Friday, March 07, 2008

Second Opinion on Second Life

I'm becoming known as the anti-SecondLife guy around these parts. It's a badge that I wear proudly even though I don't think it's entirely accurate. I'm not the anti-SL guy, but I am the somewhat-less-than-enamored-with-SL-guy.

Most people think that I would be the first one in line for the virtual world experience. Sure, I have spent some time in there, but so far it just hasn't floated my boat to a level where I'm ready to give up several other pursuits in favor of SL. My experience so far tells me that I really would have to immerse myself in SL in order to "get it" on the same level of those SL evangelists. As far as I can tell, that would mean giving up my time spent a) blogging, b) using my personal learning environment, c) keeping on top of Web 2.0 technologies for presentations and workshops, and probably d) some of my non-technology personal time.

You don't get much out of SL by spending an hour or two per week in there. I do read many items about the ways that SL is being used in education, or at least trying to be used. Right now it's a bit more fun to sit back and watch others go through the trial and error process that is inevitable with something like this. Yep, I laughed right along with many others as some of the early efforts of building an educational setting within world was to build a virtual classroom that looks basically like a traditional (i.e. old-fashioned) classroom - with students sitting in rows and the professor standing in front delivering a lecture. However, I am intrigued as I see (or at least read about) others who are now thinking outside the virtual box a bit and trying to come up with some novel uses of SL for educational purposes.

Today I attended a classroom session of a hyrbid Sociology class at LSC where SL is being used for part of the instruction. Marlise is teaching this class which is a good thing because she is absolutely one of the hardest working and most engaging instructors on campus. It was fun to see all of the student avatars and some of the places they are visiting, including this Sociology research library in SL (photo below).

At the same time it was strange to see all these students in the same classroom but interacting with each other using their avatars. Many of the issues that we have encountered this semester are related to this unusual use of SL. It was never intended to have many people all in the same location, using the same bandwidth (etc.) but interacting within world. It is obviously intended of bringing together people (or at least their avatars) from various distributed places. There is a reason that the class is being taught in this unusual way, and from what I witnessed today I would say that it is paying off. Most importantly I think, is that Marlise is able to pilot this approach with real students in a real educational setting. I think she is learning even more than her students about how this tool can be used effectively for educational purposes. It would probably be harder for her to assess what the students can do and can't do in world if they truly were distributed over various locations.

The local paper is doing a story about all this which will probably be published in the next couple of days. I'll wait to say more until after that comes out. Chances are good that I will be painted as the anti-SL guy, mainly because I am the only one (at least that I know of) who is asking some of the tough questions related to school policies and how we will deal with the problems that will surely pop up further down the road. I'm also questioning whether Second Life is the correct choice for a virtual world for educational purposes. More about that later.

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