Friday, August 21, 2009

Back to school

First week back at Lansing Community College. Along with the other three classes I'm teaching, I've been working on the WRIT 121: Composition I class that will be using SL for the first time.

As I've been thinking through this class, and what I want to accomplish, I came up with some
principles I want to operate from.
  1. Simplicity: I want to make sure that my approach is simple both for students and for other faculty.
  • For students, because I know that for many of them, I'm going to be throwing quite a bit of new web applications at them--discussion forums, drop boxes, word processing beyond simple texting, Twitter, social bookmarking, IMing. Add to all of this Second Life, with the need to create an avatar, orient into the virtual world, and then real time chats, text and voice, along with group expeditions exploring the world.
  • For faculty, because I expect to show instructors at LCC what I'm doing, all with the purpose of getting them interested in possibly including SL in their online course. If it looks too "cool" with lots of gee-whiz stuff, many will become dismayed that the virtual world is beyond their ability, or beyond the time investment they see themselves needing in order to overcome the steep learning curve.

Therefore, I made a simple circle of pillows to sit on for class,

a simple sign at my office on Angel Learning Island,

a simple URL dispenser for the course syllabus (and calendar).

I want to keep the tools I use in world recognizable and useful for students and perceived, quickly, as such by faculty. We'll see how well I can do so.

  1. Second Life is a place: I've heard over the last few months a number of people describing SL as a tool, even as an educational tool. However, I consider the designation of SL or any MUVE as a tool to misperceive its potential in education, especially in online classes. Angel is an aggregation of tools--drop boxes, discussion forums, chat logs, URLs and so forth. Podcasts are tools. Most Web 2.0 apps are tools. But Second Life is a place where you can use tools to accomplish work (or learning, or play) that you want to accomplish.
A chat client is a tool.

Angel Learning Island is a place in Second Life where chatting can take place.

  1. Writing class, not SL class: The biggest struggle that I've had with SL concerning writing classes has been that most comp courses I've seen (and some very good ones by Intellagirl Tully, Ignatius Onomatopoeia, and AJ Brooks) have had students write about SL. Which is great. But in order to make SL really viable as a place to conduct online classes, the focus has to be on something else, in most cases. In other words, when I first started online classes, I did not have students write about being online. They wrote about popular culture or controversial issues, or with creative writing, stories and poems that had nothing whatsoever to do with being online. I've never had a student write about Angel!
  • However, if I see SL as a place, which isn't the case with learning management systems like Angel or Blackboard, then it makes more sense to consider having students write about that place, bringing readers insight about what a virtual world is like.
  • So I keep going back and forth. Write about SL, write about other things, and use SL as a place to do some of the work. At first I planned to have the class write the first two essays about their experiences in SL, but I'm thinking the first essay on SL makes no sense, since they'll be just getting used to the MUVE.
So stay tuned as my thoughts about how this all works evolves!