I'm taking an extra course this term in the Online Education program. It's about virtual worlds and using Second Life as an educational venu. My experiences there this week were 'extreme' so I thought I'd share them in this blog, even though this course isn't part of the Instructional Media program and I decided to try it because I have time to double up. I’ll begin by saying that when I signed up for the course, my expectations about ever feeling at home in Second Life were pretty low. I enrolled to prove to myself that I could do it, but my first days in SL left me feeling like I was an outsider who would always remains so and that no learning experience was worth the frustration I was experiencing, especially when it was self-imposed.
Although the text promised me god-like status and the unfettered fun of getting drunk, having sex, fighting, casting spells, flying, and changing my appearance at will (Rymaszewski et al, p.5), it also made clear that on this 21st century version of ‘Fantasy Island’ (but without Mr. Rourke and Tattoo), “your presence … is defined by your appearance” (p. 82). It implied that in order to avoid hostility I ought to construct an external appearance which would reassure the ‘in-world’ residents that I was like them (p.88). An appealing avatar would go a long way towards satisfying my need to be loved and admired (p. 87). My expectations sank even lower.
Other sources warned that:
- “looking like a newbie” could draw “mean comments or wrong information” …. because “some of the old residents are really mean with new players” (Kiara Vaughn).
- I shouldn’t “accept friendship cards from strangers" whose intentions may not be the best (Vaughn).
- SL is a dangerous place if your are weak and an easy catch for “the griefers, spammers,” and others out to do harm (Lizzie Arriaga).
- if I didn’t adapt fast to this environment and try to “fit the story,” I risked boring everyone because being unimaginative “spoil[s] the fantasy.” If I "barged in and stuck out like a sore thumb,” I would not be respecting “the rules of the sim” (Shauna Skye).
- carrying The Newbie Woman’s Second Life Survival Kit (Darn! I wish I hadn’t detached the oversized bag with which my initial ‘av’ was equipped!) and learning some safety tips would probably be a very good idea (Women’s Resource Hub).
- SL is bound to disappoint some who try it. Despite fans' claims that you can "do all the things people do in RL, but better, ... being there "can't make ... [us] great at what ... [we're] no good at in real life (Jenny Diski).
Those of you who follow this blog know that I'm passionate about the exciting educational possibilities offered by Web 2.0 technologies. I’m also relatively good at figuring out how to make these tools work and at helping others find resources that will fit their needs and comfort levels, but trying to do even simple tasks in Second Life put my anxiety level through the roof. I struggled with technical issues and could find no answers to my questions. I expected to be engaged with talking instructional modules, simulated demonstrations I could try to mimic, and virtual helpers I could activate at the press of a button. However, what I encountered were several 2-D read-only posters and a largely trial-and-error process of learning. Without some way to get a mental picture of what was possible, I felt lost.
Eventually, with the help of a YouTube video I figured out sitting, standing, making fish jump and chimes play, and flying without bumping my head on the ceiling, but I’m left wondering why I had to come back to RL (real world) for help. I expected an immersive experience and masterful tutorials. Did I miss them? I looked for the sign to Help Island. Where was it? I teletransported instead to the public clone of what was supposed to be my next stop and found myself in the midst of a crowd of 'avs' wandering zombie-like back and forth muttering near-obscenities to anyone within earshot. Finally, anxious about being targeted as a ‘noob’ (Vaugn), rather than keep my beginner’s duds until I got the feel of the place, I decided to find a secluded spot to change. From there things went from bad to worse. After a few hours, all I wanted to do was get out!!
