Friday, April 11, 2008

education in Second Life

Having agreed with my wife not to cross the threshold of Second Life, for fear I would never return, so to speak, I still haven't done it, although I did notice that my computer was on it one day, in the language center, and I almost walked away in someone else's avatar. However, I didn't. I stayed in my own body, and finished my homework.

This didn't stop me, however, from sitting with a guy, Christopher Hill, from my own native state of Ohio, who knew quite a bit about Second Life, at the TESOL Convention. As we talked, I watched him manipulate his avatar a little and talk about SL's possible uses in education, a topic which he admitted to be still in development.

You may know from reading this blog that I felt almost immediately that SL would have a dramatic effect, both on education and on language; that I'm profoundly interested in both; that as a long-standing practitioner of drama in language education (and other kinds of education) I can think of numerous benefits of a virtual self in the language learning classroom right away. This does not mean that I'm ready to give my students a tour. In fact, I asked him, what if I take a group of students into SL, only to be accosted by rude people, or to see an orgy on the first street corner?

Legitimate concerns, he said, and I hope I paraphrase him correctly. He told us about Ohio State's pioneering efforts a little; you can see their wiki here. He said that there were some language learners in SL, although language learners haven't been flocking to the place, deliberately, knowing that it was the place to be. In particular people have been on there giving both English and Spanish lessons, and those have been received well. He said that in general, finding sexual activity on SL is like the rest of the internet: it's all over the place, yet you have to know where it is, generally, to go there. So you are NOT likely to just stumble upon it, but, who knows? And people use their avatars to make gestures to each other, all of which have their own unique meanings, some recognizable out here in RL.

A number of SL words came out: griefer- one who goes around being rude and causing grief. prim- an object one uses, in its primitive form, to develop something one wants that is not primitive. In other words, you might pick up a crude virtual "shirt" and then go about adding colors, etc. to it.

In general one worries a lot about appearance, since one doesn't want the stigma of "newbie" which is attached if one doesn't. In general, one tends to fly a lot, since it's possible, and has uses that teleporting or walking don't have. To be safe, landmark a familiar place, put it in your inventory (kind of like putting your mom's phone number in your cell phone), and click on it when you feel uncomfortable; you'll teleport home immediately, and start over.

Similarly, if you die or are shot, you just start again. "I try to have some space between me and my avatar," he said, "because it's healthy." He tells the story of when his avatar was shot and killed. He was letting a student use it, play with it, manipulate it and see what it was like, walking around and grabbing stuff. But the student accidentally bumped into someone hard. "Hey," the guy said, "watch what you're doing!" Some basic elemental politeness would have sufficed at this point, a simple apology. But instead, the student panicked. He backed up, twirled around a little, and, still panicking, bumped the guy again, hard. This time the guy said, enough, let's draw; he drew, and shot him.

There's a lesson in here somewhere, but, I'm still mulling it over. While I struggle to put it into words, I'll leave you with this. If you're ever stuck in a virtual box, truly can't get out, can't figure out how it works, just make sure you have good landmarks in your inventory, and click on one of them. It works, so they say. Of course, I wouldn't know.

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