Monday, February 26, 2007

What's on First?

I am sad that The London Review of Books article, Jowls are Available by Jenny Diski, is dead wrong. I love the writing style of Diski, but I wish she would have explored SL to its fullest. Sadly, it appears that she, like so many critics, stood at the door to form her opinion.

The first great mistake is that Diski only sees SL as a game; "It’s called a game though there is no goal and no end point at which a clear winner emerges and takes the prize." I have accidentally called it a game, and I have stood corrected. It isn't a game; it is a MUVE, and there are incredible differences between the two. If this was her foundation, and she was looking for that final prize to win, then, certainly, she had the wrong perspective the whole time.

The second mistake is that Diski assumes that the majority of residents in SL are homebody creatures without the RL resources to have culture. She claims that "Second Life is organised and inhabited by beings from the real world who have by definition very little experience of being anywhere or any way else." Untrue, my dear. I challenge her to meet Charlie and Becca Nesson from Harvard. I challenge her to meet the residents - non-academic- speaking 4 and 5 languages. I challenge her to meet the many residents, as I have, that travel the world. I have met more persons with "breeding" than not...but perhaps it is because I was willing to step into the world and not just hang out in the newbie areas?

The third mistake is that Diski believes that 'there is no second life on Second Life, only more of the same old first and only one, but cartoon-shaped." Again, this is a short-sighted perception. Perhaps she didn't see the right places? Perhaps she didn't look? I question her methods and criteria, frankly. WHAT did she look at to form her opinion? Where did she go? There is a whole lot that is similar, but, again, only if you stand on the corner and peek through the window. If you get INTO the culture, you find much more depth.

She also claims that she couldn't find political activism - when RL organizations like the ACLU are present in SL and offer support to SL residents. Further, groups like Code Pink (Women against War) use SL as a place to spread their political messages. There are lot of RL groups spreading their messages by hosting talks, memorials, etc. But, again, I am not sure she would have seen that standing on the corner.

Her comments remind me very much of people who say they have been to France, but, in reality, have only ever been in the airport waiting for a transfer flight to somewhere else. You can't judge a culture by what they offer in the snack machine. You have to explore the land; you must find the nooks and crannies. This is true in real life, and it is true in Second Life.

It is very easy to see SL as just a copy of a FL with glitter. The better reporter is the one that figures out why sooooo many people choose to spend time and money building this alternate universe.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Shopping Tips

So, I posted some SL shopping hot spots over at Stingy Scholar in preparation for my very first SPA DAY in Second Life! I am taking anyone around for a few hours of avatar transformation. Join the fun....IM me inworld or email me!

Ohhhh....and see I know allll about makeovers...those are my before and after shots up there!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Game....or Lifestyle?

My buddy, Brett Bixler, has corrected me. It is worth a good discussion. His post about SL is worth reading.

Second Life is not a game in his estimation, and, after reading his post, I agree. Thanks, Brett!

Over at Stingy Scholar....

As some of you know, I also write for Stingy Scholar. I am starting a review series of awesome places to go in Second Life.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Literature Alive! and other Tales

I wouldn't consider myself a gamer in the classical sense. As a product of the 80s, I am fond of games like PacMan and Space Invaders, and I spent quite a bit of time at the local 7-11 playing pin ball with my brother.

I like games that can be used to teach basic concepts (vocabulary, decision making, etc.), but I only like them if I can see and appreciate the added value for a student. There is no point in using a game to teach a concept that can be taught a better way. The EduFrag project, for example, helps make "skill and drill" more fun than I could ever make it in real life. So it is worth it to me to use.

Second Life isn't a game; it is a multi-user virtual environment (MUVE). I have been toying with it to see what it can be used for in the classroom. Can it be used to teach a concept in a new way? Are there other ways to deliver content that are more practical? What are the risks? Do they outweigh the benefits?

In talking to various people about Second Life in higher education, I have come to understand why I think it is so valuable as a teaching tool.

As a community college instructor, I am very sensitive about the amount of money our students have to pay out in order to receive a good education. I am also aware of the personal restrictions they face (full time jobs, families, etc.). Second Life allows me to take them on virtual field trips without ever leaving PA. It also allows me to present content in new ways.

The Literature Alive! project is part of the Community College without Borders project. It is aimed at bringing humanities education alive in Second Life by combining academic, corporate, and residential ideas together.

Right now, this includes two living classrooms in the Knightsbridge sim. In real life, Knightsbridge is a posh section of London. The SL creator, Debs Regent, is building a life life living community in-world. Each house in-world is fashioned after an existing house in real life. So, I rented two.

One house is my SL residence, and is like a living farm (the Amish have them...). Basically, the entire house is furnished in Victorian period furniture. Every is clickable. When you click on it, you get notecard with a reading, an assignment, or a web link. There is a home theater on the second floor with movies (right now just my presentation from BCC), and there will be a working library on the third floor. This is the classroom for my summer Brit Lit students. These are online students who might never meet in real life, but might in SL. Also, the classroom is open to all educators for use.

The second house is a student gallery. This is a place for students to place displays. Right now, one of Bryan Carter's students is creating a display on the History of Optometry. In real life, I would have never met this student, but SL allows me to help this student create citeable material in prep for medical school. I pay him Linden to be my research assistant because I don't want him wasting his time sitting in camping chairs to make Linden. So, I pay him to help me set up displays and to do his research. In this sense, SL is incredible because it allows this student to have the help of two professors. Bryan Carter is his grade granting professor, and will guide him through the research process. As a colleague, I will help support Bryan and the student by providing some space for rich content. Without SL, I would never have met either of them.

