The Importance of the Cheesy Disco?

I have just returned from the Online Educa conference at which I was part of a symposium panel discussing Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVES). The session was entitled ‘No Life in Second Life’ and was a look at some of the current practices and issues around teaching in MUVEs. My 10 minutes was on the range of environments in Second Life from amphitheatres to ‘cheesy discos’. Each brings with it a set of cultural expectations and modes of use.

After the session the point was raised that the term ‘cheesy’ may not be universally understood by an international audience. What struck me about this discussion was not its content but the environment it was taking place in. We were attending the conference dinner and ‘entertainment’. The venue for this entertainment was an oversized, modernist hall on the ground floor of the hotel with floor to ceiling glass and orange up lighters. The view out of the 12 foot windows was of a stark courtyard containing a number of neat, isomorphic trees and plants. Inside, small groups of smartly dressed individuals stood round in clusters and made small talk while an untidy mass of energetic attendees executed a range of jerky dance moves with no overall style or pattern. The music was slick and very definitely middle of the road.

In short we were in a cheesy disco which appeared to have been designed as a re-enactment of many scenes in Second Life, certainly in architectural terms but also socially. Love them of hate them it struck me that this real life cheesy disco was an accepted part of the conference system and designed to help people to talk and network. For undergraduates the nightclub or union bar is an integral part university life. For online distance students there is no clear equivalent. As we experiment with MUVEs for teaching and learning will the cheesy disco in prove to be as important as the amphitheatre?

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