Discover Your Inner Geek!

Too shy for Second Life?

Okay, so I gave it a try. I downloaded the software at home, made an avatar and went to Newbie Island or whatever it’s called. My internet connection is not lightning-fast, so I spent a lot of time clicking arrows, then waiting to turn. In frustration, I clicked the arrows a few times and of course turned too far. I walked into a lot of walls. So I decided to fly. I clicked fly. Turns out I was inside a building and there was nowhere to fly to. But at least there were a lot of other newbies up there, looking kind of dazed, probably trying to find the “stop flying” button.

I had procrastinated on doing the virtual worlds thing because I was shy. I mean, I don’t like going to parties by myself, even when I know people there, so going to a whole second world with millions of strangers sounded awfully intimidating. When I got there, people kept trying to talk to me, but I just ignored them. This is some extreme social media. Maybe when I get more advanced I will be able to find a nice place by the ocean to hang out.

After about a half-hour of bumping into walls (and ceilings!) and not being able to figure out what to do next, I called it a night. So my Second Life experience was inconclusive. However, a few thoughts did come to mind:

  • Any educational application of virtual worlds will require education around how to get into and navigate the virtual world, or you may lose half your students off the bat.
  • Based on conversations I’ve had, it seems that most people on Second Life are on there with friends they already know. So maybe my mistake was joining the party alone.
  • There may be a future for virtual worlds in education, but let’s not assume that “all the kids are doing this” (see Deanne’s post on this subject).
  • At the same time, I do see tremendous potential for applying this to education. I think it will need to be a little more accessible and a little more user-friendly before it’s widespread.

– Chris G aka Rich Grantly

Call Me Cynical

I searched Second Life and Teaching Writing.  No favorite.  I’ve hit a wall; I don’t get it.  I don’t see why I would bring students into this virtual world for teaching purposes.  It may be that it’s simply not a good fit for me as a teacher. 

I know I’m off task, but on the other side of the screen there’s pen, ink, paints, paper, and boxes of presharpened blue Staedtler pencils.  A favorite work on creativity from this year is Lynda Barry’s “What It Is” (for a sense of Barry’s work, try  I like Barry’s work because it’s an enormously fun invitation to be creative in a low-tech way.

Caught in the act

I left Second Life about a year ago, just out of boredom. After months of clumsily navigating the environment, I had accumulated only 2 friends (Loser!), belonged to no groups, and had only one outfit (though it was a black leather bustier…) I just don’t seem to have the social skills required to connect in such an unfamiliar environment. Probably not that different from how many first year students experience coming to U of T, actually.

So I re-entered Second Life to earn my last Geek point and found some interesting, though not riveting, developments. Here’s a postcard of my avatar, Scout Winkler, at Virtual Ability, an island created for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses.

Scout at Virtual Ability

Scout at Virtual Ability

There’s lots of information to read on the island; they also have a mentoring program and hold group meetings for people looking for support, though there wasn’t much going on when I visited.

My search for educationally-purposeful content in SL ended when my partner (he is doing his masters in library science and is required to have a SL avatar!) invited me to teleport over to the Star Trek Museum of Science. Oh, the multiple levels of Geekiness! It’s like a bowl of Geek with a dollop of Geek on top!

Alas, our virtual escape ended when our 16-year-old son caught us in the act. His regular disdain for Second Life (“it’s just weird, mom”) turned to downright disgust when he found us side-by-side with laptops checking out the Holodeck and transporting ourselves to the main bridge of the Enterprise.

And so I end my last post with a familiar refrain. Though I love all of this stuff, I’m still not sure the next generation of undergraduate students buys into it. We see the potential – but do they?

– Fisher out.

I *do* believe in fairies…

Well, I’ve sprinkled myself with fairy dust, & I’ve *tried* to think a happy thought, but… well…I can’t fly. In fact, I can’t even get into Second Life. I have been asking my resident ‘geek’ about it, though, and have learned some interesting things–like that Second Life is a pretty good place for pervs (or was it ‘preds’?) to hang out (our latter day pirates, I guess). I decided to test this by setting up an account using a fake name, birth date, etc. I was too lazy (ah, maybe THAT’s why I couldn’t make it into the air) to set up a whole new email identity, but I’ve done that before and know it’s pretty straightforward, so, yeah, just about anyone could hang around there pretending to be, well, just your run-of-the-mill lost boy.

Anyway, I googled things like “Second Life learning skills” or “Second Life academic success” and didn’t find anything that got me that excited. I think there are possibilities for introducing models for really engaged learning in these virtual worlds, but most of what I found were people from, er, my generation trying to seem hip. But maybe I’m just sulking because I really really do believe in fairies, but I still can’t fly…

Simulated environments: Tools or Second Lives?

Unlike other geeky topics, I somewhat have a bias against Second Life. I am aware of how a simulated environment can literally become a persons’ life, for instance, I’ve heard of those obsessed with World of Warcraft. Now, after reading about virtual worlds and education I have different perspective of how environments such as Second Life can become an effective tool.

I am fascinated by what Robbie Dingo did and I can see the benefits of using it to explore art -say for art students- or for design students. However, what I find most interesting is the Loyalist College Video. Why? Because Second Life it’s been used as a tool and it is supported by other elements such as a classroom environment, probably a structured activity, other people (probably giving feedback), etc. The combination of all these elements constitute a good learning activity.

Years ago, I got an email from SimuLearn (an organization that does leadership training through simulations) and got into this podcast, (a conference from 2004) where they presented the idea of teaching leadership through simulations, like a video game.  According to the speaker, simulations can teach systems and I think he refers to processes, I mean, leadership is not a linear concept, right? So his idea is to create a systems model of leadership in order to train a leader; for instance, combine different variables: people, work-styles, personalities, needs, power, tension, group dynamics, goals, etc. and then you can create a simulation. I really don’t know how effective this simulation is, but I do see the value out of being creative around learning approaches.

Here is their video

I think about the sustainability of these type of projects, the amount of time that they can take (the design mostly) and their effectiveness. However, I think that there are endless possibilities of using simulated environments and collaborating with our students or faculty members to make that happen. I wonder if the Computer Sciences Department of other areas in the University could be brought together for a project like this.


Mixed feelings on Second Life

Last summer a friend told me about Second Life, and at the time I thought – wow cool – I want to try it. So now close to a year later, thanks to you Cheryl, I ventured bravely into a whole new world. I have to admit, to being able to fly at will is awesome although I am not so great on the landing part. My poor avatar – Sasha – is not particularly graceful when landing.

So, after fulfilling a dream to fly at will, as much I like, and changing the colour of my clothes and shoes, I started wandering around. It was then that I noticed that I was feeling self-conscious! In the meeting place, there were some strange, scary looking people that I found myself avoiding. I stopped in front of a sign, clicked on it, and all of a suddenly it was transmitting white dots to me – yikes, what did that mean? Then someone who I didn’t know wanted to be my friend! Now, I’m as friendly as the next person but I didn’t even know that guy! I was also trying to figure things out like how to get a job so I could buy or rent some land here in Second Life to build a house (no, I didn’t read the instructions!) and how to figure out where stuff was. I found myself thinking that this is what it felt like moving to a new place. In a strange way, I was experiencing the uncertainty of navigating in a new place. It surprised me because this was just a computer thing, but I was feeling this none the less.

All that being said, I think one application of Second Life for those of us that work closely with new students and international students is to serve as a reminder how uncertain new surrounding can make a person feel!