Review and analysis of the first in-world class of the semester

38 of the 70 enrolled students turning up for the first of this semester’s solely in-world classes (and I’m still curious to know the whereabouts of the humpteen enrolled students whom I have never once seen thus far).

Arch Angel
DaveyDarkStrider Oh
Iciilix Foxclaw
RaNoGa Swords

This morning’s lecture addressed the subject of ‘presence‘ in virtual worlds.  (Coincidentally Coventry University ran an in-world discussion last night on the issues of ‘presence’ and ‘identity’ … sadly, I missed it.)  The class was structured into 45 minute lecture sessions, with 15 minute interludes at the end of each block for questions and discussion.  In the final 45 minutes students were required to ponder and wander, and report back during the final 15 minute summing-up session with screenshots and notecards capturing their observations and understandings of the issues raised today.

I was struck by the fact that class discussion was far livelier than in the real-life lecture.  While in part one can undoubtedly credit this to the ‘disinhibition effect’ that enables even the most shy of students to speak up in text chat (as commented by students–see further below), I also had an intuition that the topography of the virtual class–unlike the enormous real-world teaching laboratory (see photograph below), no student is more distant from the lecturer than any other in a virtual environment–encouraged students to assume their opinions would be heard.  This, it now seems to me, may be a very significant observation.

The Sopwith teaching lab--not exactly suitable for group participation and discussion!

Often enough, the discussions ranged some way beyond the taught content of the class; yet it was interesting to see students becoming engaged in the peripheral topics such as gaming addiction:

EasyInput: What about the issue of people becoming addicted to the VR world, and as such neglecting their real life?

Professor Mayhem (lordjedi86): I know a gent whos wife has a dibiltating desease. Second life gives her the chance t have as close to a IRL social group as possible.

EasyInput: the medium of socialising is very dif from real life. And as such too much time spent in world, tend to cause the users to forget how to socialise IRL. And further making them not wanna live in the real world
Michael (freshoutempty): If Virtual REality technology advances so that the 5 senses are affected while using VR, then we have a problem
XENOpz: most of people’s sensory input comes through the eyes.
Ziminator2000: what about the negative implications of the view that gaming addiction exists as a physical addiction? Like rehabs and other scams?
bmryan32: being on a virtual world allows us to be people we want to be. it gives us confidence and makes it easier to socialise.

Novaspire007: addiction in itself is the affection of the brain by a chemical wanting you to have more
omz21: but people could simply use second life because they dont like there own life
RussellK: You gain more exposure online, people of similar mind sets can easily find one another. Closet atheists in America can find each other and build communities.

the ‘disinhibition effect’:

OptimusRhyme: people cant be punished for being twats in virtual worlds, makes them think they can act that way in real life
OptimusRhyme: they do, a lot of people are assholes in virtual worlds
XENOpz: that’s why we have mods with ban-hammers
EasyInput: moral bondries are what keeps peoples interactions civil. Without having to be accountted for them, people are free to be as racist, fashist, sexist…etc

omz21: but in virtual life you can pretend to be someone completely different to reality,
Professor Mayhem (lordjedi86): People who are untrained and un accustomed for power often take control of situations for which people spend years training to deal with.

EasyInput: moral bondries are what keeps peoples interactions civil. Without having to be accountted for them, people are free to be as racist, fashist, sexist…etc
iridisian: in fact the physical body would inhibit you from doing so

yama100: @easy you cant be annonymous, you go to facebook and write something that is not civil and see what happens
EasyInput: we choose to more realistically represent ourselves on facebook, because we choose to connect with people we have met or know IRL. In second life people hangout with complete strangers.

yama100: i agree i would never put my hand up in class
Professor Mayhem (lordjedi86): it’s a huge equaliser
Michael (freshoutempty): A positive view on VR is that, people are generally more comfortable talking to strangers without the inhibition of judgement. IRL people sometimes don’t want to chat or interact with you if you don’t appeal to their better judgement

affective engagement and virtual ‘affairs’:

EasyInput: Is it morally wrong for people to have affairs online, if they never really cheat physically IRL?
Iciilix (iciilix.foxclaw): I did hear of a married couple who both had “affairs” on SL… then discovered they were cheating WITH each other. Awwwkward.

RaNoGa Swords: I saw a show where a woman from America left her husband and kids to meet a guy she meet in second life from london, in the game they had a connection but when they met in RL (she came to London to meet him) they couldn’t communicate with one another as well.
RussellK: You’re still emotionally connected though.

D4FUQ: they need their computers taken away

In all, the chat log ran to 32 pages of A4 and over 15,000 words, of which the above is obviously no more than a meagre snapshot.

Was the in-world lecture successful?  I think so; and I look forward to seeing the results of the poll to determine whether the students also thought so.  Other than that, only anecdotal evidence: just over 4 hours into the session, for example, I noticed the following snippet of dialogue:

EasyInput: would you say that this was a successful lecture experience?
Iciilix (iciilix.foxclaw): I stayed awake for all of it 😀

I take that as a compliment.

Key points

  1. Students who, in the real-world class, might feel shy or embarrassed about participating in group discussions and Q&A sessions (and these, I think, are the students who quietly approach me with questions during breaks and at the end of a teaching session) feel far more able to participate in a virtual forum.
  2. The topography and acoustics of the real-world teaching lab (see photograph earlier) privileges the students sitting closest to the lecturer’s podium.  In the virtual environment, on the other hand, no ‘voice’ is more remote nor any less visible than every other: the virtual environment democratises class participation.
  3. The chat log furnishes students with a permanent record of what was discussed in the lecture.

About Christopher Hutchison

Museologist, cognitive dissident, political grouch, curmudgeonly bibliophage, and all round jolly nice chap.
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