Sunday, January 18, 2009

"Second Life is creepy."

I recently met with one of our college administrators who just joined Second Life, to give them a few minutes of over the shoulder time to get them up to speed, and have a chat while we were at it about some of the ways we see working together to enable Second Life for our students and Faculty. They brought up that as they were creating their character at home, their daughter saw that they were doing so and commented "Oh, you're using Second Life? I think its kind of creepy." The administrator went on to explain this was primarily because of the adult side of Second Life being what was known to her daughter about the space, no doubt because this is the aspect of the world large exposure media focuses on. This led us into a discussion of the public nature of Second Life, and what pros and cons that seems to present.

I brought up Project Wonderland, and told the administrator that its possible to spawn your own instance of an open source server with many benefits re: scalability, privacy, etc.- But then also talked briefly about the idea that we could remove our students from the messiness of random interaction that is more likely when the virtual people you interact with are strangers without a campus affiliation and role to define (control) them, but is that really what we want to do? So many of Second Life's communication and learning affordances have to do with access to ideas, ways of thinking, learning cultures that aren't like our own- and I think if the chaos and messiness weren't there, we'd actually kind of miss it. I definitely think we don't yet know enough either way to make this decision for our organization.. after all, we're a team of community colleges- access to all is what we're all about.

When we participate, feelings are effected, but pixels can re-render- no avatars die. Our classrooms and real-world physical campuses hopefully offer a level of safety and comfort- how do we offer this to our virtual students, faculty and staff, considering the anonymous and open nature of Second Life participation? What about some current learning theory that states we learn more from conflict and failure than we do from safety and success? Our island is open to the public, we have a sandbox, but we also have groups that enable greater access and abilities on the island with affiliation. How is this the same/different from what we do on physical campuses?

Such a huge thing to think about really. It's a multi-faceted issue, as most are when regarding our residence in the Metaverse. I just want to boil down to finding the best way to inform our students that Second Life (like the real world) has some creepy aspects, but overall, it's absolutely NOT a creepy place.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Great post, Monica... the World Wide Web used to be thought of as "creepy" in the "old days" (late 90s?), but despite the plethora of questionable content present in its vault, instructors take the Web for granted now as a research tool, as a learning aid, and more.

Many of the virtual worlds available today which seem geared toward a younger generation of users (IMVU, Facebook's virtual world, begins with a Y) seem cartoonish compared to Second Life... SL can be more realistic, for both the better and worse, perhaps this is what she was seeing?

Keep up the great work!