Spent part of my day in Second Life at the Best Practices in Education Conference. Was great to hear about others’ experiences. Some was stuff I had already learned the hard way, but even then, it was worth the reminder.
One of the recurring themes, which came up in Kenny Hubble’s presentation, among others, was how to provide some sense of order. Just like any class, you need to be very clear about what is and is not acceptable. Given that students feel special freedoms in virtual worlds, need to remind them to experience those freedoms (littering, dancing, stripping, sex) outside of classrooms and class times. In other words, treat it like real life. One of the suggestions was there is a “hand-raising chair” that allows students to raise their hands easily in class, for example.
On the other hand, why replicate RL settings in Second Life? Given that a lot of the rules do go out the window in second life, I think it’s important to try to keep some things the same to cushion students entry into the world. This is one of the reasons I usually make my avatar look a bit like me, and why I will likely track down that hand-raising chair. Nonetheless, I hope that we can move quickly away from these structures and that there are ways of encouraging students to take things in their own direction. Actually, one of the reasons I am eager to teach in Second Life is precisely that the “strangeness” gives students permission to experiment in ways the physical classroom may not.
That bleeds into how to sell this to administrators. A lot of people have had the experience of asking their universities for support only to get blank stares, then having an evangelist on the administrative side “get it,” and ask why the campus is so slow on getting in-world. I suspect, given that IBM and others are making virtual environments a major part of their business (at least on the training and education side), campuses will be slowly coming around. But the recurring theme is that you cannot tell people what Second Life is, they have to experience it. Actually, I’m not sure that is entirely the case. I think good use of video might be an even better stand-in, from the perspective of persuading institutional involvement. I’m going to record much of what we do in our fall class and what other people are doing, and try to put together a “best of” reel to help sell the idea of an island in-world.