Meditating on Second Life

PRX AeroSo I’ve been sitting here updating the blog tonight, contemplating the recent flurry in negative posts about Second Life.  What is behind these posts?  Why is there a sudden rush to criticize Second Life and those who are trying to utilize this environment for postive purposes?  Where were these people when the media was infatuated with the adult content on the main grid?  Why are these people using a shotgun to blast the entire virtual world of Second Life, instead of taking a sniper’s aim at the darker sides of virtual life?

I think we are seeing several elements at play here.  Some of these people have established themselves as experts, or spokespersons in other online media.  They might have been early advocates for social networks who are now feeling threatened by the new technology on the block.  They may be journalists that missed the boat on this story, and are now looking to throw a little cold water on the wildfire of SL stories.  They may also just be another one of those people who join in the chorus of negativity when it’s in the spotlight.  In a quick scan through Digg.com tonight, I found several of these people posting blog entries linking back to the two blog entries I commented on earlier today. 

As 2006 comes to a close, it’s obvious that Second Life has had a banner year in both growth and media coverage.  You know that the buzz is getting loud when the US Congress is considering taxing virtual property (don’t even get me started on this one, I’ll save this for another day).  Many of the stories over the past year were about the Linden Exchange (L$), profitable virtual businesses (e.g. Business Week), the “Red Light” adult aspects of certain neighborhoods on the main grid, educational projects, and a whole slew of other sensational stories from the virtual world of SL.   

Time Magazine has an excellent story in the issue just leaving the newsstands. The article was the cover story, “How to bring our schools out of the 20th Century“.   There are several quotes that I would like to highlight here (and I highly recommend you go and read the entire article, you will have to watch a short commercial if you do not subscribe to the magazine, but it’s worth it).  The first is about the state of our schools today:

“American schools aren’t exactly frozen in time, but considering the pace of change in other areas of life, our public schools tend to feel like throwbacks. Kids spend much of the day as their great-grandparents once did: sitting in rows, listening to teachers lecture, scribbling notes by hand, reading from textbooks that are out of date by the time they are printed. A yawning chasm (with an emphasis on yawning) separates the world inside the schoolhouse from the world outside.” – Time Magazine: How to bring our schools out of the 20th Century

The only way to tell that many of our classrooms today are not as they were in the early 1900’s is by looking at the color of the chalkboards.  Today classrooms have white boards, in the early 1900’s the chalkboards were either black or green.  Yes, in many classrooms you will find computers, but these are often underutilized, and far too often used for drill or reward.  We are not truly preparing our students for life in the 21st century.  Too often the focus is placed on standards and testing, while creativity and interaction are squeezed out of the school day.  There are other skills that are necessary for life than effectively covering standards and taking tests. 

“Developing good people skills. EQ, or emotional intelligence, is as important as IQ for success in today’s workplace. “Most innovations today involve large teams of people,” says former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine. “We have to emphasize communication skills, the ability to work in teams and with people from different cultures.”” – Time Magazine: How to bring our schools out of the 20th Century

This fits quite nicely within the goals of the PacificRim Exchange Island project.  We are developing a virtual space where our exchange students will spend a year and a half collaborating, communicating and sharing their cultures.  This won’t be limited to a 15 minute video conference, or contained in emails volleyed between foreign exchange students, or even shared in school district hosted websites.  No, the PacificRim Exchange Island will be online seven days a week, 24 hours a day.  With a 17 hour time difference separating our students, this will be very important.  I suspect that once this program gets going students will populate the island pretty much around the clock. 

While there will be plenty of planned interaction between our students, there will be many more informal and random encounters.  What will transpire, and how they will react to these situations is yet to be seen.  I do know that “any” interaction between these students will lead to a more positive and productive experience when they actually visit their host country during their exchange.  For the past 16 years they have been dropped into a foreign land and expected to get along with minimal language skills, limited knowledge of the culture, and very high expectations.  After spending time on the PacificRimX Island, many students will likely ask “What is your avatar’s name?” instead of “Who are you?”.  It will be the difference between old friends and meeting a complete stranger. 

“Knowing more about the world. Kids are global citizens now, even in small-town America, and they must learn to act that way. Mike Eskew, CEO of UPS, talks about needing workers who are “global trade literate, sensitive to foreign cultures, conversant in different languages”” – Time Magazine: How to bring our schools out of the 20th Century

This is the goal of our project, to produce students that are globally literate, sensitive to other cultures, and conversant in other languages. 

I sent an email to my 14 year-old triplets a few days ago after stumbling on the Global Kids World Fit for Children Festival contest.  It’s the end of their quarter, so they’ve been very busy at school.  Tonight they logged in to try to sign up and were upset that they missed the deadline for getting involved.  They were truly excited about this project.  They had even gone out and found another student so they could have two teams of two to participate (and compete) in this contest.  I’m sure the $200 first prize had nothing to do with their enthusiasm, but it’s not very often that I see this kind of enthusiasm for an educational endeavor.  And yet this is only one of many SL projects exploring ways to leverage these new virtual worlds for student education. 

As 2006 draws to a close, all those who are contemplating embarking on the adventure of creating a virtual educational space in SL, all of those who are actively developing their virtual spaces, and all of those who are on their second or third virtual spaces should all take out the shiniest of horns and toot it loudly and clearly in the New Year.  Start a blog, participate in the SL Educators Listserv, speak at a conference, write tutorials, develop and distribute objects and scripts for educators, and generally promote Second Life as an effective educational tool to your peers, and the public at large. 

It is very apparent that we all need to band together and promote this positive new avenue for instruction.  Together, we will easily drown out these negative stories that attempt to dismiss Second Life as a subpar game with a niche market of social rejects.  We all need to get behind this new medium if it is to be as successful as we hope it will be.  And never, ever, listen to the naysayer’s and doomsdayer’s on why you can’t do something. 

How often does the opportunity come around to explore a brave new world, and to extend your teaching beyond the four walls of your classroom while truly engaging your students?  Now is the time, seize the opportunity and have a blast engaging your students in learning.

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2 responses to “Meditating on Second Life

  1. Sorry your triplets missed the deadline but please tell them we are having events every day this week that they can participate in, and that they should join the Global Kids group and read the December newsletter to learn more ways they can get involved.
    Barry Joseph
    Global Kids

  2. Stan, it’s post Christmas craziness and I’m just catching up with your blog posts now.

    You project sounds more exciting the more I read about it.

    As it’s on the Teen grid, I can’t come and visit, so I hope you get your students to share their journeys and discoveries with the outside world through blogging, blogHUDing, Snapzilla or flickr, YouTube videos etc.

    And there is nothing that will put a more positive spin on the educational value of SL than the endorsements of the students themselves.

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