Synchronous learning in asynchronous courses: another lesson from Second Life

So this is fairly obvious… I’m teaching an online course, which, like just about every online course, is offered asynchronously. No meeting time. In the pre-SL, 2-D web world I suppose there are reasons for scheduling meeting times for online courses, primarily so you could have some live discussion or presentation I guess. At Cortland though, where we don’t have any distance education students, if you want to do something live, you might as well do it on campus. (This is particularly true for undergraduate students; the grad students are commuters and might appreciate live, distance education.)

But I digress. The point is that we have no common meeting time. This proves to be a problem for working in Second Life. So in the future, if I am to teach in SL, it would be useful to schedule a common meeting time for my online course. That doesn’t mean that we would do all our work in SL at the common time, but I think it would be useful for several purposes:

  • Orientation
  • In-world presentations
  • Coordinating meeting times for students (at least we know one time they can meet!)

However, I don’t think that’s enough. I am seeing that one of the advantages of SL is the opportunity to collaborate internationally. Thus it would be useful not only to have a time for my online class to meet but also to coordinate that time with partners. Thus all of our students could meet during a set time.

While this is a practical problem which presumably can be solved without too much difficulty, it points to a larger shift in how we plan and approach online pedagogy. One of the advantages of learning online is the freedom to do it on your own time. I appreciate that. Even much of the collaborative work we do can be done asynchronously. Indeed a fair portion of the collaboration for the SL World University Exchange program will take place on a wiki. This aspect of online education fits in with traditional pedagogic values. We are used to learning occurring in a sequestered space-time (as Richard Lanham discusses), and the conventional online course, delivered through a CMS, does that–unlocking course modules every couple weeks or whatever.

Second Life is only one small aspect of a larger trend that includes mobile media networks in linking us together in large groups (smart mob-like) in the exchange of real-time information. What would it mean to attempt to learn through the real-time coordination of students and faculty across media networks rather than the staid, stately pace of semesters where it takes years for anything to change?

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