Virtual World

Virtual World Experiences

I am a co-organiser of this seminar series. on Children’s and young people’s digital literacies in virtual online spaces. It has been a great series so far and we have had some fantatstic speakers – as you’ll see from the site. (Check out the slideshows etc.)

I was not very interested at all in Virtual Worlds until the last couple of years as I asociated VWs with gaming and the need to be able to be dextrous in mouse controls etc. I had a notion that you had to have brilliant hand/eye co-ordination – which I am afraid I have not developed. In fact whilst it helps to be quick – actually you do not have to have those skills and you can learn at snail’s pace and still get by like me. In fact I probably bump into fewer things in SL than RL, so there you go.

Anyhow, I have realised that like so many things online, there are lots of different spaces to go to, and different ways that you can interact with people within the one Virtual World. It is a heterogeneous space, and just like the blogosphere, or Twitter or Flickr (etc) smaller networks form and people negotiate their way through, usually travelling similar paths on each visit and interacting in habitual ways – just as we do in real life (my ‘Sheffield’ is different to someone else’s experience of the same city, for example).

Thus with Second Life there are academic spaces and shopping spaces; sports spaces and media spaces; there is a clubbing scene and there are offices and seasides and islands … the list is not endless however! It seems that SL – like all the other VWs I have seen- imitate a great deal of what we have in Real Life. In some ways this is disappointing, as the dream, I suppose, is to be able to exist in a different way in a different world. However we can only build on what we know and if we knew other ways of being with each other, we would have created them in RL too – if you see what I mean…. maybe.

Nevertheless it remains the case to an extent that we can try out new things and we can visit places virtually, that we may not visit in RL; and interact with others that we may not manage to meet in RL. We can leave aspects of our RL selves behind and take on new ways of being – thus SL can become (to an extent) liberating to the disabled, or a space where new skills might be developed – be it a new language or even people management skill, for example. A case in point is that a friend of mine in RL has, in her SL, run a night club and escort agency; she made good money, many friends and gave a lot of people jobs in-world. She was able to support others through friendships she made. Now, in moving into a new job in SL, she is thoroughly excited by working as a journalist on the news programme of metaverse. Here is one of the most recent news programmes, which includes Lisa reporting on issues to do with Education in SecondLife:

In case you are interested , this report has Lisa talking about the “adult continent Vindra” in Second Life.

Hats Off to Lisa I say!! I think her reports are fabulous and she has to research for them as well as be confident enough to talk publically and spontaneously on the show – with a view to her global audience. She has to temper her language (note her use of ‘spiffing’) – and be aware of local idiom. Sadly though, these activities (which involve learning of many kinds) that people are becoming immersed in, in a range of Web 2.0 spaces, seem to go unnoticed most of the time. Second Life participants are often held up for ridicule – with stories of marriages being made and broken being top ones in the tabloid press.

Obviously this kind of coverage adds fuel to the fire of all the other scare Discourses around why the Internet is so bad, why you have to stop your kids going online etc etc. It is part of the whole Toxic Discourse which I find naive in the extreme. Fact of the matter of course – as I always end up saying – is that because there are lots of people online there will be a diversity of experiences to be had, and you have to learn to stay safe online, just as you do off line. Hence, we need educators online, so that they can teach within online spaces as well as outside them; they need to become confident users of these spaces so they can teach in an informed way.

I love that we are thinking about ways of using Virtual Worlds in Education and of course we already know that many Universities are using SL as a space where students can learn as well as hang out. Lancaster University SL space had this slideshow in a presentation on their island; I spotted this after a meeting the other week

A lot of SL Education arenas use slideshows – perhaps rather an old fashioned medium now, but nevertheless I found this a powerful tool for sharing learning when I spotted it the other day. The reference in world for where to find it: Lancaster University, Lancaster University (52, 231, 22). If you drop by, you will se that each of the statements on this slide, is explained on others.

There’s an interesting conference up and coming on Virtual World Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) via Peak education conference in Second Life | Treet Business and also see info here.

We do need to think about Best Practice as just going online is not enough; although we see a lot of learning happening in out of school practices, I think that f schools, colleges and universities are going to spend time in Virtual Worlds, then they need to structure the learning and show they take it as seriously as everything else.

Maybe it could all become part of the Slow Education movement. A concept which I find compelling.

Finally , I went on the Sheffield wheel yesterday. That was an experience I found just a tad too physical – and also my partner TT kept blocking my view!

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