This morning I’ve had a chance to compare descriptions of the old and new Orientation Island tutorials. I wish Linden Labs had preserved the old one to provide newcomers with a choice of whether they want to take the time to do the full 'walkthrough' or whiz through the shortcut. As an educator, I’d say the developers have made two versions of the same mistake: they’ve assumed that everyone learns the same way. Initially they made even those to whom these things come easily do every step of every tutorial before they could move on. Now they’ve gone way too far the other way and don’t provide enough guidance to those of us who clearly need more support and guidance to feel completely comfortable with the newness of things. Good educators try to anticipate the needs of their students and craft activities that will allow them to fly past the stuff they know or can learn easily, provide direct instruction and guided practice to scaffold new learning, and give choices that empower learners rather than overwhelm them. The SL Orientation Island learning activities (they really are not tutorials) made too many assumptions about my attitude and prior skills and fell way short of preparing me for the world inside.
Jean Brouchard writes that there are “two kinds of newbies in Second Life: the Eager ones ... and the Paranoid Ones." His point is that if you hang back -- “afraid that … [if you] do something wrong … the computer will self-destruct,” you’ll also miss out on the virtual adventure. I prefer to think of myself as cautious rather than paranoid, but I think there’s a lesson for educators in his piece. There are lots of children in our classes who are frozen by their fears, and yes, we need to encourage them to venture boldly into the unknown. After all what are a few bumps on the virtual head but reminders of where the ceiling is? What are mistakes but messages that you have to try a different way? Still there is clearly a critical mass of frustration and anxiety. Once that has been surpassed, many learners can end up feeling out of their depth and like they just want to escape. Finding the tipping point for each learner is the art of what good teachers do.
I solved my tech dilemmas yesterday by giving myself a fresh start. I decided that doing more of the same was getting me nowhere, so I created a new account using the name I'd originally wanted, selected a different avatar, and quickly made enough changes to her to create a skin in which I feel comfortable. I used the Map feature to locate SciLands (after a false start that landed me in with the Naked Scientists). Nunyara (“made well again”) Fairlady (a person I’d like to become) fell into the ocean only once, figured out how to use the virtual telescope, collected some notecards, and made it back to a quiet place of contemplation overlooking the sea near the free store on Help Island (public). She’s going to spend a few real dollars this weekend rather than head off to dubious locations in search of money trees because shewants new hair and a different scarf and really needs her glasses. Then she’ll be ready to take on new challenges even if that means colliding with a few people or objects along the way.
Arriaga, Lizzie. (23 January, 2009). Newbie in Second Life. Retrieved on May 13, 2010, from People at http://secondlife-newspaper.blogspot.com/2009/01/newbie-in-second-life.html.
Brouchard, Joe. (1 May, 2007). The fear of being a newbie. Retrieved on May 11, 2010, from Clear Night Sky at http://clearnightsky.com/node/302.
Diski, Jenny. (8 February, 2007). Jowls are available. Retrieved on May 5, 2010, from London review of books archive at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n03/jenny-diski/jowls-are-available.
Extreme rock balancing. (21 May, 2009). Image retrieved from Pichaus on May 13, 2010, at http://pichaus.com/extreme-rock-balancing-articles-@97f6f1183786f749ebcc8fbcfa7d25f4/
Fantasy Island.(nd). Retrieved on May 13, 2010, from IMDb at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077008/.
Newbie woman's SL survival kit. (25 March, 2009). Retrieved on May 13, 2010, from Women's Resource Hub in Second Life at http://womensresourcehub.wetpaint.com/page/Newbie+Woman%27s+SL+Survival+Kit.
Orientation Island (out of date). (13 March, 2010). Retrieved on May 13, 2010, from Second Life wiki at http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Orientation_Island_Walk_Through.
Rymaszewski, Michael et al. (2008). Second Life: The official guide. Linden Research Inc., Indianapolis.
Skye, Shauna. (28 December, 2009). Five ways to be boring in Second Life. Retrieved on May 13, 2010, from Moonletters at http://slfix.com/?p=6151.
Vaughn, Kiara. (nd). A quick guide for newbies in Second Life. Retrieved on May 10, 2010, from Hub Pages at http://hubpages.com/hub/A-quick-guide-for-newbies-in-second-life.
Welcome Island. (7 April, 2010) Retrieved on May 13, 2010, from Second Life wiki at http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Welcome_Island.