansas region. I am not sure whether the KEEB fair on March 4 was a real "first," but it was certainly a first for our area. Knowing the technology exists may be important. But is this something that will catch on? Will there be a time when candidates outnumber districts? Or was the first experience a predictor of success? Are our future teachers using Second Life? Future iterations will, of course, answer these questions. But in my mind the burning question remains: Why?
Director of Career Services,
Washburn University, on behalf of AAEE