More thoughts on Second Life…

[The following is adapted from my responses to our courses Laulima discussion forum. I have removed any references to colleagues names and will only add them back in via links to their own blogs on an individual opt-in basis out of respect for privacy.]

In response to the problem of learning curve of adapting to Second Life:

  • I think the learning curve becomes much more worth whatever difficulties that come up when SL or other similar platforms are used over a long period of time for many classes. What if entire K-12 experiences or Universities were organized with SL or some other virtual environment? Then the learning curve, whatever it takes, certainly becomes much more worth the “trouble”. You would continue building more and more value in your avatar and relations and epic story motivating your learning, not to mention a sizable inventory.
  • I also think the trouble of mastering the platform might transfer to other contexts more than you one might thing. It seems to me that learning more and more platforms that you would get better at learning new platforms. I say this growing up as a gamer such that now learning new games is pretty intuitive. I have never once had to use a game manual. I realize that might not be true of everyone though, which leads to my next point.
  • I think there is perhaps much less of a learning curve for newer generations but that could also be culturally and economically dependent as well as based on differing levels of ability/disability. I started thinking of what something like SL would look like applied categorically as an integral part of education and some interesting stuff came up for me. At first I worried that those who could not master the platform(s) as easily would end up with terrible disadvantages in the “job market.” That might seem a funny concern for someone like myself who is seeking to abolish the job market and to establish a more egalitarian society, but it seems like a problem worth highlighting that broad application of this EdTech poses within the current dominant paradigm. Beyond differences in learning curve based on predisposition to gaming, I pondered that those who are visually impaired and those with other disabilities that interfere with their ability to engage in a digital environment would be even further marginalized in a society where virtual environments become foundational to education. But then I thought perhaps those barriers could in fact be eroded rather than reinforced if the virtual environments are so advanced to the point of immersive brain machine interface technology that allows for direct sensory inputs of the digital environment to the participants’ brains. Some key films animating my imagination as to what such a society might involve are Brain Storm (1983), The Lawnmower Man (1992), Johnny Mnemonic (1995), Strange Days (1995), Surrogates (2009). In any case the technology I am referring to is already real enough and it is something I have had a research interest in for quite some time. This both fascinates and terrifies me. There will always be a learning curve to whatever technology and while I have just advocated that SL is worth learning I remain very critical of the role that the colonization of the digital world and tech sectors play over our minds and bodies, not to mention the health of the earth itself. For more of my thoughts on the particular benefits I see in maintaining a longer term educational trajectory within SL, see posts 1 & 2. While it might be an even more intense learning curve than SL alone as it is, I am thinking a virtual world based educational paradigm capable of sustainable existence (i.e. not destroying the earth) could involve some combination of Biomodd technologies but guided by something like AbTeC (Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace). I guess the crux, if there is one, of what I am getting at with this response to the “learning curve” problem is that we are in some epicly challenging times, education itself has been a major piece of getting us into the present planetary crises in the first place, and the range of things that we will all have to learn to get out of this mess will involve a massive learning curve for everyone. Learning the diverse skills we will need is not likely to fit well at all with the current dominant paradigms of education. Given the level of threat we are currently facing as a species on earth, the irony just struck when it clicked that we are talking about the difficult of learning Second Life. If the comedy of that doesn’t immediately hit the reader I will offer a clue:

Image result for 1 up mushroom

We just need a bunch of those and we can easily have a second life, and another, and another and another. Now that seems simple enough to me!

In response to language teaching in SL:

  • In accord with Rachel’s response and as a language teacher myself as well, the benefits of SL or other virtual environments are not so much about using it to lecture in the way one would with a Power Point or even with BlackBoard Collaborate. I get really excited thinking about it because it offers a virtual space of encounter at a distance. As Rachel mentions, tasks or projects can happen in that virtual environment that go well beyond a lecture. Context and immersion are key to language learning. Additionally as I mention in my other post, I get really excited about the idea of how it provides remote access to persistent worlds that could be populated by any number of native speakers of whatever language(s).

Is it worth the time and money?

