A Second Education

Yes, I know. There’s been a lot of hype about Second Life. I am skeptical as well. I know there are some folks who never metaverse they didn’t like (cue rim shot). I find myself in a situation much like I did (and still somewhat do) with podcasting and video. That is, what does it mean for me? How does it relate to the teaching of professional writing and/or my own research in new media (mobile) convergent media networked rhetoric and composition?

The answer to the latter may seem fairly obvious, or at least easier to justify than the former. But to answer you need to decide whether you think SL is the "next big thing" or a "fad" or "an interesting but ultimately flawed experiment." Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you can just study it and see what happens. That’s the position I’m taking. It’s also the position I’m taking in regard to my teaching.

There seems to be a sense, one that I encounter on discussions lists, that we need to make judgments in advance of study. Blogs, wikis, podcasts, social networks, youtube, second life: it’s all just hype (or not); it’s just amateurish drivel (or not); it’s corporate consumerism (or not) and so on. Perhaps some day we might ask such questions about the "academic discourse" we commonly teach in writing courses: how valuable is that stuff? to whom? At least we’d have some experience and knowledge on which to found our judgment (as if it were even conceivable in our discipline that we could reach the conclusion that such writing shouldn’t be taught).

But I digress.

One thing I have realized in working with iTunes U is that I have discovered answers to many questions about the value of audio and video to my work. I regularly find worthwhile media on the web to share with my class. I realize now that I would not want to teach a solely text-based online course. I’ve also realized that in many instances I can discover existing media content that makes more sense to use than creating my own. Just as I don’t write my own textbooks, there’s not a whole lot of sense to creating my own media, except in some specific instances. Those specific instances are mostly cases where I am responding directly to student concerns or course issues rather than speaking generally about a concept or course topic.

I’m sure, in the future, I will create some of my own media to share with others and use in my class, but I don’t foresee a future where the course media are primarily created by me.

I’m guessing a similar thing will be true in SL. Yes, I can have virtual office hours and meet with students. Yes I suppose I could give a virtual lecture and then discuss the matter with the audience (the discussion being the valuable part and the reason you’d do it in SL). Yes, my students could meet and collaborate there. And yes, SL offers one way of presenting a media installation of student work (btw, the cool thing about doing it this way rather than the standard web page portfolio is that you hold an opening and everyone comes and looks at stuff and discusses it).

But the thing I’m thinking is really of value is the opportunity the SL might offer for my students to work, in public, with others: on projects for SL, on projects for the web, and/or on other projects for the real world. It’s also another place where students can encounter knowledge. For example, let’s say I want to discuss Henry Jenkin’s theories of convergent media. We can read Jenkins’ book or other essays. We can read his blog. We can listen to an audio podcast or watch a video. But we can also maybe go and see him speak in Second Life.

Anyway, I’m guessing I’ll be finding out what works and what doesn’t.


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