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NERSIG 2006 SSTL: 2, Teaching and Learning in a Virtual World (Second Life) November 20, 2006

Posted by ficial in conference, games, SSTL2006, web 2.0.
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“Teaching and Learning in a Virtual World” by Rebecca Nesson of Harvard

This presentation took place in Second Life on Berkman Island. That is, someone in the room ran a Second Life client which was projected on the main screen at the front of the room and we had a Skype call to her so she could talk to us (Second Life doesn’t yet support voice). The audience avatar then went to Berkman Island where the speakers avatar was waiting, and we then got to see the talk / demonstration from the perspective of a second life user (more or less).

[This is a weird presentation format. The audience spends the entire time looking at the back of their avatar, which is a little weird. If 2L supports a through-the-eyes view that would probably work better for presentation such as this. Also, speech isn’t the normal mode of communication in 2L, so having the skype connection was a not-entirely-fair representation.]

  • The college building representation was a good move for setting the feel of the island. It really sets the tone for the place. Part of their startup funding went to hire a person to build the place.
  • [Strange that the virtual set up in the building is so very much a mimic of the real-world setting. Is a real-world conference setting so good that given the freedom to do anything that’s what you do?] Turns out no – most of the actual classes takes place in the amphitheater area. Real life comfort is not virtual comfort. Enclosed spaces are tricky to navigate for newcomers. There’s a definite learning curve to the interface. There’s a neat tool for showing video and audio from anywhere on the web.
  • [Arranging a good classroom / lecture interface in a virtual world is tricky, and dependent on the particular UI of the VR system being used.]
  • The library setup is interesting. Viewing spaces for a number of people. 2L screens are sized for 1 viewer at a time.
  • They’ll be running a mock court, and creating a courthouse for that. [2L seems like a good framework for simulations].
  • “2L is head and shoulders above the rest of the DL systems because of the high quality of interaction.”
  • Berkman Island is generally a public area, but has a private space as well for discussion, experimentation, etc. Also has a ‘sandbox’ area for experimentation / creation.
  • [NOTE: when running a presentation like this, the person controlling the audience avatar should really be very proficient. Ours was OK, but not great and the presentation suffered a bit for that.]

And then various discussion, questions, and responses

  • For the course Rebecca’s teaching, learning takes place in multiple sites:
    • live at the school
    • recordings viewed in 2L
    • readings online in the course website
    • discussions that happen on line (in 2L)
      • 2L is a poor format for lecture and a very good format for discussion (less of the shyness factor)
  • Chats in 2L are different than chats elsewhere in that…
    • [presence is indicated visually, which cuts down a whole lot on the ‘I’m here’ kinds of messages]
    • The outfit/avatar that people use is a strong signifier [a kind fo visual profile]
  • Things involved in getting the 2L course ready
    • had a lot of help in terms of the island being set up for them
    • had a staff person who was really proficient in building things
    • took a lot of time for the instructor to get used to the interface, and them to adjust the teaching to that new system
    • a lot of offer of support from the 2L community
    • LL offers free land / space to educators
      • the LL program is relatively small
      • contact pathfinder linden for more info about the program
  • 2L teaching mode is different:
    • The types of questions that are asked are tricky, a big open ended question generates multiple simultaneous conversation threads which are hard to follow; try to keep questions relatively focused to keep discussions on track
  • what’s the learning curve for the participants?
    • “We caught on very quickly”
    • “It was an almost negligible learning curve”
    • “interested participants already had a decent base of tech knowledge”
    • “difficult tot make the time to wathch the lectures online”
  • “tough to connecct with the class students”
  • What’s the bandwidth intensity?
    • “Can use it on a home, broadband wireless connection with no problem”
    • “Need a fast processor, a high end graphics card” [and a good net connection]
    • “Cable OK, but T1 much better”
  • what about voice/skype?
    • it’s in the pipeline
    • Try there.com (a different, less customizeable VR system than 2L) if you really need voice.
  • [easy to get distracted by object creation; tricky if programming isn’t the focus of the class]
  • [what does ‘really works’ mean in the context of a virtual world?]
  • What about copyright issues for object created in 2L?
    • creative commons discussion
    • 2L supports a range of copyright options
    • [there’s a brouha recently about a group which created a 2L client of some sort which allowed them to bypass 2L’s normal copy restrictions in some way. See Copying a Controversy for more detail]
  • Are classes conductedonly in realtime, or can classes be asynchronous?
    • taught realtime in the lawschool, and recorded for viewing in 2L
    • classes in 2L are realtime, though there are of course async components (e.g. readings, homework, etc.)
    • timing is tricky, especially for people in different time zones
    • the chat transcripts are a useful async recording of a real-time event; people who miss a session can catch up by getting a copy of the transcript
  • Do the students ever get together elsewhere in 2L?
    • people to come to berkman island outside official class times
  • Any accessibility standards?
    • not that any here knows [i.e. nope]
    • we’re just at the beginning of these technologies. We don’t yet know how to use these largely video-game based technologies for teaching.
    • some cerebal palsey people have a local person work with them
  • How do you direct peoples attention to things? How do you orient people who are waching/using audio-visual aids?
    • tell them in the chat
    • [there’s some kind of communication mismatch going on — talking about direction in the world vs ‘notice this thing I’m pointing at with a laser pointer’]
  • Barrier between people under 18 and 18+? [this question, much like the previous one, was misunderstood, I think. I think the question was more about social gaps, and the answer was more about technical or legal lines]
    • 2L uses credit cards for age verification
    • very much an issue of sex/porn
  • Example of how 2L has/can be used to enhance learning in a higher ed academic area?
    • architecture classes as a building environment
    • object oriented programming (java is very abstract and tricky to ‘get’, but OO programming makes a fair bit of sense when working with actual objects)
    • simulated environments (e.g. mock trial)
    • [a lot of ‘try new things’, but little to no documented enhancement. That being said, I’m not really sure how you’d measure/document enhanced learning. Heck, we can’t even really do that in real life, let alone after throwing all this new tech into the mix.]
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Comments»

1. newmw - November 20, 2006

Great post on SL. Nice blog too, added you to my blogroll as a New Media MA student from Amsterdam.

2. ficial - November 20, 2006

Welcome, and thank you for the kind comment! I’m looking forward to reading your blog.

Also, I’m curious. How did you come across it? One of the things I’m trying to understand is how and why people discover new blogs.

3. newmw - November 20, 2006

I actually use the Tag Searcher from wordpress.com quite a lot, so since I’m following both games and conference I came across the post. It’s actually quite handy to check what is happening on certain blog subjects on wordpress.com. And you come across some interesting blogs, like this one :)

4. techNOcool - November 21, 2006

An Outsider’s View on Second Life

I found this through Chris Warren’s blog. I met him at a conference on learning management software(WebCT like software). He started blogging his professional life after that conference. His blog provides his perspective on many of the things we are…


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