  • I also have this question. Despite all the good points and strengths I feel it has, I am much more inclined to favor something that is free and open source. If I were to make a cost benefit analysis as someone not critical of capitalism just looking to implement something in the current education system without transforming capitalist relations of production to a more egalitarian and sustainable society, I might say it is definitely worth the time and money. However, the real me is more cautious of unwittingly assisting Linden Labs in becoming a new plutocracy in an educational future dominated by Second Life and so I am more inclined to focus energies elsewhere in the long run. Regardless it seems a potentially very fruitful place to engage in the meantime, considering there are ways to do so without actually paying any money for real estate and, as I mention elsewhere one could see it as a site of conflict and generative tension with capitalist relations of production. I guess to see where it makes the most sense to invest time, money, and energy among various options we will need to have a full scope of the options though. I think everything has benefits and limitations and we can justify anything in isolation, but what is optimal? We can also engage in a variety of fronts and virtual worlds/settings. Multiworld gaming guilds are good for that. Just sayin…


Motivating interest and virtual environment course catalogs?

I think what stands out to me most from one colleague’s post is the strength of SL in introducing a subject and motivating interest. I definitely agree with the limitations around many topics, that certain things could only be learned to a very limited extent and the welding example offered is a good one for that. Revisiting this concern in reading that post and now replying just brought me to a space of considering the capacity of SL, Open Sim, or other virtual worlds for acting as a sort of course catalog. What if when registering for classes, the majority of which could still be taking place in person and be based in our human bodies, prospective students took a look at the entire course catalog for the upcoming term in the form of a virtual world. Instead of just a class title and few sentences describing the topic, students could interact with a whole range of digital artifacts and potentially live avatars associated with the class who guide them in a basic introduction of what they will be focusing on.

On student/youth safety in virtual worlds:

I definitely agree with the concerns another colleague raised about parent reactions to their children’s experiences in SL in schools and especially about cyber bullying and predators. I feel like those aren’t as much barriers to teaching and learning in general though as they are barriers to use of SL in Education. Not that I am saying you are answering the “wrong” question or anything like that, I just feel it is necessary to make that distinction since teaching and learning are so often conflated with education and I find that to be an extremely detrimental fact for our freedom to learn. Yet as I ponder further it seems like those are still issues that would need to be addressed in a homeschooling, deschooling, or unschooling context as well. I think they are challenges that become learning opportunities themselves. Cyber safety and proper protocols for self protection are very important skills for parents and young people to learn. I have heard that predators will even pretend to be children themselves playing in virtual worlds populated by actual children and use that to get information. This same concern recently came up for me and I simply told the young ones in my case that sometimes there are dangerous people pretending to be someone they are not in order to gain information to harm others and they should be aware of that and not share personal details with anyone in those virtual worlds. I am sure much more can be done than just that, but that is what I have for now on this topic. I found some useful looking sources with this search, including this guide and this story from NBC Miami (their message is “turn off the chat function = most important thing you can do” although that seems counterproductive in many educational contexts considering communication is key).

On interdisciplinarity and SL:

My undergraduate program, Comparative History of Ideas, was/is interdisciplinary. So was/is the program I was in for the entirety of my high school experience. I think the virtual worlds really lend themselves to interdisciplinary learning and even seem out of place trying to maintain the silos of the disciplines. Not that you are necessarily super critical of the existence of the disciplines as such or that I see no value at all in them, but I am quite critical of how the university is chopped up. I think it mirrors the way that universities and the empires that create and maintain them chop up the universe/multiverse. Layla AbdelRahim notes in Wild Children – Domesticated Dreams: Civilization and the Birth of Education that it is not a mere coincidence that discipline is synonymous with punishment and that education trains us to accept and exert violence on behalf of “civilization.” You can listen to an interview with Layla AbdelRahim here if interested. Similarly, in my own research I draw connections between the primary and highest paid disciplines/members of academia (doctors, judges, lawyers, engineers, and material scientists) to their origins in the witch hunts of Europe. The higher paid disciplines are the ones that serve(d) particularly crucial tasks in dispossessing the witches and their peoples of their lands and in designing and building the infrastructure of the empire upon those lands expropriated by the Enclosures. Interesting stuff if you ask me…of course I am biased when it comes to my own research!

Back to the value of interdisciplinarity, sometimes just called life, I am especially thinking of the form of extended continuous stories. What epic quest contains itself to a single discipline? Any good quest is going to involve the whole range. A solid party of adventurers contains a solid team with various members holding various specialties and optimally nobody who is hyperspecialized to the point of being a burden when it comes to any challenge the group faces other than what is squarely within their particular area.

I also agree with those expressing the necessity of knowing the limitations we are working with in SL. Perhaps hybrid experiences designed with all the benefits and limitations in mind could be where it’s really at. I am all for collaborations in designing and playing out epic interdisciplinary quests in the virtual and AFK worlds. You know where to find me 😉

Image credit: DetendoBrony on DeviantArt

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