What happens when you take 6 online philosophy students with and average age of about 50* and attempt to run a discussion session on ‘identity’ in Second Life after only two short orientation sessions that not everyone could attend?
- The majority of the participants were experienced philosophers. They did not have to grapple with the environment AND the subject. Once they had learnt how to text chat, move and sit down (an activity they all seemed to enjoy) the rest was home territory.
- The tutor involved was enthusiastic, had experience of teaching online distant students via a VLE and had a clear understanding that Second Life was going to be different and required a new approach.
- I was on hand through the sessions to IM anyone in difficulties and more importantly I was in the same RL room as the tutor who was also new to Second Life.
- We were flexible with the teaching format and adjusted activities to fit the flow of the discussion and the speed of response from the students.
- The participants who signed up for the pilot self selected as those willing to investigate a possible new format. This was not a mandatory part of a course. In other words they were open to a new experience.
The debate begins
One of the most successful aspects of the sessions was breaking into small groups. We had placed simple breakout areas within view of each other but just out of the 20 meter range of local chat to avoid cross talk. The tutor could wander between groups much in the same way she would in RL. It was a format that the participants could relate to and it utilised the socio-spatial nature of the environment.
The ‘red’ group with the ‘blue’ group in the background.
Have we met?
The setting lends a noble atmosphere to the discussion
*This is not meant as an ageist comment as I think the Prensky-esque notions of the digital native generation are a misnomer (by that I mean “completely wrong”). My point is that these participants are not ‘high tech’ nor are they ‘tech geeks’. They will only use a technology if it aids them in moving their learning forwards.