June 2, 2009

Students worried they would have too much fun.

14 to 1, they preferred the real classroom to a virtual classroom in Second Life.


Pogo said...

Nothing to say, but I cannot leave a post go bare-assed nekkid.

Beth said...

I teach in Second Life. I've taught four sections now of Intro to Fiction. This study deals with the question of whether students would prefer an SL course to a conventional classroom, but what I find is more relevant is whether SL is preferred to another type of online course.

My other option for online teaching is Blackboard, where lectures, assignments and discussion are all done asynchronously. I prefer Second Life, and find that students do as well, because the class takes place synchronously. We meet in real time, using voice and text. I'm able to lecture, to manage discussions and field questions, and students can interact. Blackboard, or similar formats, rely on a student's motivation and ability to manage their time very well. When I'm teaching a bunch of non-English majors about fiction or poetry, I find they do better when they have the opportunity to talk and question spontaneously. So SL works much better than an asynchronous online environment. The conventional classroom is better than either online option, in my view, but it's pretty much a given these days that students will take a least a portion of their course load online. For those students, SL is a good option.

I think I'm rambling a bit; blame the hydrocodone.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Beth. Interesting. Being the computer gamer geek that I am, I have played Second Life for a while for fun. It seems to me that there is a rather steep learning curve just to master the software/game platform first, before stepping into an online classroom environment "in game".

That being said. Given the choice between a Second Life classroom with Ventrilo or some other type of voice capability versus a webinar PowerPoint voice over or on line white board group presentation (which I do a lot of both in my business), I would definitely prefer the Second Life immersion technique.

The other issue of course is that the students would all need to have rather good computers with decent graphics card processors.

Beth said...

DBQ, you've hit on the major issues - a good microphone, a strong internet connection (wired is better than wireless) and a proper video card.

Right now I can check my enrollment list for the fall, so when I have an SL section scheduled, I start emailing the students who have enrolled with a canned set of instructions. I let them know what they're in for, and tell them to go ahead right now and download the free software, create an avatar, and go through the character orientation to learn to move around, talk, buy things, and so on. I tell them to try it out on more than one computer if they have access, and that they should enroll in a different course if SL isn't right for them. Most of them thus are ready on day one. But we still deal with intermittent issues of poor connections or SL server problems, so I always have a backup with my lecture notes on Blackboard.

I keep costs in mind as well, and figure about $30 for a good USB microphone/headset in my textbook requirements. I always try to keep my textbook costs below $120.

I don't explore much in SL overall, but I love the classroom. I have taught a lot online in other formats, and being able to express my enthusiasm for the material, in my own voice, makes a difference in the overall participation of students. Them being able to speak and text in real-time creates a real discussion setting.

This semester I'm teaching Intro to Poetry, for the first time in SL, and I'm looking forward to it. In a regular online course, this class loses some of its relevance because we can't play with rhythm and sound together. I'll be able to do that in SL.

If you have a certain number of users in one place, you get server issues due to all the processing demands caused by sound and rezzing their avatars' customizations. That was no problem the first two times I taught in SL because the classes were small - 12 people. Last semester, 28 enrolled and 23 finished the semester. That's no different from a regular classroom. I was really pleased with the outcomes. Attendance was always high, participation was great, and the students were consistently prepared - they'd read the stories and discussion questions and had things to talk about. We meet once a week, at night, from 7 to 10.