Thursday, April 24. 2008
You might already know, but we rebuilt Dante's Inferno and Linden Hills. You can see some pictures over here.
I've also written about what we did and why on my website.
In both educational terms, and in terms of my general satisfaction with the build, I think we've had an improvement. Of course you would hope to do that in a rebuild, but we had more of a rebuild than most educators, or builders, routinely get, because our entire sim had to be packed up and put away, then reopened and built.
This allowed us an unprecedented level of choice in the design process. Not entirely by chance Desi and I were also asked to sit on panel for an American Gothic Literature class and answer questions, both about the literature and the creation of builds to support learning it in Second Life™ earlier this week. This has led me to ponder the process a bit, and so to blog about it!
For our builds, the core question is always "Does this support the educational outcomes?" Things which are cool, or hard to use, or distracting we try to cut out. Of course, we don't succeed in meeting everyone's expectations, things that work for us might be terrible for someone else, but by and large you can do that. Any teacher does that in planning a class or a resource, at least you hope so!
The next element is "Does this promote immersion?" Immersion is a harder thing to measure of course. But you can promote immersion by combinations of the look, the sound, the colouring, the way in which you move around the space and probably other things. If you're doing a Poe story or the works of Poe, you don't build a light, airy hacienda, you build somewhere dark, looming and angular. You don't add sound effects of children playing on a summer's day, you add chains, heartbeats, screams. You don't have a big open space, you have something that's quite hard to navigate around, or at least with nooks and crannies. (There has to be a limit to hard you make it to navigate, because you want people to use it and explore it after all, unless you make that the challenge.) If you are going to have a screen to play streamed movies, you don't have it look like an ultra-modern plasma screen, you might go for "mad scientist" screen (although that's not really Poe's thing) more reasonably you go for something like a portrait on the wall.
The next element, which crosses over the first two is the content. This is both the educational and the building and scripting content. Is clicking a sign to get a notecard immersive? Is it educational? Is stopping to read the contents of a webpage either via llLoadURL or HOAP as that develops, immersive? Is it educational? Is having the house talk to you spam or educational? The answers aren't easy here, and we use all of these techniques and more to achieve our builds, because sometimes the best thing you can do for the educational side of things reduces immersion.
The final element for us is making it stand alone. Not all of our builds aim to achieve this. Some that do aim for it, achieve it easily, some don't do so well - and we revise them if it doesn't impinge on their use for teaching.
With Literature Alive! we are aiming at a class-space. Students are encouraged, often even expected, to come back alone, but they are not expected to dive in totally unsupervised and learn everything without some guidance and support. Assignments may be based in Second Life or outside Second Life, but by its very nature Literature Alive! is not in the business of teaching building and scripting, it is in the business of teaching literature and engaging with literature. If there is a choice that makes it easier for a random visitor to do things, but detracts from its use in class, supporting class, then we won't take that option. (We might well look for an option that tries to make it easier for a random visitor AND aids teaching in class though.)
If you visit the Inferno we provide the text, we provide activities on each circle, we provide numerous chances for you to pick up overall guidance, and to get advice about what to look for on each level. These add to both teaching and enabling the random visitor to learn about the Inferno.
The Linden Hills side of the sim is, however, harder for a random visitor to get to grips with, by and large.
Why? Well, although I've done most of the building and scripting, the content, and particularly the educational content, is largely provided by the students we've taught.
Did they do it how we would have done it? No, of course not.
Did they learn more about what was going on? Well, some have done really well, they've read Linden Hills and are explaining elements relevant to their section. They have learnt about The Inferno and are making links to the poem as well. Some have done less well, and have tried to avoid reading the book and/or the poem and rely on notes, web-based summaries and the like.
But, has it improved the use of the space for education? Yes, undeniably. For students that put in any effort at all, they have the benefit of trying to teach part of the book. Is there a teacher out there that doesn't believe that the best way to learn a subject is to be asked to teach it? I'd be surprised if there were. If you're in any doubt, have a look at this table. Practice by doing is hard for literature... "Just go and write a book about the evils operating within African American culture" isn't really an option for a class. But, teaching others gives us that same 90% retention level. It also, of course, gives you a chance to practice by doing before the final examination too. Students get feedback suggesting they've got the wrong end of the stick, suggesting they need to cite sources, include page numbers and/or line numbers and the like. They're all "soft" skills that you expect students to have at college level, whether rightly or wrongly, but that you can point out and give them a chance to correct so they remember come exam time. They're not only learning about the material by teaching, they're learning about the skills that are expected in the course by practice in a real (or a really virtual) setting. Excellent.
Sorry if you visit and don't get a good feel for Linden Hills, the focus is always on the teaching, and teaching the class comes first, and it has achieved that aim. It is possible we'll revamp the Linden Hills side of the Inferno once class is over in order to make it more accessible.
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