Graham Attwell Needs to Take a Closer Look at Second Life

- 20th Dec 2006 (updated 8th Jan 2007)

This is my response to Graham Attwell's post - Creativity costs money in Second Life. I posted it here after initially being unsuccessful at posting it to his comments.

Graham, while some of your criticisms of Second Life such as the hype and the technical issues are valid, your summary dismissal of its educational value based on what appears to be limited research is frustrating. It is also based on numerous factual errors.

Firstly Second Life is compelling. The major problem was getting the students to stop ‘playing’ in order to have some feedback and discussion.

Students are engaged! Great! And with any new piece of creative software students need time to play with it to figure it out and see what they can do with it. Especially something as novel and related to identity as SL.

Expecting students to apply themselves to set tasks as soon as they get in there is totally unreasonable.

Having said that I worry about the idea of a second identity. I think we should be encouraging learners to see their on line identity as part of themselves - not something separated.

Despite the fact that our current online identities aren't an accurate reflection of ourselves anyway, you seem to make the mistake of thinking that identity in SL is necessarily completely separate from the rest of our identity. It can be an integrated extension of our existing identity. In fact my experience, and that of many others, is that SL allows us to explore aspects of identity that we otherwise would not. In that sense it can be like performance or acting.

Furthermore the search engine was broken all of the Friday and in general the performance of SL leaves something to be desired. Rendering can be very slow when going to new locations

I can't argue with you on the technical difficulties. Linden Lab are having trouble coping with the influx of new residents.

and text is often difficult to read

There are ways around that. In preferences you can change the size of the text, number of lines of text you see and the speed at which the text fades. If you miss part of the conversation in public chat, just click CTRL-H to see recent chat history.

The main topic of conversation is sex and most comments are fairly crass.

This is patently untrue. You obviously didn't wander far out of some of the more public areas. Like the real world, or the web, there's a lot of good stuff and a lot of unsavoury stuff. You can choose to engage in only the good stuff, once you know where it is.

Admittedly, if the search engine was down then this makes it harder to find the good stuff, but there other ways to find out about educational projects and events in SL... like Google!

Well the main education areas are pretty peaceful - no-one but me ever appears to be there.

If you wander into a random classroom in a random university at any random time (remember it's a 24/7 world) you are likely to have the same experience. Try attending when the events are actually on.

OK - I see some of the universities are developing on-line classrooms. But why? There is no more interest in having my icon sit down to an on-line lecture than there is in sitting down to a lecture myself.

There is a sense of shared presence and experience in attending a presentation in SL that is not possible anywhere on the web, including videoconferencing and web-conferencing.

Why oh why do we keep trying to copy traditional pedagogies in different on-line environments.

Good point! Some educational institutions are just replicating the teacher-centred class-based model in SL, and this doesn't make sense. There are still arguments for running a traditional class in SL for distance education though.

But many of us are exploring innovative ways of taking advantage of the unique qualities of an immersive 3D world to create new types of experiential learning.

But my major reservation is the limitations on creativity. the students in the workshop are used to creating and wanted to create their own ‘exhibits’ in SL. Now you can make some squares and triangles and other basis shapes and can give them some texture. But its not much and not enough.

Graham, you have completely missed the point on SL with this one. The whole world is created by the residents - the buildings, the vehicles, the avatars. Those basic shapes are the building blocks of the whole world! Students can build and script just about anything they want.

'Limitations on creativity'? OMG! Have you looked around at what's there?

Of course I suspect you can do much more if you pay but there is the rub. The whole model of SL is a capitalist model and doing anything costs.

No... basic accounts that students can use are free. There are plenty of things you can do for free, including building. Like any innovative technology or software platform the institutions bear the brunt of the financial cost. In this case, buying and renting the land to build permanent projects on.

By 'capitalist world', if you mean run by Linden Lab, then yes, it is a closed proprietary system. But so is YouTube. This does present some problems, but Linden Labs is planning to open source its software.

Besides, SL is precursor to something better. I won't argue it's the be all and end all in 3D virtual worlds.

By 'capitalist world', if you mean it has an in-world economy, then you might be interested to know that it has been used to run classes on running businesses.

This is not a tool for free public education.

Neither are computers or the web - someone has to pay for them somewhere. Try thinking of SL as a platform, like the web, not a simple service, like Blogger.

But the learners must be able not just to select form a selection on Linden sanctioned appearances and names

The names are limited, yes, but the types of avatars that can be created are limitless.

but to really shape and develop their own environment and to collaborate in the development of its social norms and social environments.

Which is exactly what is happening. Linden Lab are taking a hands-off approach to the world, letting residents form their own forms of governance, legal systems, IP protection, mediation and conflict resolution systems, police force for dealing with griefers etc. It is a fantastic experiment in social development.

I urge you to do some decent research on the educational value of SL before passing judgment. All you have to do is Google "second life education" and you will find a lot of good information, like the Second Life Education Wiki.

Please take another, closer look... you might be pleasantly surprised.

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