Inspiration and Engagement: Fueling a Second Life Program
Second Life provides access to potential immersive educational experience more than any single enabled technology. The limit is only bound by the imagination of thousands of educators worldwide who are approaching this new frontier with curiosity and enthusiasm. The success of any educational project in Second Life hinges on the ability to convert those new ideas into action by engaging a community of users, and supporting their experience. There are four main stages to building a Second Life program from seeding initial interest through to project completion. These stages are cultivation, focus, training, and community. This outline provides a framework for starting a new Second Life program and seeing projects through to successful completion by generating genuine interest and then supporting that engagement.
Generating interest in a new Second Life educational program presents several challenges. Virtual world platforms for education are a relatively recent technological development, and there may be some resistance to this emerging medium. By introducing the educational possibilities in stages, a spirit of interest is cultivated and possible participants are identified.
Presenting the educational possibilities of Second Life in stages allows people in your institution time to understand this new platform. Prior to “desktop virtual worlds” like Second Life, three-dimensional environments were not possible in most educational contexts, as they were cost prohibitive. This revolutionary delivery system is new for everyone, and time must be given for understanding.
One effective approach in cultivating interest in a second life project is to provide three informative demonstrations with increasing levels of engagement. Typically these demonstrations start out general before large audiences, and move to more specific instruction with identified interested parties.
The initial presentations invite your whole institution to learn about this new medium and to give a broad overview of Second Life and how it may be used as an instructional tool. It should leave participants asking the question, “How can apply this to my area of expertise?”
From the general presentations, interest is developed throughout the organization. It is advised to offer many general sessions in a casual format of openness and possibility. The aim is to not only generate interest but serious potential participants.
The next level of presentation involves smaller groups with an identified interest to learn further. Participants are invited to engage with Second Life directly, creating accounts, making avatars, and learning the very basic commands for navigation. Emphasis is placed on participants experiencing for themselves the engagement level in using second life and not on comprehensive training.
These sessions are usually filled with laughter and discovery, and for some, trepidation. While most new users have enthusiastic responses, some will be wary, and offer objections. This need not be checked, other than to suggest that many users need several experiences before they reach their personal comfort level. Participants are invited to consider tangible applications for Second Life and to follow up for a more in depth session.
Ideas generated by the participants in the initial sessions that have enough forward motion move to the next phase: a small group engagement with Second Life around a specific idea. At this stage, while beginning to consider details, the potential project is investigated within Second Life. Tangible skills are introduced with the aim of giving the participant a realistic sense of the commitment required to undertake a project in Second Life. Additionally, skills level expectations are introduced. Participants are asked to create a short proposal to formalize the project and set the next phase in motion. They are encouraged to become more proficient in Second Life on their own.
Once projects are identified the formal planning phase begins. The project leaders should already have several hours of guided and self-guided experience in Second Life, and therefore an awareness of the types of skills required by project participants. Additionally, the details of every aspect of the project must be identified, and duties assigned appropriately. This division of labor will constellate differently in each organization, but should consider the following elements in the plan:
i) Technological Requirements and support. User computer updates, accessibility, connection speed, video card, Second Life downtime.
ii) Full or blended learning experience.
iii) Building and development needs.
iv) Instructional design and materials creations
v) Participant training.
vii) Timetables and milestones.
viii) Institutional code of conduct.
Typically a project requiring building or development require two to three months from this phase through to launch. Extra care should be given to effectively planning the entire project and anticipating possible challenges. However, the newness of this field requires a certain ability to adapt to new conditions as they arise. Sometimes those new elements add value, like a new tool in Second Life, and so flexibility should be encouraged throughout.
Once definite projects are identified and development is underway, a comprehensive training approach should be created. At this stage, all project leaders should clearly understand the project goals, and should have a confidence level proficiency in Second Life. The time required for proficiency differs with each individual, however for leaders, it is estimated thirty hours of experience is required to gain mastery.
The participant training is approached comprehensively over one or two sessions. Session one includes avatar creation and at least the following:
v) Radial menus
vii) Enabling media
ix) Camera controls
The training is most effective when participants are assigned a simple and doable task. One popular exercise that has been effective is to have participants photograph a specific location using the built in capture tools, and then email that picture to the instructor. This allows all the skills of movement and camera to come together in a dynamic and enjoyable way.
The supplementary session should focus on specifically what the participants will be doing in Second Life as part of their educational experience. While it is ideal to have a high level of proficiency amongst participants, in many cases this develops throughout the experience. It is unrealistic to anticipate high levels of competency from new participants, and this should be accounted for in laying forth the plan for the experience.
While the educational experience may be underway, participants will also constantly be learning Second Life, both from the activities, and from one another. The mutuality that develops within the experience should be cultivated, and is also necessary for the leader to offer basic support while furthering the project aims.
The people involved in your second life project form a valuable leading edge asset at your institution. As such, it is crucial to support the communal aspect of the experience, by bringing participants together in SL to share experiences, concerns, skills, and moreover, to share one another’s company.
There are many social activities that are appropriate in an educational context from speaker series or public symposia, to dances and parties. Involve the participants themselves in planning a social experience for all Second Life participants to come together. These meetings with solidify to positive and innovate context that these forerunners operate within, and celebrate their ingenuity and determination to expand the possibilities for educational experiences.
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