In 2014, the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Organizational Committee instituted a new personal achievement award to recognize an individual who has provided outstanding service to both the field of education and the virtual world community at large.
The THINKERER AWARD is presented to an individual whose deeds and actions have shown a consistent selfless service towards the promotion of learning, community, educational practices, and who exemplifies the spirit of cooperative development within immersive environments.
Recipients of this award are not simply outstanding professionals in their field. Award recipients must characterize transformational leadership qualities to:
- envision and guide change;
- enhance the motivation, morale, and performance of both peers and pupils;
- promote best practices and continuous improvement; and
- inspire others through their words and actions.
One such individual is ALICE KRUEGER, better known to many of us as Gentle Heron.
Ms. Krueger is the founder and President of Virtual Ability, Inc., a real world non-profit organization based in Colorado, USA, with a well-established presence in Second Life. She holds a Master of Science degree and is a mother of three. After a career spanning nearly 40 years in education, teaching both regular and special education, then program management, professional development and research, Ms. Krueger became fully disabled with multiple sclerosis. But this didn’t stop her.
To combat the isolation which commonly besets people with significant disabilities, she founded a 501(c)(3), with a mission to bring people with disabilities into online virtual worlds by providing a supporting environment in which to thrive there.
Gentle Heron first rezzed into Second Life when the Heron Sanctuary was established in 2007. Virtual Ability, Inc. officially adopted the new name in 2008 after having helped numerous people get “up and running” in Second Life. The original group has grown in size from about 150 individuals to nearly 1000 members, with an ever-stronger reputation within Second Life as the leading cross-disability community of support for people with real world disabilities. In 2009, VAI won the first Linden Prize for providing “a series of courses and resources to help people with real-world disabilities get acclimated and start using Second Life” and for its ground-breaking new resident orientation course on Virtual Ability Island.
Since that time, Virtual Ability has collaborated with researchers in disability studies and with projects to enhance the lives of people with disabilities. VAI has worked on such diverse projects as:
- Virtual programs for military amputees with the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command;
- Participation in EmployAble, a Kessler Foundation grant project of the University of Hawaii’s Center on Disability Studies; and
- Virtual Health Adventures, led by Nova Southeastern University, College of Health Care Sciences.
As a mother, activist, educator, researcher, and leader, Gentle’s contributions as president of Virtual Ability have resulted in the escalation of discussion, for and about people with disabilities in virtual world settings, to a level which did not exist before 2007. Her virtual world efforts are a reflection of her tireless work in all worlds:
- Real world speaking engagements on disability-related topics
- Featured speaker at the Second Life Community Convention in 2009
- Authored and co-authored articles on assistive technologies and virtual worlds
- Featured in the “Login 2 Life” project, described as “on the very edge of civilisation, documenting a lifestyle so entirely new, that few have managed to look beneath the surface of this emerging phenomenon”
Ms. Krueger has raised the bar for bringing equality in education for persons with disabilities into both the political and corporate boardrooms. Her efforts have led to significant changes at local, national, and international levels.
It is for all these reasons, and more, that the VWBPE Organizational Committee proudly confirms Alice Krueger as the VWBPE 2015 Thinkerer Award recipient.