There’s an interesting discussion going on at the moment over at Stephen’s Web about Second Life. It centres around the observation that delivering a lecture in SL is still just a lecture – ‘We know how to bore you in a classroom, and now we know how to bore you online’. A key point for me is that it’s not enough to rely on novelty of delivery to get learners interested and engaged, the process and the learning itself needs to be engaging.
It’s also interesting to compare assumptions about how SL would be used in education – some see it as a simulation, others as a tool for constructing a highly specific virtual environment, others as a replacement for a learning management system. My take is that it will do some of these rather well, others quite poorly!
As a Mac user, I’d never had much fun with SL, but when I saw that Small Worlds was now public, I was keen to try it out. Part of my interest was that it’s based here in New Zealand, but also I hoped it might provide a lower threshold environment I could incorporate into my professional development activities. The picture here of my avatar is as far as I got – Small World’s suggestion that before I did anything I should ‘go shopping’ was like a bucket of cold water to my motivation! I already spend enough time shopping in the real world without having to do it in the virtual one as well. And I think I know enough about my learners, their technical skills and access to technology to know it would never work.
In his article A New Virtual World Winter?, Bruce Damer says:
Is interaction in a VW that much more enriching and valuable than the simpler modalities available in other platforms? Will VWs ever really go mainstream? I continuously hear complaints about VWs not being worth the trouble, especially from people much younger and hipper than me (I am 46) who prefer much lighter weight forms of interaction.
While I don’t think we should necessarily see youth and hipness as the sole qualification to speak on learning, I think this quote holds a lot of truth. We already expect learners to jump over lots of hurdles – eg learning to use a new LMS and other IT systems – without making them clear the greater barriers in using virtual worlds. Some already have the skills and the online presence, but a great many more don’t.
In general, I can see specific applications of virtual worlds such as Dante’s Inferno as having huge potential, but the generic application as some kind of ‘pimped-up’ learning management system doesn’t seem realistic at this point in time. I prefer software tools which liberate me from the constraints and humdrum details of everyday life rather than replicate them, which remove barriers for my learners rather than impose new ones. If I want to share ideas, I use low-threshold tools (such as WordPress) which allow me to focus on the ideas rather than the interface. Virtual worlds such as Second Life or Croquet pose too high a threshold to be used in my professional development activities in the immediate future.