Teaching in Second Life

New experiences are rad. Scary sometimes, occasionally baffling, often frustrating…but every once in a while, they’re just rock-on cool.

I lead a seminar for an Intro to New Media course in our department. Part of the seminar is exposing students – who, at an average age of 18 really should be more net-savvy than they are – to various new media applications. These include games (you should have seen the gamers in the class trying to play the old text-based adventures I grew up on. Couldn’t get past the first obstacle. Ha!), networking sites, collaborative tools like wikis, and virtual worlds. That’s right, we have a whole session dedicated to Second Life. And yes, I get paid for this. But not much.

That first session was frustrating for 90% of them: getting a log-in ID, learning to move, adjusting their appearance, learning how to fly, teleport, find locations, find each other. I have a good idea most of them didn’t even think about Second Life until a week or so ago, when I had them log in again to play around in preparation for the kick-ass lecture this week.

This week was a virtual lecture, conducted primarily in Second Life. The lecturer gave his spiel from his office, while I assisted from the lecture hall, where we projected the 2L meeting room & lecture/discussion. Out of about 50 students in the course, 7 or 8 showed up to the lecture hall, not having paid attention to the announcement of a virtual lecture, or not caring, or not feeling comfortable enough with 2L to attend from home. A ton, however, attended in avatar-form only, some from their beds, some from a pub, some from who knows where.

There were setbacks – we had a speaker in the lecture hall that kept giving feedback, and it caused chaos anytime someone new came into the 2L meeting room with their mic on. Not everyone was set up to hear the lecturer’s talk, so I wound up playing dictaphone, typing in the lecture as he gave it (which was a feat in itself, since I’m a Dvorak keyboard user – navigating Qwerty again after all this time was like talking in a language I haven’t used for years). A couple of people made it to the 2L meeting room quite late, having difficulty finding their way there.

The students in the lecture hall were quiet, not having as much chance to add input as those in 2L (discussion was all by chat, because of the speaker-feedback issue). But those who could, DID discuss. These same students who stare at us like we’re Charlie Brown’s teacher, spewing gibberish, every week for 12 weeks, these students offered thoughts, questions, alternatives. They had ideas! They contributed! It was freakishly amazing. Put a set of wings and some purple hair on a bunch of first years, and they act like rational adults. Crazy, huh?

The lecture was short, owing to the unique nature of it, but they adored it. They wanted every lecture to be given on 2L. They had fun. They thanked the lecturer. They offered feedback as to how it could be done better. They contributed. They engaged. It was the kind of class you long for as a teacher, but rarely ever get. To have that happen in the last lecture of the semester is pretty damn good.

Anyway, we put it all together in quite a hurry, and didn’t have everything completely organized, and weren’t aware of a lot of the tools we could have used (like importing presentations into 2L, offering virtual notes, etc.). Next time, it will be even more like a real classroom…only with wings.

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