Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Another semester begins

Composition I chat
Well, starting this post on October 1st (and adding pictures on November 1st), I can't quite say that. But it's the beginning for this blog!

This semester has been a whirlwind. All four sections that I'm teaching this semester are online and using Second Life. Creative Writing I and Writing the Novel meet as a whole class weekly. Two sections of Composition I meet weekly either in small group chats or (starting next week) in peer response groups, where they will read aloud their drafts to each other.

At Bookstacks with CW students
The ability to read drafts aloud is one of the strong points with meeting in a virtual world over working together in a 2D learning management system (LMS). Obviously, audio can be done in a 2D environment, such as Skype. But I'm still convinced the spatial placement of a 3D world adds a richness to community and connection with others that 2D tools cannot.

And that's saying something after spending 16 hours this last week (and two more to go tomorrow, Sunday) with students in world. The high points are when everything is working and students are able to tell stories about an important song in their lives with stories so touching--from the ends of relationships, to the deaths of loved ones, to first loves turning into decades-long partners--that students are crying while telling, listening, discussing.

The low points are when little works, whether because of underpowered machines, students who didn't participate early in the semester but now show up with no in-world skills, clunky search, buggy viewers (v. 2.7x on has been dodgy the last couple months), or as one student said last week, SL has been "cranky"!

SL field trip with comp students
One of those underprepared students (who I must say is coming along), mentioned today that she felt so lost in SL, like she couldn't figure out where anything was. It reminded me of overhearing brand new first-year students, with eyes wide complaining about not knowing how to get around campus the first few days. Of course, we should expect some of the same trepidation in a virtual world because, just as the downtown campus of Lansing Community College is a place, so is Angel Learning Isle in Second Life. There's a north, south, east and west, and up and down, a left and right, a forward and behind.

At the Cavern Club
Orientations and scavenger hunts help, and those who participated (most this semester) get around fine. Underpowered computers and students who don't take those first weeks' activities make the experience in world more opaque. But for all, it's new and at some level intimidating.

It has been helpful, especially in the novel class, having students who've already taken a class with me in world. I had the foresight to make sure experienced users were paired with inexperienced during the scavenger hunt.

Writing the Novel class meeting
But what really struck me in the last couple weeks--why it is worth all of this heavy lifting I do to lead students in a virtual world--is a simple comment a WRIT 121 student made. He said that he had graduated from high school in 1995. Since then, he has only taken online courses. And this is the very first time, since high school, that he's had an actual classroom experience.

OK, I'm ready for chat tomorrow. I hope everything works!

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