Second Life and the future of education

So we were instructed to visit two areas in Second Life and explore and evaluate their efficacy and usefulness as a learning environment.  I had never experienced Second Life before, and somehow bypassed any tutorial and just learned a lot of it by trial and error… which took a lot longer than learning it by tutorial might have taken.  Later I went through a tutorial which was really great and helped fill in some of the holes.  But here was my experience:

First we were instructed to visit Democracy Island (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Democracy%20Island/128/128/28).  This appeared to be a space set up to encourage group collaboration for people who were not necessarily geographically close to one another.  It also had a number of areas for people to watch live webinars and speakers.

There was a slide in one of the areas that said that their Instructional Design process was:  Development, Design, Deliberation, Consultation, Evaluation.

Some of the stuff I clicked didn’t ever seem to load.  I don’t know if that was a problem on their end or on my end.  I was warned that my graphics card might not be good enough to run Second Life, so maybe that had something to do with it.  It took me awhile to notice the “information” screen next to each of the bridges that lead to other areas.  That’s when I finally figured out what the idea behind the area was — but the signs were pretty small and easy to overlook.  When you clicked on the information screen, after the initial explanation of what Democracy Island was, there were three buttons that you could click to find out more information… but they would just say “loading” continuously and wouldn’t load for me.  More obvious directions or places to find directions would have made figuring this place out a lot easier.

The built in slide shows are where I got most of my information.  It took me awhile to notice that the slideshows were not on the first slide, so for awhile I thought they just had a few slides.  That was confusing.  When I finally figured out there were more, though, I was able to learn more about the project.

Our second area to explore was called Caledon Oxbridge University (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Caledon%20Oxbridge%20Village/174/61/36).

I started by just wandering around, letting it all sink in.  I was looking around for where I might go, and wandered into what ended up being a shop for what looked like Victorian era clothing.  Then I wandered into a school that let you play in games of fencing… which had a door that, when opened, had this spiral that implied that I’d be warped into another dimension.  I decided to take it, because why not, right?  So it took me to an outdoor fencing arena.  At the outdoor fencing arena I saw another, smaller door.  Again, for the heck of it, I opened and took it… and then I was standing in someone’s private home.  And they were there.  And it was really awkward.  But I didn’t know it was his private home until he came over and told me.  Hah!  He came over and said hi… and helped me get to the tutorial area, plus gave me some notecards with information on them. Their tutorial was very well organized, much clearer than Democracy Island.  I think there should have been some big clear sign at the area where you teleport to initially that directs you to the tutorial site.  If there was one, I missed it… Instead, I had to break the rules and wander into someone’s private residence to find it!  (I only found out it was bad etiquette to walk into a private residence without an invitation after I went through their tutorial, though!).

The tutorial area was really helpful.  It gave a step by step directions for all the basics of Second Life.  The arrows on the ground helped direct where we should go next, and there were people all around that were there to help you and answer any questions you had. Each large poster gave directions over a certain topic.  Some allowed you to practice what you just learned, and gave you prizes if you did it right.  Many of the avatars standing around were associated with the university, and would walk up to you and welcome you, and ask if you had any questions — it was very helpful!

Overall, I found Second Life to be a very interesting experience.  I can think of some really interesting uses for it in the future.

Does the 3-D contribute to learning according to what you know from psychology or pedagogical practice?

I do think 3-D contributes to learning.  It’s kind of like the Loci method in a way – you’re learning about new information in an environment, giving you another layer of memory coding in your brain (not just textual or audio, but visual as well).  I remember learning in psychology that you should study where you intend to take a test over material, because simply being in the environment where you  learned new material can help you recall it.  I also once read an article that your brain compartmentalizes your memories of a space, and when you simply walk through a doorway it resets your memory to store information in the new compartment for the new room (so to speak).  By mimicking the real world environment using 3D environments, I’m sure our memory would react to these 3D worlds in similar ways that it reacts to the real world, and thus they can contribute to learning.

Does the immersive experience contribute to the learning for you or the members of the group? Are you the intended audience? Would it work for another audience?

I think the immersive experience definitely contributed to my learning experience in both areas.  It makes it more of an exploratory experience, which encourages curiosity, which is really important in learning new things.  For Democracy Island I feel like the public in general is the audience – anyone who wants to see their live webinars or speakers can fly in and attend.  They have a lot of seating available, so I imagine it really feels like you’re sitting among people watching a presentation.  It’s a neat idea.  It made me think about how I could build and incorporate stuff like this into a high school classroom.

The tutorial area at the university was DEFINITELY made for people like me :).  It was all the beginning steps of being part of Second Life.  It was very welcoming, very informative, and really well done.  They hold classes and everything!  How cool is that?

The Future of Education

I think about this a lot.  How can and should classrooms as we know them change in the coming years?  I’ve played a lot with this idea.  I really believe that we will never completely get rid of brick and mortar schools because the face-to-face social interactivity of schools is a main facet of school life, and I think an important aspect of adolescent (and human!) development.  That being said, I can certainly see schools which implement more flipped designs, or have times of the day where you’re independently studying your online modules, and parts of the day where you are processing that new information in a more sociable, traditional-classroom style environment.  I really think Second Life could be used in very cool ways by instructors — but I also bet it takes a LOT of time to set up something that works and looks as great as the University site did.  It would have to be curriculum that does not change that frequently, otherwise it might not be worth the work it takes to build a location if you have to change it very often.  I’m already thinking about group work and presentations in a virtual world… how cool!  I’ll have to play with this further…

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