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         Digital tools in education

April 30, 2010

(Webinar) Second Life: My own experience

Filed under: Second Life — mepada @ 9:02 am

Webinar: Learn Central May 5, 2010

MY OWN EXPERIENCE:

The phone call:

Two years ago now, a professor in the Law School, Stacey Rae Simcox, who teaches a course called Crime and the Internet contacted me about the possibility of supporting and helping her with a technology tool she wanted to use in her classroom: Second Life. At the time, not being a gamer (yet), I had not been exposed to virtual worlds, multi-users games, avatars, and the like.

I decided this sounded like a very interesting project so I embarked myself in this new adventure.

Let’s do it:

After downloading  the game and creating an avatar (I made sure my virtual self is taller and had a smaller nose!), I attended the tutorial offered in the Help and Orientation Islands and once I “graduated” took off flying into new lands.

I learned very quickly as mentioned in Risk and Responsibility: A Self-Study of Teaching with Second Life (SULLIVAN, 2009) that one “must be willing to leave their comfort zone, to tolerate a certain level of chaos and ambiguity, be willing to take risks and willing to be wrong”.

Oh my, how true this statement is! Second Life is in many ways, just like our first life. It is a society with its own set of rules and guidelines. I had to learn to walk, run and fly! I had to understand the way avatars communicate (via mic, and/or chat).

I had to learn which places to go and which to avoid.

I realized I had to get money (via a job or buying lindens with a credit card) in order to purchase and own things.

I discovered that there is an appropriate dress code in some venues and that I can’t just change clothes (which implies I get naked) everywhere.

I also found out I can attend wonderful music events, visit replicas of real-life museums, teleport myself to cities and countries I have never visited in my first life, speak a foreign language with other avatars, discuss professional topics with others in the field, and much more!

The class:

After my initial experience with Second Life I called Stacey Rae and told her I was on board!

We conducted several meetings to plan and organize the virtual sessions.

We checked with IT to ensure a room and enough headsets.

We also requested availability of enough broadband to avoid clogging our network.

I asked one of our IT tech support staff members to be there for additional support.

Most of her students have never heard of SL(or virtual worlds for that matter) so this was a new experience for them.

  • First meeting: 9/22/08
    • We took her students to a lab and asked them to bring their laptops (they downloaded SL before that class period)
    • We met for class and opened SL. They were asked to create their avatars.
    • Then we all m et in the Orientation Island to learn some basic SL skills.
    • Following that activity Stacey Rae teleported the whole class to a “freebies” store to buy clothes.
    • Once they chose what they wanted to wear, she assigned several activities:
      • To go to London and take a ride on a double-decker bus.
      • To go somewhere they always wanted to visit.
      • The second half of the class was spent in San Miguel at their police department.
      • The chief of Police and some of the force’s officers greeted us and took us to a conference room where we all took our seats.
      • The chief of Police introduced the class to SL’s Terms of Service, griefing, stealing, banning of avatars, and other related topics..
      • His presentation was followed by a Q&A session.
  • Second meeting: 10/10/08
    • The second time we met we met at the East Carolina University campus (ECU)
    • They lent us their space in order to conduct class.
    • Their sat on floating chairs and Stacey Rae had access to a classroom podium.
    • Students discussed the assigned articles for that day and shared their feelings about holding class in SL.
    • One of the students, who was not in VA at the time, joined from Spain.
    • Students got a chance to raise their hands and ask questions during class.
  • Third meeting: 2/9/10
    • This time we met at the Law School.
    • We experienced connection issues so the group was split into two groups and one of the groups was taken to another class.
    • Stacey Rae assigned someone to be their coordinator and she communicated with him via a headset.
    • The students spent some time buying things, going places and dancing!
    • Afterwards we met at a different police department.
    • The chief of police introduced some new topics such as virtual rape, child pornography, how to report abuse, etc.
    • Here again, students had an opportunity to ask questions (via mic and/or chat)

Lessons learned:

  • Benefits:
    • Engagement: The level of participation and engagement was very high. Students became very curious about this new environment.
    • Most students learned the basics fairly quick. They were able to navigate the land and communicate with other avatars without incident.
    • A new way to deliver information: Stacey Rae was able to recruit help from experts in the field of crime in a virtual world, bringing validity and confirmation to the curriculum content.
    • Experiential: Students not only learned by doing but they were also able to transfer that knowledge within SL and apply it towards new experiences.
    • Constraints:
      • Headphones: Not all students had headsets and we had to find a way to either borrow and/or purchase headsets to distribute to all her students.
      • Chatting function: Some of the students used the chatting feature within SL to talk about non-related topics. Students oftentimes do this in other classes. The difference in SL is that we can actually see these social interactions (via local chat feature)
      • Broadband issues: Connections became very slow when  all the students try to login into SL at the same time.
      • Interface: Not all the students were thrilled to be attending class in SL. This medium does not fit everyone’s learning style.
      • Goofing off: Some students had a difficult time staying on track. They wondered into other lands and established connections with avatars not participating in class.

ADVANTAGES:

The face to face interaction seems to generate an intuitive experience with the other people involved, to a degree unmatched by email, instant messaging, or telephone.

The professor can illustrate points visually as well as verbally with minimum effort.

For example, a chemistry professor’s animation of an excited electron, or a simulated discussion with a fictional or historical personage are two examples of the advantages of teaching inworld.

Distance learning becomes much more feasible when students from around the world can log in and interact as if they were sitting next to each other.

CONSTRAINTS:

Despite an excellent support team, the grid is periodically down because of attacks, server failures, or bugs.

Sometimes, the time it takes for users even with high-bandwidth connections and powerful graphics cards to render a scene can be slow enough that conversation lags or objects fail to be drawn properly.

Users with older machines, or those who can only access Second Life with slow connections, can find Second Life nearly unusable.

Followup conversations:

I approached several of Stacey Rae’s students after class to ask them to share their own thoughts. Most seemed to have enjoyed the experience and were facinated with Second Life (and virtual worlds). These students expressed to actually have learned something new about crime and law in the Internet. They also stated that they were unaware of the complexity of SL’s terms of service and the serious consequences that occur when breaking these terms. They would welcome additional class meetings in SL.

A few told me that SL just was not their “cup of tea” and had a difficult time relating to a virtual environment. They found SL difficult to learn and were not sure of its relationship to the course.

Overall, I believe Stacey Rae is on the right track and I hope she  continues to introduce and expose her students to SL as a way to understand Internet Law.

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