A significant number of UK institutions now have a presence in Second Life. Having spent a few weeks wandering around in the environment I wanted to share some thoughts related to using the World as a tool for learning.
There seems to be a potential conflict here when it comes to using Second Life as an e-learning tool.
There seems to be two approaches to creating your user; take a username somehow linked to your real-life name, or pick something completely new. Using your own name appears to be a newer thing for Second Life, all users from earlier have created names. I can see both ways- this is either creating an online version of your real life identity, or about adopting a completely new one. The conflict for me comes because both options are available. In games like Warcraft all players take on a new character that they choose to play, in Second Life people (at least that I have met so far) appear to go either way although the popular trend appears to be for new names.
Where this is interesting for educational organisations looking to get involved in SL is in most cases there is a need to force the users hand. I could see informal learning taking place using SL characters with no reference to RL, but all more formal opportunities are going to need some kind of link to who you are. I could choose to be whoever I liked in Second Life, but my tutor would need to know who I was, check I turned up, etc. This definitely blurs what is possible in terms of achieving any kind of virtual life that is distinct from your every day.
On the opposite side, who can tell? I could have chosen to sign up and appear to be another participant in our course, would anybody be any the wiser? Could I get somebody else to log in as me and do my tutorial session?
And either way, does it matter? Comes down to the expected outcomes I guess. Definitely more thinking/reading needed on this- identity, sense of self, responsibility, ownership seem to be the key issues around this kind of virtual reality environment.
Creating a unique appearance
It occurred to me midway through a tutorial session one evening that the limited number of initial appearances that are available is a potential barrier. The majority of our tutorial group all look weirdly related as we picked from the same set of basic options. Well aware you can do pretty much anything you like with your appearance, but it is a bit further up the skill set. If you can’t create something completely unique to you does it hinder your attachment to your character, and therefore your involvement in the environment?
Interesting to compare this to the Wii characters that from my experience seem to have a much better system for creating something far more unique. Although with those there is a very different approach, people in the main seem to create a Wiime to look like themselves, making a direct link to their real life selves. Second Life seems to adopt the opposite in the main.
This was another thought about identity and ownership. The default view has the camera sat just behind your character, observing their actions rather than a first person style view. From orientation I can see that the flexibility of the camera movement gives you a whole extra layer of tools to interact with the world, but does it make me feel more disconnected from my SL self?
One to expand on once I have visited more SL educational spaces, but the tutorial spaces in the Virtual University of Edinburgh don’t resemble a traditional classroom environment at all. Why would they considering the tools available to designers?
As school leaders though I am interested in what we can learn about design from this though. If given a completely free reign to design learning spaces the SL designers produce tents, bean bags, campfires, etc why our are architects still working with right angles, desks and plastic chairs? What value is there in more innovative approaches to design of learning spaces online, and does it reflect back in real world projects? Do SL establishments that teach round a campfire have more impact than those that have built a virtual classroom? Would this be enough data to influence our next building project? Doubt it, but it would be fun to try…