On Tuesday evening the Habitat project had one of its most dynamic project meetings. It was ad hoc and spontaneous but what was said was very useful. It reminded me of those happy students days when I’d find myself in the pub with all my friends talking about ‘interesting things’ almost by accident. These days I need to plan 3 weeks ahead to get in to the pub with people I actually like who all have families and jobs (what can you do?).
Anyway, 5 of us happened to be in Second Life (yes, I left this fact late in the post deliberately) at the same time and a discussion took off. In fact it took off so well that I’m still having trouble (with my project managers’ hat on) working out what it all meant. In this way it is very like those student pub sessions 🙂
The Habitat team is based in Leeds, Canada, London, Oxford, Essex and Brussels so we have more chance to get together online than face-to-face. The Second Life platform was great for us because we shared some visual designs during our discussion which were projected onto blocks that we could all stand around and muse over. Plus, we did all feel ‘together’ which is important for any team. When I logged out I personally felt like I had spent time with a bunch of people rather than a stream of text.
So, what of those in the team who didn’t happen to be in Second Life? Well I suppose I can mail round the transcript of our discussion. Also, how do I get the best value from this’ happening’ for the Habitat team and for JISC? Plus, let’s not forget the question: ‘What is the relevance for our users/students?”.
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?