Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Campus Technology 2008 – 2nd session: Explicit Bargain Setting

The second morning session focused on the use of Second Life in the college workplace. It was presented by Sarah “Intelligirl” Robbins of Ball State University and co-author of Second Life for Dummies. She title her program Explicit Bargain Setting: Realistic Expectations for Teaching in Virtual Worlds.

Ms Robbins started her presentation with the following two disclaimers:

Pedagogy comes first and technology second

Students come first and the university second

She argued that technology should not be used without regard to the learners and she said she offered that her guiding principle in applying technology is to adhere to Chickering & Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practice in Higher Education. She said that the Digital Native/Digital Immigrant argument is bogus; it’s an excuse by some not to learn new technology. She the real difference is in the Lifestyle, Engagement, and Motivation Divide. She said most people have cell phones, but older people tend to view them as a practical device to keep track of projects and people whereas teenagers and twentysomethings see them as a means of staying connected.

She said when considering the use of Second Life or any other technology we should follow Clay Shirky’s recommendations in his book Here Comes Everybody. In that book Shirky argues that when proposing the use of technology you should detail “The Promise;” explain how “The Tool” will help achieve that promise; and outline the Bargain which defines the rules of engagement between the teacher and the learner.

The promise made by Second Life is that involvement there will:

  • Increase a sense of presence
  • Allow bonding within the community of learners
  • Learning will be more engaging, immersive, and fun

The tools for delivering on this promise are:

  • Stigmergy – the ability to manipulate your environment for those who will follow
  • The ability to customize your avatar
  • Access to a global community
  • Multi-modal communication (text, voice, sight, hearing)

The bargain to make the promise work is that students must suspend their self-limitations and agree to learn to function in Second Life. They will drop this self-limitation, she said, if they are given a good reason. They also must be willing to cooperate and behave in an orderly fashion. That does not mean they cannot don the avatar of a huge dragon. She had one student whose avatar was that of a mermaid and since he had no legs he flew everywhere within Second Life. She said she did have to caution her students against nudity although it is present in Second Life.

And that is the key to applying any technology to learning. You, the teacher, instructor, ISD, must justify using the tool. She dismissed the idea of holding a meeting in Second Life where all you do is sit around and talk. Such a function is overkill in Second Life and could better be performed via conference call or in a private online chat room.

She ended on a cautionary note, stating that committing to teaching in Second Life required the teacher to be extremely familiar with how Second Life operates. “The teacher has to have expertise to serve as a guide, an advisor, and as an instructor so that when her students get into trouble because they are not familiar with Second Life she, the teacher can help them out. She told how she had one student who accidentally started his avatar break dancing and couldn’t figure out how to make the avatar stop. He resisted assistance for a week and as a result everytime he stopped talking his avatar would start to break dance.

The commitment involved in becoming a Second Life expert is intense and involves a steep learning curve.

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