We learnt a few things in the first phase of the Open Habitat project which have informed the set-up of our next pilots. I’m currently planning the pilot that will run with philosophy students in Second Life. The main challenge with the first pilot was the sheer speed of debate in SL. The experienced philosophy students are used to being able to gather their thoughts, write a paragraph or two and pop it into a forum.
Taking the time to reflect is important in any educational process but it is especially precious to the discipline of philosophy. Having said this, the students loved the vibrant, social feeling of SL and the sense of presence being embodied in an avatar brought. In fact they liked it so much they have continued to run non-tutored sessions in SL once a week managed via a facebook group. (This included giving the students building rights so that they could rearrange the environment each week to fit the topic under discussion)
For phase 2 it was clear that we needed to balance the reflective and the dynamic which we are planning to do by ‘bookending’ the SL session with Moodle. Here is a draft of how the pilot will flow:
Stage One (framing the debate):
- Marianne (the tutor) to post briefing page on Moodle
- students to post kneejerk response in blog
- Marianne to respond one to one
- students to reconsider in light of Marianne’s comments and prepare second kneejerk
- second kneejerk to be posted on Moodle
- all students to read, think and prepare third kneejerk for posting on whiteboard in second life
- third kneejerk to be sent to Dave for posting in world
Stage two (dynamic in world discussion):
- Everyone arrives in second life to find third kneejerk responses on board
- People read these and reflect as everyone arrives
- Marianne asks each student in turn to comment
- after everyone has responded people go into groups (arranged in advance), go to their ‘stations’ and prepare jointly a ‘final statement’
- final statements to be sent to Dave
- Marianne reconvenes students and the session ends with a final discussion.
Stage three (reflection):
- Marianne to annotate final statements, and add comments
- Dave to post final statements and the chat log on Moodle
- Students free to discuss final statements and Marianne’s comments by themselves.
It’s not rocket science but I think this really takes advantage of what SL is good for and is a genuine answer to the ‘user needs’ that came out of phase 1. We will then run this cycle a second time either continuing the same philosophical theme or starting a new on depending on how well it runs!
The other significant change to the pilot will be the use of edu-gestures which should allow for more non-verbal communication whilst the group is deep in discussion. We have a nice set (agree, confused, yes, no, I’m thinking etc) of gestures that the students can use during the sessions using a ‘lite’ version of the Sloodle toolbar generously created for us by the Sloodle project. I’m planning to introduce these gestures as a key part of the orientation session so that their use is seen as a ‘basic’ skill. In this way I hope we get the benefits of embodiment/presence as well as the benefits of non-verbal communication which is so important in RL but has not really developed in detail within SL.
It’s odd to think that an environment that renders you as an avatar (face, head, arms, legs etc) does not rely very heavily on non-verbal cues (apart from where you are standing and the biggie: what you look like). I’m hoping that this aspect of Multi-User Virtual Environments will develop as the language of communication (text, voice, visual) within virtual worlds becomes more sophisticated.
Most importantly the pilot has been designed in conjunction with the students who are going to advise on the layout of the in world environment and are enthusiastic about the changes to the format.