Friday, May 04, 2007

The Tao of Spider-man and Teaching in Second Life

It is Super Hero season in the Guth house. Ok, it ALWAYS super hero season around here. They range from Super Grover to Spidey, and, well, every day is about truth, justice, and flying around the living room with paper towels stuffed in the underpants in lieu of a proper cape.

In any event, I get to watch Spider-man A LOT. The best quote, as we all know, is declared by Uncle Ben; "with great power comes great responsibility."


In the past few weeks, I have done a lot of tours inworld and via Skype for faculty members, administrative Deans, college presidents, and just regular teachers landing in SL for the first time. In those tours, I try to address the criticism head on - since I am a converted critic, this is an easy task. One criticism pops out a lot, and it is one that I don't have a good answer to yet. Is SL adding to the course content, or is it replacing course content?

The answer is an ENHANCEMENT (sheesh, who let THAT guy in the meeting?). But, is that REALLY the case?

Teaching English can be very rewarding (someone ought to remind me of that when I am knee deep in comma splices), but it is also challenging. Sometimes I simply can't get my students to give a rat's banana about Mary Wollstonecraft (they tend to love her daughter until they find out that Frankenstein is the doctor's name and she inadvertently forgot to name the monster - a point that their professor seems to find fascinating, and, jeeeez louise, who let THAT woman in the room???).

told ya...I'm a nerd...don't be fooled by pixels...


Teaching English in Second Life will help breathe life into some of these characters. Who can pass up the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage dressed as their fave Chaucer rendition? In blowing dust off these poets, I can (hopefully) infuse some of my passion into the chronically apathetic students.

But will Second Life technology get in the way?

I have attended several presentations by students in various disciplines. I needed to know if the technology was squishing the course objectives. Seeing as the course objectives weren't handy at the time, I couldn't assess (nor did I want to try) the teaching or leadership of my colleagues. But, in a general sense, I can say that most of the presentations asked students to focus on the technology and not necessarily the content. I thought of the prophetic words of my English Grandma; "what is a pretty dish with nothing in it?"

This made me sad.

This confirms the boos of the nay saying crowd.

This needs to be addressed as a community.

It is great to have students build great stuff. If you teach 3D design, this is a great tool. I can also see how building and scripting might lend itself to a business course or architecture courses or any number of courses. But, somewhere in there, SOMEWHERE, there has to be the old fashioned and traditional course content...right?

I think about Chaucer. We are planning this pilgrimage. But, the students will HAVE to read the tales to be able to PORTRAY a character and then to GUESS which avatar is representing which character. So the text is tied directly to the activity. If I asked my students to plan the event, build the walkway, and script the tavern, that wouldn't teach them a single thing about the tales, would it? If I had them design the Wife of Bath's outfit, would that be complimenting the text? Is it enough of a compliment to the text? Is it enough for a college level British Literature course? Justifications can be made, probably, for either side.

I am going to stab myself right in the toe before inserting it in my mouth here, but the best practices in actual content delivery come from the sciences. The Gene Pool and the Blue Obelisk Graveyard game are content driven.

I haven't seen a lot in the humanities, but Caledon has the best exhibits (no doubt a testimony to their incredible librarian, JJ Drinkwater). The content is rich; the information is well cited. But, again, those aren't teacher/student activities.

In one of the tours this week, someone pointed out they they saw all the teachers but didn't see any students. I wanted to hand him my guitar for a rousing rendition of Where Have All the Students Gone...but figured someone would eject me.

I don't know where the students are...I only know a handful of people brave enough to get students in there (Sarah Robbins and Bryan Carter). Everyone else is either "planning to do it soon" or "thinking about ways to do it." Really; in the words of Nike, "Just Do it" (or is that the drug wait, that was Just Say No...ok...brain on overload...sheesh).

This comment was followed up by the same gentleman who said, "yeah; I see a lot of beautiful empty buildings. Nothing is ever going on there." I encouraged him to come back, as it seems to have REALLY picked up in the last few months. But, in a sense, he is right. We all have gorgeous lairs, but we sit and wait for Beowulf to come to least Grendel went OUT once and while for a bite to eat ;p

So, back to the Tao of Spider-man. People are watching us. Critics are smugly safe in their desk chairs (or if they are faculty, they are doing shooters of tequila to celebrate the last of exams...unless they work at which I offer my sincere sympathy and a copy of the Chronicle).

The SLeducation community has great power. We have the ability to shape this environment. But that power totes GREAT responsibility. We simply CAN NOT allow the technology to obliterate content; we can not have pretty dishes with nothing in them.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Excellent comments and point! I truly appreciate your blog and the work you do. In particular, this post caused me to rethink thoughts I've offered regarding the "quality integration of Second Life into learning environments." My blog post refers to yours; I hope you don't mind (

-Chris (Topher Zwiers)