Archive for November 13th, 2008

Second Life Opening Up Education

Yesterday (11/12/08) I attended a session on Second Life (SL) sponsored by the Harvard Alumni Association in partnership with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society entitled, “Second Life: Open Education and Virtual Worlds.”  One session presenter Professor Charles Nesson gave an overview of some of the advantages of SL as a pedagogical tool.  One comment he made in favor of SL was that it offers a “versimiliitude of presence” and has the potential for richness in communication that an on-line chat room cannot offer.  I have used on-line chats in my own teaching specifically for exam review sessions during which students ask questions directed to me (and also to others on line), and I have found them advantageous to both me and the students.  After doing some exploring on my own in SL (see post of 9/29/08), I can envision how a virtual presence can enhance the chat feature because SL uses a written text chat along with a visual of the avatars who are doing the chatting.  And the visual can be very engaging.

Along with the many advantages of using SL for courses Prof. Nesson also mentioned some caveats.  First, SL is still a bit crude and klutzy, and it has a steep learning curve.  I could not agree more.  As i wrote in my 9/29/08 post, I felt experienced quite disoriented in the virtual world, and the many clicks, arrows, and buttons required to move and behave my avatar take a lot of time to learn.  After devoting too many hours to SL, I decided to put it away before it ate up all my remaining sabbatical time in my “first life.”  But, I concur with Prof. Nesson when he stated that SL has great potential to be an effective educational environment of the future.”

The bigger issue Prof. Nesson spoke about concerned open access and open education.  He referred to the Open University Campaign and the student organization called Free Culture. The first paragraph of the “manifesto” of states that:

“The mission of the Free Culture movement is to build a bottom-up, participatory structure to society and culture, rather than a top-down, closed, proprietary structure. Through the democratizing power of digital technology and the Internet, we can place the tools of creation and distribution, communication and collaboration, teaching and learning into the hands of the common person — and with a truly active, connected, informed citizenry, injustice and oppression will slowly but surely vanish from the earth.”

This organization deals with issues surrounding intellectual property rights, and urges us to move away from “digital feudalism.” It’s a fascinating site; check it out.  There is also a link to get a free copy of Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig.

Back to the SL session.  The second presenter was Prof. Nesson’s daughter, Rebecca, who is is a doctoral student in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard. She is also a doyenne at Berkman Island in Second Life.  She talked about putting the open education concept into action by opening up courses to the public.  A course offered at the Law School is also offered in the Extension School through SL, and this extension school course is also open to the public. Although persons participating in these open courses do not get grades (as those in the Extension School and Law School do), they do participate in discussions with other course members who enroll in the traditional way.  Rebecca maintains that the participation is valuable and that all students, regardless of how they enroll, benefit.  This point of open participation which benefits all seems to resonate with the notion of “peering” from Wikinomics and Michael Wesch’s comment (in one of his Youtubes) that none of us is smart as all of us.

As I write about this SL session, I realize the ways in which the notions of connectivity, collaboration, creativity are themes which permeate all aspects of Web 2.0 technology run through Second Life as well.


November 2008
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