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May 17, 2007

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» Virtual Classrooms in Second Life from Kotaku
Terra Nova has an interesting interview up with one instructor at the Harvard Extension School; the topic is teaching in Second Life. The project at Harvard started with one course - CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion... [Read More]

Comments

1.

>here's no threading in the discussions.

There's a simple way that this could be ameliorated.

In the Sims Online, when you wish to chat, you open up a full-sized square box. You type more than a half line, you tend to complete a thought and type a paragraph. That paragraph becomes a balloon out of your character's mouth.

In Second Life, you tend to type only half a line, and that means a tenth of a thought.

You type it, and while you are still wishing to say something, someone else intervenes with their half line and half thought. You hasten to print yours, and so it goes, each perhaps half lines and half thoughts tumbling over each other.

While you can opt to put chat like a balloon, few do, possibly as they find it isn't "like the IRC channel enough" for them.

Indeed, like other aspects of SL, chat suffers from the pernicious influence of IRC channel culture that makes one big giant scroll with people constantly riffing, being humorous, making one-liner non-sequiturs, etc. the norm. That culture was absent from TSO because people spoke in whole paragraphs. It made them listen more, and be nicer to deal with.

Such a simple thing -- a box for a paragraph, a half line for only half a thought -- of such things worlds and cultures are made of.

2.

Great post. Lots of fertile stuff here.

As for the chat/threading issue, I suspect that, as Prokofy Neva says, those who are used to a certain style of chat want to keep it, even if it's limited. I would expect that a new set of expectations/style can be developed w/o too much trouble. It might need to be explicitly spelled out to get people in a class to work together on it. But it shouldn't be too hard; people in different cultures and subcultures have different expectations for classrooms, but new expectations can be made.

In the mid-90s, I co-directed a "live roleplaying game" that ran only 3 events in spring and 3 events in fall, but people wanted to continue the experience more often, so we tried using an AOL chat room (or roomS, really). It took a while, and some liked it more than others, but once we adapted to the new context, it worked decently.

3.

I can't help but bring this idea back up -- perhaps it does deserve it's own independent post -- but it's interesting that this was a law course. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that physical classroom buildings be accessible for students with disabilities -- who will be responsible for making that virtual classroom accessible? Is it Linden? Or is it the instructor/university? So I'm wondering what a law professor would have to say about this very real and probably not far off issue?

4.

@Michelle : remember Terri Schiavo ? These lawyers , ignoring the very reality of ADA but wasting taxpayers' money playing a game and pretending they are " instucting ", are the same with those who killed Terri for money. Does it sounds " pathetic " ? It is.

5.

Michelle, I'm glad you raised this issue. Although I'm neither an expert on the ADA nor a law professor, I'm happy to add my two cents. Whether or not the ADA applies to virtual classrooms, my personal commitment to fairness and openness dictates that I/we find some solution to this problem.

Luckily, we are actually in a position to begin addressing it. Now that the SL viewer is open source, it is possible to create a version of it that will work with screen reader technologies. I'm not sure what sort of development community has arisen around the SL viewer, but it seems like this would be a very good project for it to undertake. As universities begin to commit to the environment and face the potential legal issue, they will likely be willing to contribute their (perhaps financial) support. If some aspects of the user experience are not communicated to the viewer in a way that is easily usable for providing a text-based representation, Linden Labs might be called upon to enrich the API available to the viewer.

Other notes:

* It is hard for me to imagine that the ADA would apply directly to Linden Labs rather than to universities that use SL as a platform for teaching. However, Linden Labs has made a substantial commitment to education in Second Life and would presumably consider it important to make it possible for university-associated educators to continue using it.

* A low-tech solution (similar to the one used for hearing-impaired students in lecture classes) is to provide an assistant for the student who can provide the necessary access to the environment.

6.

Thanks for your reply, Rebecca! I've also given thought to the low-tech solutions, as it's more often than not used to help students with web-based courseware accessibility. I'm not sure how other campuses operate but at the University of Illinois these assistants are either paid employees of the university or volunteers. I hadn't thought about this before but I'm wondering about the financial case that could be made as more professors explore teaching in virtual worlds? It would be a gamble but what if more financial resources were put toward creating accessible mods or UIs for these, would it be, at least eventually, more cost effective? Unfortunately I'm not an economist of any sort so I'd need some assistance with figuring this out even if only for our campus, which has a VERY high percentage of students with disabilities.

I personally would have a nightmare in a class in Second Life because one disability I will make public now is Dyslexia (I've always wondered about the wiseness of the spelling of that word for those of us WITH it). For many reasons, I feel like I'm getting less, not more information, and left out of the learning community MUCH more so than a traditional classroom because of how many ways and how many OVERLAPPING ways text is presented in these environments. I *can* access the environment but it's so often a very embarrassing situation (so a huge part of the barrier is psychological) that I've given up. I LOVE the idea of Second Life and other MMOGs but at the end of the day, it's not, well, fun or practical for me.

So I would need an assistant, which would be the first time I would have ever required one -- not very empowering when I've spent my life being proud of being completely independent of assistance for this disability (with invisible disabilities, you often figure out work arounds very quickly and I was also diagnosed very late into my schooling when I'd already learned my own ways of engaging with written materials).

I'm not sure that there is a solution for MMOGs and people like me, just as others on TN have speculated on the incredible feat creating a solution for potential blind MMOG players/users. But regardless I think it's interesting to speculate on and it's the first time I have ever faced a digital disability -- that is, one that is created DUE to a particular technology. As far as most other games go, I have no problems or I at least know how I learn so I know what strategies I need to use to best play the game. But MMOGs? A completely different story.

I know...it's interesting that I post this month on TN given I'm not in the user group but I think that it's an important thing to get out there -- that there are those of us who want to not only experience but have an enjoyable and empowering experience MMOGs that are really being left out of the community.

This was all supposed to be my final post of the month (and will still be) but I'm finding that I'm needing to "out" myself sooner than later!

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