Spring semester began with some changes that helped stave off a mass exodus from my classes using Second Life. As you may recall, the last couple semesters, I've had a problem with online students realizing that they were in a section that used SL. I had placed a note in the schedule book that said so, that noted students needed high speed Internet and a decent computer, with the URL to SL specs.
No one saw the note, whether in the print schedule book, or when registering online.
Furthermore, I sent a snail-mail letter in July, to remind students we were using SL with links on how to test their Internet speed and their computer's readiness to handle a virtual world.
Nobody recalled seeing the letter.
What made it worse in the fall is that for the WRIT 121 class, I was doing a Tuesday evening, 7-9 p.m. session each week that students had to attend. Not seeing the note or the letter, many had to drop because of previous commitments.
So for spring, before the semester started, I emailed everyone who registered for my classes with the letter I originally sent through snail mail. I grabbed every email, both LCC and personal, found on the student system site (Banner). And when one student dropped and another added, I sent out again the email to the new student.
I did this every day when the college was open from the first moment the classes were full until classes started.
Consequently, every student on day one knew that the section they were in used SL (even though many had no clue what that meant), and most stuck around for the first couple weeks rather than bailing en masse.
Sure, I've lost a few since, but most have dropped for reasons they usually drop online classes--they've taken on too much and thought online would be easier, family situations or illnesses pop up that keep them from continuing, they can't keep up with the work load for whatever reason (hey, I warn them up front this will take 9-14 hours a week depending on the class!). Only a couple have dropped because they don't have the equipment necessary to work in world, or because they simply don't like working with avatars.
Another thing that has happened is that I got most students to complete the orientation and the scavenger hunt. Last semester I had most in the creative writing class not do the hunt, or meet with me the second week in SL (I focus on the Angel LMS during the first week). Again, part of it was they weren't prepared. But another part is that I just expected them to be responsible. Always a great hope, usually a mistake.
So this semester, with everyone knowing they were to use SL, I had much higher participation in the orientation on Virtual Ability Island, and in completing the scavenger hunt. Of course, I made it required that they meet me in world the second week of class. Easy to do with the WRIT 260: Creative Writing I class since they knew we were all meeting on Tuesday evenings from 7-9 p.m.
More of a challenge with the two sections of WRIT 122: Composition II who had no whole class meeting. With them, I set up six times during the week that they could meet with me once they completed the orientation Here are the instructions I posted: http://express.lcc.edu/faculty/holtd/writ122/oasp11week2.htm#slorientation.
I also changed the scavenger hunt. Last semester, I required them to do the orientation with a
partner, knowing that they would learn more interacting with another, and find more value in the activity. The problem was that too many either couldn't find a partner, or were too shy to seek one out being so early in the semester. Consequently, most didn't complete the assignment. So this time, I allowed them to do the hunt alone, but in order to earn full credit, they had to complete more of the tasks than they would if working with another. And they could only earn Linden dollars if they worked with a partner. Consequently, everyone, except one or two, completed the orientation. And most of them, with a partner. Also, most of them did what it took (posting snapshots of their escapades) to earn Linden dollars.
The upshot of it all is that the majority of students by the end of week 2 were able to wander SL competently, communicate effectively, and participate fully with class activities the next week. And most of them enjoyed their experience, especially with parachuting, riding karts, petting a dog, and lounging on a lilypad.