Summer School Observations

These past few weeks have been very busy. The Modesto summer school class has met four days a week, three hours each day. The teacher opens the lab at the high school on Fridays if students want to come in and work. The enthusiasm of the students has been overwhelming.

This class is an ROP class. They did not preregister for the class. To get into the class they had to show up on the first day to enroll. I ran a Polycom video conference unit over an hour before class started on the first day. A third of the class (about 10 students) were there at least a half hour early to stake out their seats.

In the first week we had major problems with the air conditioning. The afternoon temperatures were over a hundred degrees with the temperature in the lab well over ninety degrees. This class is held very late in the day so as to allow for overlap between our class day and Kyoto’s.

These are the last students that are at school during the day, the janitor usually comes in after class to remind us that we need to leave. It says something about this project when you see students giving up three plus hours a day during their Summer break to participate, and they are willing to put up with extreme heat and discomfort to be in the class. Thankfully the problems with the air conditioning were resolved in the second week.

The students have taken this project and their class very seriously. They are all interested in participating in the exchange program, if they can. This class has drawn together a wide demographic of students, and at least a third of them are female students. This was something that I wondered about when starting this project with Kyoto. Traditionally, anything that even resembles a video game is dismissed my most girls. This is definitely not true with this project.

The creativity and ability that these students have exhibited in only a few weeks on the island is amazing. They are all actively building and participating in building the island. The differences between the American and Japanese avatars are stunning. Tomorrow I will post more screenshots to our Flickr page. The Japanese students have made very abstract and stylized avatars as opposed to the American avatars that are all human while displaying their individuality in their clothing.

Outside of Chris Flesuras and I, we have not introduced voice communications to the students (using the computers). We have a modified network install of the Second Life client that pulls an image from one of our servers at start-up if there’s been an update. We had to do this because of the restrictions we place on student accounts on our network. We plan to implement the voice features of Second Life in the Fall, and I can only imagine how this will add yet another dimension of personalization to the island.

The teacher who is running this summer school class says that it’s been a long time since he has seen students this excited about a class and a project. Because these students are building the island, and they are interacting beyond the classroom walls with students across the Pacific, they are fully engaged in the class and are eager to participate. And as I’ve stated, the appeal seems to be gender independent.

I will be getting many more pictures of these past few weeks posted through the weekend. Be sure to browse our Flickr site and Photo Album page to see more pictures of this ongoing project.


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