Second Life World University Exchange

I haven’t had much time to write here. All the normal excuses. One of the things I’ve been busy with is our Second Life Pilot project. Last week we finally got ourselves set up so that students could get access to SL on campus (through use of flash drives we provided). So now the students are getting into SL, customizing their avatars, going through orientation, and exploring the wide world of SL.

So the question becomes "What are we going to do in here?"

As it happens, I’m teaming up with faculty from Japan, Korea, Canada, France, and elsewhere in the US on this project called the World University Exchange. The basic premise is that students will be divided into multinational teams and will then be given a series of challenges on which they will compete. Many of the challenges will surround plots of land they have been assigned where they will essentially be asked to build their community. So there are a number of cross-cultural, technical, and rhetorical challenges that the students will need to face as a team.

But how does this fit in with a Professional Writing course?

I’m glad you asked.

A few weeks ago, I hypothesized that in a transmedia pedagogy, where one is crossing from print to blog to wiki to SL to podcasts and so on, one needs to consider the linkages and explore how the different media offer different kinds of learning experiences. The SL environment has some distinctive qualities that are similar to those of video games, particularly online video games:

  • SL is immersive;
  • SL is real time;
  • SL is global;
  • SL serves as a platform for other media (e.g. video, audio, image) that can be experienced with a virtual, real-time audience (i.e., students from around the world can watch something together);
  • SL is collaborative, again in real time.

So, the question is how to take advantage of these qualities in comparison to the asynchronous and more distanced experience of the course blog and wiki.

The great thing about a course like Writing in the Digital Age is that there’s a strong meta-pedagogical feel to the use of technology (meta in the same sense as metafiction). Whereas typical instructional design might try to make the technology delivery of content as transparent as possible, in my course, we are studying the technology. For us, exploring SL is an end unto itself. I don’t have to use SL to deliver some other content in order for it to be valuable to my course.

For example, as we look at the task of building in Second Life we can examine the architecture that is out there. (And some of these are often-asked questions in SL)

  1. There’s no weather in SL, so why do we need buildings?
  2. Avatars can fly or teleport, so why have hallways or stairs?
  3. Avatars don’t tire, so why should they sit down? Why have furniture?
  4. In other words, why do we port all of our human behaviors in SL?

These questions connect with larger themes in the course, specifically how do people cooperate/collaborate in networked environments? From my perspective, this is (or at least can be) a question of rhetoric.

  • How do users establish identities?
  • How do explicit and implicit rules for community and communication evolve?
  • In other words, how does one establish ethos?
  • What role do style and design play?
  • How are disputes resolved?
  • How are goals agreed upon?

The questions can keep going in this vein. The course blog and wiki already serve as laboratories of sorts for considering these questions. SL now gives us another such lab, but one that I hope will be even more interesting and engaging for the students.

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