I have also met other incredible educators like Sarah Robbins (Intellagirl Tully). I observed her class the other night, and was blown away by how she uses SL to teach live.

So, we know that Second Life can be used to deliver content and experiences that we could never provide in real life. The connections, themselves, are worth it. And, the academic resources are tremendous. But, what are the risks?

For one, there is a lot of adult content. As I told Vicki Davis when I was giving her a tour, there is a lot of content that is not edifying. This is a concern for K-12 teachers. But, how do we respond as college educators?

Well, here is the bottom line. When I was at Penn State, I took students on Spring Break service trips for Habitat for Humanity. During the day, I was responsible to guide them and make the experience worthwhile, educational, and appropriately fun, But, in their evening free time, they were free to make their own choices. I could guide them toward positive content, but the decisions resided in them. The same is true in SL; students make decisions about their free time. Since they are adults, they might choose to partake in seedy content. But, if I provide them with edifying content, they will soon get bored by the other stuff.

More risky than seeing naked pixels is the emotional side of SL. In other games, UnReal Tourney or the Sims, the player does not have to worry about the feelings of others. But, in an environment like SL, there are real people playing, and it is hard to portion out heart, head, and game.

Sometimes, games like SL can draw a population of people who lack social skills in RL. Since all of SL is about written communication via chat, it is sometimes hard to sort out the good from the bad. Also, since no one has to verify anything (including gender), there is no way to know if someone is honest. There are quite a few people that don't believe I am really a teacher, for example....they think it is part of my "game." So, it is important to go over social skills with students. Again, it is very much like the field trip might meet a cute avatar...but you are only here for a careful.

The collaborative nature in SL is incredible. This, alone, makes the tool worthwhile. My students will be meeting students from all over the world. On Friday, I am hosting a dance for college students to help them get connected. The inworld club, Aerolite, has been very good to allow me to use their facility to host student social gatherings. I am excited that my students will broaden their social connections while learning basic concepts like cause and effect writing.

Overall, SL is a powerful educational tool. There are some risks...but all learning involves at risk at some level.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Interview with an Avatar

I was very fortunate to be interviewed by The Baltimore Sun Reporter Stephanie Shapiro on my uses of SL as an instructional and research tool.

That was a lot of fun, and I will write more about it later. But, I mentioned these folks:

The Cyber One Project - Harvard School of Law, Charlie and Becca Nesson
The Black Sun II - Dr. Bryan Carter (and student Richard Mnumonic), UCM
Aerolite Dance Club and Mall - Liam Clinton and Sophia Harlowe, Owners
Middletown - Sarah Robbins/Intellagirl Tully
The UsefulChem Project - Jean-Claude Bradley, Drexel University
The London Sim Project - Debs Regent, et al
Verum's Place and The Diversity Project - Verum Vacirca, Owner
Phoenix Designs (student laptops) - Neoznet Watts, Owner
Aerolite Studios (community college building project) - Liam Clinton and Neoznet Watts, Consultants
Literature Alive! - Beth Ritter-Guth, LCCC

Monday, February 12, 2007

Cool Video from the NMC

This is a sweet movie from the NMC and Second Life.

Observations on Gender Communication

Well, sadly, my study on gender discourse in SL is ending. I decided to cut my research early for a few reasons. First. it is virtually impossible to verify any data. Second, I don't have RL samples of the same sort. Third, I want to work on other projects in SL. SL has been a whirlwind experience for me, but I see its value.

Since I can not verify that men are men and women are women, it is impossible to know whether the communication patterns are gender connected. Further, I can not prove my initial hypothesis - that SL, as a utopian community, fully embraces the communication structure of lifeworld and system communication as presented by Jurgen Habermas. The evidence just doesn't exist.

My research has been gathered in a dance club. Most of the other female dancers are at home moms or single moms in their 30s. None of them are dancers, escorts, etc. in real life. More than half, myself included, have ever been to a club of this type. Further, most of us, myself included, do not know women or men in this profession. Therefore,I have no real basis for comparison, and I don't intend to study this in RL.

When i first went into SL, I had designed a virtual Barbie. My idea that a Barbie with Brain would solicit a unique kind of response in a dance club was wrong. I am treated as all the others. Most people are kind and fun. Some people are not. It is just the same as real life. It is really annoying that my avie gets hit on 12 times a day, on average, by newbies looking for sex. I have learned that I would not be happy as a Barbie in RL; I couldn't handle all that attention. People are forced to love me for my wit and charm....and I prefer it that way.

I wouldn't say that the whole enterprise was a waste; I have learned a lot about myself. I also made a lot of great friends. I hope to keep them as I move on. I will likely host a college night each week at the club, but I will serve as a hostess.

I have decided that I want to use SL for other things. I really want to use it to teach, but I do not want to do research. I am working creating a houseof the Jane Austin Period. I will also do some work in Calendon. I have found a whole new world of historians and others that share my passion for teaching and learning.

Gaming Presentation

This is a link to a presentation I am giving today at BCCC.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

OCC 2007 Tour Pics

The night tour meets in London - at Desi's house in Knightbridge!

Dr. Bryan Carter's SL classroom at Black Sun II...

The tour group hits the sploder at Aerolite Dance Club!

The tour group visits Verum's Place and learns about the Diversity Project.

Desi chatting in class at ItellaGirl Tully's Classroom!

Friday, February 09, 2007

OCC 2007 Tour

I had a wonderful time today giving tour to some colleagues participating in the OCC2007 online conference.

I am amazed by how SL connects educators!