Thursday, November 20, 2008

Second Life Is Real Life

This week, I've been working on a couple assignment ideas, one with Twitter and one with social bookmarking. A Twitter assignment for WRIT 122 students, using the microblog as a research/writing log is close to ready, and another on using delicious or Diigo is in planning stages.

I did hit a snag with using the social bookmarking. It works great for Web resources. However, we tend to encourage students to take advantage of the rich resources available through Lansing Community College Libary, such as InfoTrac OneFile. I couldn't figure out an easy or even reasonable way to bookmark such resources using Diigo. A quick email to Debby Harris, and she figured out how to do it. It's a bit on the clunky side, no fault of hers, but it should work.

In Second Life, I was able to participate in several events pretty smoothly. I'm finding that SL crashes reduced significantly when I made sure that my graphics settings weren't set too high for my computer. Next computer needs a more powerful graphics/video card.

Three events, in particular, I wanted to bring up. One was a mini-conference celebrating the opening of the MacArthur Foundation's land in SL, "Real World Impacts from the Virtual World." I attended the session "Dropping Knowledge: How Virtual World Educators Are Changing Lives" sponsored by RezEd. Basically it was an opportunity to hear from a librarian, a teacher working with elementary kids in Dizzywood, and a representative from Arizona State University where they were experimenting with Google Lively (which just hours later was announced to be going dark next month!).

The session then broke into small groups where we discussed online education in SL.

Although the mini-conference was interesting, the main point that I wanted to make about it was how smoothly it went. I crashed once, got right back in, and I could hear and see everything that took place with little hindrance. The presenters streamed their discussion to the conference instead of using voice, and they did so, by all four (including the emcee) talking on Skype, and then streaming Skype into the conference. And though the breakout session was only mildly interesting--there really wasn't a moderator that kept things going, and it seemed there wasn't really anyone there with much experience in teaching online classes in SL--it took place without a hitch. It seems that the use of the virtual world for real events--beyond novelty or recreation--is evolving exponentially. Of course, it also helps that I'm getting used to moving around effectively in the 3D world.

The next two events, though, had more intriguing content/ideas tossed about, at least for me, and for the purposes of this blog entry. The first was a weekly discussion put on by Epic Institute entitled "Where Are We Going with Virtual Reality?-- and Who Will We Be When We Get There?" led by a social psychologist and a sociologist. This particular session, we visited Cedar Island, a community of artists and educators, and an island that is designed to be like the Pacific Northwest.

The tour guide and designer, John Seattle, pointed out that Second Life is social constructivism made visible. In other words, the making of meaning and knowledge as a social construction is constructed literally in the virtual world where community and environment are built by groups of people. He also mentioned something that rang a bell, that constraints and boundaries are necessary for people to accept a virtual world and to be able to operate effectively--that if anything goes, users become lost, frustrated, disorientated. What is created needs to be rooted in real life enough to make relatable. (Very similar to something John Lasseter of Pixar said about 3D animation.)

In fact, John Seattle mentioned something that I think is a hurdle we will need to jump over in working with students: "Second Life is real life." In other words, real work, real thought, real education, real community is created in the virtual world. It's not a game, but a 3D virtual environment. Students who are used to MMORPGs, PC games or console games will think it's just a pastime, not a place where real education takes place. Even my son--a 3D animation major at Ringling School of Art and Design, who, you would think, would see the world of 3D worlds as a place where serious work takes place, since he works night and day--sees SL as a game--"I haven't played it in a long time." And he was amazed to find out real colleges have virtual campuses in SL.

So the value of play is certainly a part of SL, a big part, and I would think should be a significant part of using it in higher education. But it should be serious play, one that leads to learning, community, the extension of knowledge, and so on.

I mentioned a third event. I'll talk about that in the next entry.

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