Saturday, May 3, 2008

Day One

The much anticipated - by me :-) -first, in-world meeting of my class occurred today.

Until a week ago I had no idea if there would be enough students to hold the class. My department head told me she knew of at least one student who had definitely registered. With that information I went to the registrar, "Oh no, you have plenty," she assured. She got back to me with a number about a week ago. Twelve students were signed up., my ideal class size for a real world grad course. Let's see how it turns out in-world.

Well we were 19! Fifteen enrolled students, a guest, my assistant and a colleague who was there to document the event via machinima.

I anticipated a much more chaotic start. But everyone arrived at the island, on their own, within the first 5 minutes of the start of class. Sure it was chaotic - 19 people not sure what do with themselves, at least 10 not sure how to move or talk. Very exciting.

I greeted people and announced that the schedule and intent of the day were posted on large signs. The first activity was a scavenger hunt - an introductory lesson to moving, talking and other basic skills. It is hard to know where to look when you are new and many missed my text based greetings and directions. So these were repeated several times. The three hour period was divided into three periods with breaks between. The second involved meeting for intros and group activities in the island's sandbox. The final session was set aside for touring of other Second Life sims.

Scene and task: Marlboro College Graduate Center is a largely undeveloped but beautifully formed island with a central mountain range and river dividing the island roughly in half. Nine glowing flags were placed around the island at increasingly distant and more difficult to navigate locations. At the base of each flag is a notecard giving box. When the box is touch a notecard opens with step by step instructions on how to use a basic feature of sl and gives a task to complete.

Of course there is a glitch. Seven of the nine boxes do not give out their notecards. But the fix is remarkably quick and before most people noticed the box scripts are repaired.

This leaves only the awkwardness and discomfort of people in a foreign land - many not really knowing what is expected of them and fearing that they will do something wrong, get lost, or something unfathomably worse. I am not sure everyone liked it, but they all did fine. As a teacher, I struggle with the balance between throwing students in the deep end and giving them flotation devices that might ultimately cripple their independence. While I hope I don't come off as merciless, I am more likely to throw than buoy.

We gather in the sandbox just before dawn. Only a few people need to be rescued. All are unscathed. Time to practice sitting, standing, texting in a round robin introduction. One of the things about SL that takes some getting used to is that communication is vastly different. I personally think that it is easier to communicate iSL than iRL. But that is never apparent at first (and to some is probably never true). Text communication can be significantly slower than voice - though in large groups it doesn't need to be. There is the to-be-expected long pause between each "speaker" as, people who don't yet know they can prepare their speech in advance, type what they want to say. Then there is the business of standing up and knowing whose turn it is to speak, and all the tabs on the communication window, and the distraction of the sun rise and the sparkle of someone's bling. All so much to take in when you are only 3 days old in SL.

Next activity involves the so important skill of circling up. In SL whenever a new person enters an existing pair or group, the social convention is to reform the circle to include the new member. And groups gather often in sl. We stumble and bump and good humor is exchanged. Beyond circling up, friending is the goal. A teachable opportunity to use the camera controls to face the rising sun is added.

I distribute LMs and we are off to International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) Island headquarters. ISTE is one of the best places I know of to meet educators. There is often a docent on duty, making it a great place to stop by and chat with an experienced SLer and educator. Docents sometimes have a following, so it is not uncommon to arrive and join a stimulating conversation about technology and education (or perhaps sl shopping). ISTE is only the third place in SL to which some students have been, with Orientation Island and Marlboro Grad Center being the first two. Upon arrival there is some confusion as students attempt to talk with the docent on duty. They are in group chat and the docent cannot "hear" them. We fly to the campfires on the beach and enjoy the ocean dolphins and the seating arrangements around and _in_ the campfire, while I tell of events that occur on the island. Our guest happens to be from Cork Ireland iRL. A quick change in my plans and a dip into my extensive tour inventory and we are off to Cork Ireland iSL. A quick look about at the heathered landscape and shop lined cityscape and the class is over.

I am exhausted but pleased. In one session I saw terror turn to achievement, boredom turn to curiosity. Not _everyone_ had a great time, but I think we are off to a great start. It seems like a nice group who will work together. Experienced people supported the inexperienced. Lots of good questions were asked. Everyone tried everything. What more can I ask for.

A rest is in order. Then I must think deeply about how best to build on today's experiences. - Esme

No comments: