My class and I met in Second Life today rather than via our traditional Adobe Connect session. It was definitely an unusual experience. We’re all pretty new to SL, so we had a little trouble learning to control our avatars and getting back to our instructor after wandering off to explore the first time was a bit of a challenge. Once we worked out a few of the kinks, it was really pretty fascinating.
Some of the educational benefits were pretty obvious. We explored the Stanford Libraries, where we were able to read virtual books, interact with kiosks and screens, and explore the grounds which had a lot of interesting artifacts. Next we visited Le Mont Saint Michel. This location is supposed to be a fairly accurate representation of the real place. I did find one poster which provided information about the site, but as a group, we decided tour information, location maps, opening the virtual department of ministry, or even permitting flying would have helped with the educational aspects of exploring that space. Next we went to Genome Island. That spot was rich with educational information. There was a scavenger hunt and virtual tour we could take part in, all kinds of kiosks, posters, interactive sessions, student displays, presentations, etc. There were many ways to explore the human genome from the inside and see what it is that makes us unique. Next we went to 1920’s Chicago. This site was replete with adult themes from girly shows to gang violence, and it provided us with the opportunity to talk about the ethical and moral problems of using SL with children and the potential for exposure to such graphic scenes. Finally we went to Park High School, where we watched an animation on carbon monoxide pollution (the school bus was spewing it) and then wrapped up with a group discussion.
Some obvious benefits to education include the ability to take students into an immersive environment where they can experience other places, other times, fictional or literary settings, or things impossible to explore in real life (such as the human genome). It allows them to have experiences that would be impossible or dangerous in reality, such as the ability to fly, walk on water or fire, try their hand at piloting a plane, or mess with chemical mixtures to see what kind of reaction occurs. Because of the ability to fly in SL, avatars can get a bird’s eye view of their environment, allowing them to see things from a different perspective than a person can view it on the ground. Even if you were to go to the location in the real world, the inability to fly in real life would limit your perspective.
There was also the social-constructivist element. I learned far more exploring with my class than I would have on my own. Just exploring on my own would have been interesting, but it was only when the group got back together and discussed what we had seen that the juices really got going. Their ideas spawned new ones in me, and I think my ideas helped them as well.
One disadvantage to the experience was having to type everything. One of my team members and I could communicate verbally, but the instructor could not and neither could the rest of my class. It made it difficult to learn because typing everything took three times longer than speaking.
All in all I felt it was a positive experience with real benefits for students.