Second Life Reflection – Use the Tool or Be a Tool

We had a class meeting in Second Life. I was super stoked about it just because it was something different. I was super stoked because it was Virtual Reality. I love to play MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role playing games) so having class in Second Life would be/could be fun. As entertainment, Second Life was interesting because you can explore for the sake of exploring. You can walk, run, and even fly. You can pick your own character and look however you want to look. The virtual world is virtually wide open. But, as a teaching tool? From what I explored, it’s not great. Overall, I would say this is just another tool that must be utilized intentionally, not used to replace a teacher which is often how teacher view technology.

The first issue I had in the first zone we explored was the lack of purpose. Our immediate purpose was to just explore, to see what we would see and consider how it was being used instructionally. Instructionally, this wasn’t really being used. There didn’t seem to be any game plan for how to use the space we were in. Namely, there were no objectives. In a game like World of Warcraft (WOW), the game play is generally open. You can go in whatever direction you chose and you can pursue whatever task you’d like. But, at least in W.O.W. you actually are presented with tasks. Random characters give you quests in different zones. You can choose which ones to pursue and which ones to wait on. There are also side quests that ask you to hunt or forage so that you can just roam different zones with a purpose. In the Pavilion we were in at the beginning of our exploration, it wasn’t really clear what we should or could do. There was no real guidance, no goals, and no objectives. So, as far as instructional design, it wasn’t clear, so ultimately the design was a failure.

Something else I noticed in the first zone was there were items that were clickable. That is as much interaction as was available. Point and click is not terrible, but is a point and click environment worth altering a classroom environment? Student engagement will last as long as the clickable items are interesting, but if what opens is just text to read, students will just check out. If we are willing to go through all the trouble of shifting to a virtual reality, it must be so that we can do something now that we couldn’t without the VR environment. This point and click environment is just a substitution for clicking open a link inside a Learning Management System (LMS) like Canvas or Blackboard. So, what’s the point?

The last zone we traveled to had a little more design to it. There was clearly a campus with different buildings that had different purposes. There were more signs and guides along the way. One particular building was like a gallery. You could walk through following the big red arrows and click on the different displays. It would tell you about each display. This is a great start for using the tool rather than expecting the tool to be the teacher. Someone clearly planned this space with a purpose and an audience in mind. They made clear choices about how to share the information they wanted to share. This space was an example of where so many teachers are these days: able to use the tool to do something we couldn’t have done before. However, what this space was lacking and most teachers are still lacking, is the challenge of what to do with the information being shared. Technology integration is not just about streamlining assignments and data, and it is not just about trying to engage students on a different level. There has to be something more. We must have our students apply and create something with this new knowledge. If we want to redefine education, we cannot just redesign how we share information. We must also redesign what we have students do with the information.

Overall I think spaces like Second Life have so much potential, but it is the teacher or instructional designer that must intentionally use the space for their own objectives, not expect the tool to take over for the teacher. During our meeting, Dr. Warren talked about needing a narrative in order for these kinds of environments to work. It is the narrative that provides the parameters, the purpose, the goals, and the context of the game play. Without it, we are virtually stuck in the wilderness like contestants in Alone. We have some tools, and we want to survive, but without a purpose, we will not make it to the end.

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