Having subscribed to an unhealthy number of Second Life education and research related mailing lists, I’ve been seeing interest from the academic as well as government agencies towards education via games. On the SL education list, Jeremy Wang shared an article published in the Seattle Times titled “Scientists say video games can reshape education“. Adding more legitimacy to gaming research, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) recently declared that video games (like SL) should to be researched as a possible direction for education in the future (See FAS Game Summit). As Jeremy explained, the good news is that there may now be federal money (NSF and DOE) to support research into how video games can be used in education.
This has prompted me to look at the various ways we could teach via Second Life (SL). One of the ways I thought of was to compile a “SL Teacher’s Toolkit” so that educators interested in teaching within Second Life could have the necessary tools to get started with a virtual class of students quickly. Such items have typically been dispersed all over the SL world, until I found the ICT Library which now houses almost the entire universe of teaching tools in SL.
Naturally, I met up with the Second Life ICT Library founder, Milosun Czervik (RL: Ross Perkins, PhD), where we discussed the possibility of easing the process for new SL educators by building such a package to distribute in-game. Off the bat, he didn’t really like the idea, but he explained why. This eventually lead us on a journey through instructional design, constructive learning, and on whether some tools function as novelty or distraction. The dialog is filled with honest to goodness anecdotes useful for understanding how Second Life should be approached from an educational perspective… and how it should not.
Using a chatlogger in the form of a SL notetaking gadget, the interview was recorded at 7pm PDT on 30th Oct 2006:
Kevin Suisei: Do you think it’s a good idea to compile a SL item that packages a bunch of “ready-to-use” tools for teachers?
Milosun Czervik: yes and no….
Kevin Suisei: Go ahead
Milosun Czervik: first, I don’t want to come across as protective…. I am not making a profit from this place…. but I do like getting the traffic and the kudos… so when I say “no,” it’s not to protect my turf, so to speak. On the positive side, a box would be a handy thing to have so folks wouldn’t have to click/read so much… as you did upon your visit here! I think another positive is that it gives noobs (who are into education) a great way to know that there are some easy to use tools out there… it reduces the overhead somewhat… as some folks take a while before they can even get a notecard!
Kevin Suisei: This is where an opportunity can be found… When I mentioned that your library contained “the universe of teaching tools”, I meant just that… that there are a lot of tools, some more specialized than others, some requiring more work (e.g. scripting). This is why I think the teacher’s package might work
Milosun Czervik: you are right… some are easy to use… others are not.
Kevin Suisei: It will only contain a sample set of tools which are directly useful to most teachers. So for example, the top ten tools could be compiled with credits to authors… and for more, a landmark link to your ICT library. Chances are, while say these ten tools are useful to most, many would want to find specialized tool, and that’s where they would visit your library. This ends up becoming a freebie with dual purpose… to allow SL AVs to teach immediately with a virtual classroom setting, and to promote your library as a good resource.
Milosun Czervik: overall, it’s a good idea… but let me give you some reasons why I say it might not be too useful…
Milosun Czervik: first, I am an instructional designer … to me, the most important part about teaching in SL is not learning to use AngryBeth’s whiteboard or figuring out how to place a survey script in an object. I am a little uneasy to package a set of tools and promote that set as a “teaching kit,” because to be honest, most of the tools… as good as they are… only promote a teacher-centered, didactic form of teaching…
Milosun Czervik: take for instance these hand-show chairs… No one will ever convince me that it’s a good idea to bring a bunch of students or trainees into SL as avatars and then have them sit around on chairs to listen to lecture. They have a great purpose to help control conversation… and there are equivalents in web-based tools like Breeze or centra… but SL is a place for collaboration and creativity and constructivist learning… not to simply replicated what goes on it a classroom.
Kevin Suisei: Yes, that is a good point… form defines function.
Milosun Czervik: So – I might be preaching to the choir, but that is my philosophical issue with a kit.
Kevin Suisei: In your own words, the teacher’s kit might promote the wrong idea of what SL should be?
Milosun Czervik: the bigger issue is this… and this is based on observation… by the time a person new to SL has figured out how to even set up and use said tools, s/he has a better handle on what kind of tools are needed.
Kevin Suisei: Indeed, it would almost be more troublesome to run a class in SL if the same class could be taught IRL, unless it has something that RL cannot provide.
Milosun Czervik: that’s just it… people are using SL, in some cases, for the weakest of instructional reasons (imho)… personally, I don’t think “novelty” counts as a good reason… in fact, the novel environment may well distract from learning rather than enhance it.
Kevin Suisei: Well, since SL is still new, it’s worth experimenting with various types of classes… we’ll never know for sure…
Milosun Czervik: um… well… I disagree a bit… in that we know enough about learning – and even enough about virtual environments – to make good instructional design choices. We should not have to experiment with a range of classes each time a new tech tool hits the streets.
Kevin Suisei: Perhaps you could share ideal class situations which would work better in SL than IRL?
Milosun Czervik: Sure…. virtual environments lend themselves to replicating RL things that are too dangerous or expensive to do in RL. For example, I was an English teacher at one point. My goal would be to have students actualize narrative in SL – whether their own or from a novel and then to do machinima based on it.
Kevin Suisei: Hmmm, say we categorize such an activity.. could we say that SL works best in Role Play situations?
Milosun Czervik: I wouldn’t say “best,” – it’s just one option available. Remember, Kevin… SL makes the digital divide wider, not narrower. Inclusion is a keenly important issue… and in truth, access to SL is limted. SL is also an interesting environment for social presence, but I would be careful not to concentrate on SL. SL is only the latest iteration as a number of other graphics-based MUVE’s exist… and 10 years ago or more, people like Chris Dede of Harvard were doing research on things like MOOs and MUDs .. but like Neal Stephenson of SnowCrash fame… they saw an avatar-based world coming.
Kevin Suisei: amazing isn’t it?
Milosun Czervik: Actually, that is one reason why I did the early ICT Library… to clue people into the fact that though SL has some unique features… it’s in the line of many similar things. Anyway… I don’t want to preach too much… I don’t want to discourage use of SL for teaching – though I would urge caution on a number of fronts. I have hope that even folks who come here and stink it up with terrible design strategies may eventually see the light…
Kevin Suisei: Yes, there’s a strong push towards educational uses of games or virtual environments, sometimes we forget it’s not the best “tool”
Milosun Czervik: who knows… the tool itself may reform them. The best tool is the well-trained/experienced teacher. Period.
Kevin Suisei: I appreciate your time… this has been an honest and educational interview. Perhaps over time I will see what works and what doesn’t.
Milosun Czervik: I don’t think we resolved the kit thing though…
Kevin Suisei: well, it’s not going to happen is it?
Milosun Czervik: BUT… it has reminded me that I need to do a better job at advertising perhaps.
The meeting carries on as we blab about other stuff, but one good thing did come out of this… I will be helping to promote the ICT library through various activities, not just to leave my mark in SL (builds identity), but to explore the ways we can educate in Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVEs).