There were two events of note in my Second Life yesterday, one crossing over into first life.

First up, a friend, a RL one dropped in. I ended up converting an .aiff into an .mp3 for her, which led to talking about the Poe House. She's a big fan of Poe, and is really a fan of SL, she just knows she'd become an addict and daren't sign up. She was seriously impressed by it, not quite running around like a child in a candy store, but pretty close. She also enjoyed her visit to Willow Springs, although she's not read Mama Day.

The person whose good opinion matters most is, of course, Desi on these builds - she's the one that's got to use them as classrooms after all, but having a friend like them, and enjoy them, and suddenly get the point about what SL can do for stories and books was nice.

The other event also involves Desi, and is a less happy memory - not because of Desi, but because of the rest of the group. Desi is teaching a university fiction class in SL and yesterday it was also an occasion for a visit by the NMC Buzz.

I have issues with the commitment of some of the students - some are embracing SL, turning up with AOs, snazzy clothes, interesting group names and so on. Good move guys! This course contains a compulsory graded element worth 25% of the overall marks, which is building an immersive learning environment for a book or short story in SL, so some skill with SL is well worth developing. Three, however, have not logged in since last week, and, surprise, surprise, they struggled to complete even simple activities in SL. That was frustrating enough. Then the rabble from the NMC Buzz showed up. About 30 of them. And I'm using the term rabble advisedly.

They'd been told it was an actual class that they'd be coming to, and joining in with, and speaking in very generalising terms:
  • They failed to show any consideration of the actual students
  • They completely refused to listen to the instructions
  • They didn't listen to answers when they asked for help
  • A fair number of them refused to engage with the activity


These things were immensely frustrating. I've worked in environments when it's felt like herding cats. This felt like herding deaf cats, they were that unruly. Desi, fortunately, changed the way she presented the second activity on the fly, and managed to impose some control. She treated them all like 5 year olds, and that seemed to work. Of course some of the people there were still to stupid or ignorant to follow a list of 3 clear instructions without constant "What do I do next?" or "I don't understand what I'm doing" comments - one of them in fact read and commented on a typo in the instructions on display (the students didn't have to listen to what was said, there were large signs with the instructions on them as well) without managing to engage his/her brain enough to follow the damn things - I kid you not.

You'd have thought that turning up to someone else's class you'd show some respect to the class and the students wouldn't you? The nearest RL analogy I can think of, this lot turned up to a class, completely with hi-fi and spliff and partied in the back!

Even more worrying, no one managed to cite things properly. Correct citations were mentioned, specifically, in two places in the posters with instructions, and several times in the chat. No one, second year English student to visiting professor, managed to cite their work correctly. A few had some attempts at citations, but incorrectly completed, but mostly there was no attempt at citing at all. Plagiarism is an ugly word for an ugly activity. With students you might cut them some slack in the early stages of a course - teaching citing shouldn't have to be part of a second year course, but you might have to do it - but professors failing to cite, do they know that's a sacking offence, or do they just not care any more?

For a different person's take on it, read CDB's article on the NMC blog

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  • Eloise's thoughts and fancies 
    A far less manic Monday
    So, on Monday we had the next session with the learners that I blogged about with the NMC guests last week. What a difference a week, and having only the students present makes! My anonymous interlocuter might still hate the course, as is her right. Wh ...
  • Eloise's thoughts and fancies 
    Student thoughts on Willow Springs
    Yesterday the contemporary fiction class I've blogged about here and here came to the end of their "Willow Springs" or Mama Day part of the course. I'm not going to comment on every single part - although you can read the entire (anonymised) text of t ...

8 Comments

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  • One of those 30  
    Eloise, having read your post I feel entitled to respond. I was one of those thirty, and yes I agree with you about the necessity of showing respect for the daring teacher, (mis)following instructions and plagiarism. But here are a few considerations that might throw light at what happened in the classroom:

    1) All the three activities planned for this class were pretty mechanical. Moreover, the point of those was obscure to both I and most people I chattered afterwards. Did you and Desi intend to spend the class time on writing out working definitions of the literature genres and then re-writing them citing the web? What is the educational value in that? Memorization? If so, Ok I see the point, but meaningful learning will never happen from pure memorization.
    2) Now if you had used SL to initiate the discussion of literature texts that bear similar attributes and can be generalized and used for defining a literature genre to which these texts belong – now this is meaningful. This activity is not mechanical, but rather requiring participants to be reflective, rather than having them search for definitions online.
    3) Like you noticed many participants spent a lot of time on basic SL things, such as rezzing objects and putting their definitions in scripted containers. Not cool – at least 55 minutes of the class were dedicated to technology, only about half of that time or even less to the class content.
    4) Does this mean that all those visiting the class were unaware of the basic SL functions? Perhaps, but… If so many people felt confused, does this give you a chance to review your instructions for clarity? Or perhaps, participants were confused about the purpose of the whole activity? See, point One then.
    5) I cannot speak for all teams, but team work and thus experiencing of collaboration did not occur within my group. Why? We were mostly concerned with running around and getting the cans to dump them into our team container, then with analyzing and citing the definitions.
    6) I have a special problem about citing – well, one thing is what are the citing guidelines you wanted participants to adhere to? You never mentioned those, thought I totally think that you know about several citing preferences in the academic world. Next, the only option for citing given to your participants was the World Wide Web – well, it has its vulnerabilities, and again I am sure you know what I am talking here about.
    7) Finally, the discussion part of the activity took about 7 minutes!!!! The reflective part was supposed to be the culmination of this all and …it never happened! Well, I returned to the posted transcript of the lesson to make sure I am not exaggerating things – well, 7 minutes of the discussion for the activities that were apparently messy for the majority is probably not enough. Plus, it should be more meaningful than just asking the participants how they felt about these activities.

    With this said, Eloise, my sincere thanks go to Desi and you. I applaud your courage to open your classroom to the whole SL community and like both of you I care about the pedagogical implications of SL. So, please accept this posting as a friendly analysis from the one who cares about teaching and learning, values Desi’s and your efforts and will in no way want to discourage you from exploring SL. But rather take this as an invitation to reflect and analyze why things turned out the way they did. I will be happy to continue the conversation.
    • Eloise  
      The instructions that said MLA format were in big writing on the wall in two places, and reiterated at the start of the class. The RL students have also been told this repeatedly. Given we were asked about everything else under the sun, if you weren't sure, why didn't you ask what citing standard was expected?

      The students (the real ones) were in their second class in SL. Given as part of their class they are expected to be building scenes for a book or short story, some time spent teaching them mechanics of SL was part of it. This is already mentioned in the main post in a different fashion. It may not have been explicitly mentioned as a learning goal, but it was certainly part of what we expected to be teaching, albeit it to 9 students rather than 39!

      Teaching the students one method of how and where to research literary terms that they will be expected to use in their coursework surely has merit? Along with, one would hope, using the citing method that they've been told rather more often than was mentioned in that class that they're expected to use, that has merit too, in my eyes. If just the core class had been there, they'd have done 7 each, with the extra bodies, we expected 2-4 each. Not that painful a repetition level for most people, although obviously too high an expectation in practise. Given it's not JUST a copy exercise - we recommended rewriting the references and citing them as an option to simply quoting them, it's not a totally mechanical exercise, rephrasing sources is a valuable part of writing too after all. All of these things were spelt out, but apparently overlooked by many people. It's not clear to me whether that was because people were not reading what they were "told," not reading the signs or what.

      As you noted the time spent trying to teach, and largely trying to teach, in my experience, the teachers who are otherwise SL residents and might be expected to have some basic competence, took about 2/3 of the class time. The class has a very fixed time, because the students have no access to the lab before this time and they are thrown out of the lab they are using by security at the end. The rough plan I had in mind suggested about 30 minutes for the definitions exercise, 30 or less to find and put definitions in the bins, and 30 or more for the discussion. (It is Desi's class, I was there to help, she may have different timings in her plan.) It is possible this was optimistic, but I certainly never expected to be teaching the NMC folks basic SL mechanics, which it still feels was what I spent almost all of that first hour doing.

      I'm not trying to claim the lesson was perfect, nor am I trying to lay all the blame on the NMC guests. Many of the points you raise are valid and I'm sure will be addressed in future. It will, however, be fascinating to see how the next class runs with just the core students, and fascinating to see how the equivalent lesson with the next group of students and NO burst of 30 random extra bodies runs too.
      • One of those thirty  
        Wow, that was a fast reply, and I do take your points, Eloise. However, the fact that instructions were not well read by the audience must be telling you that this is obviously not the most effective way to present important information to participants. Perhaps, particular attention should have been drawn to those signs and perhaps the guidelines should have been clearly announced even though taking the class time.

        Next, perhaps the purpose of these activities made perfect sense to your students, but please understand my point too: teaching students the terms and where to get them during the class time is probably not the best motivator. Helping them to come up with their own definitions by comparing texts and being thus excited about the process of discovery is a much better way than just throwing terms at them and letting participants define those. Not good, simply because a moment of discovery is not present here, and thus the moment of excitement so particularly valuable for deep and meaningful learning is absent too.

        Another problem I have here is that this is a Modern Contemporary Fiction class, not a building class. As a person who took a long time to find my way about SL and learn how to build, I can completely see how expecting to build scenes for a book or short story can be totally frustrating for students, who also are required to read long texts, learn terminology, probably write essays and carry the load of other classes. Again, my feeling is that technology is taking over here, and is this what you want to happen for this class?

        Finally, the random bodies of NMC guests appeared in this class because they were actually invited to it. So, accommodating them (and you did just that!) should have been part of your planning.

        Once again, analyzing this helps me to learn from and with you. I am hoping that we can continue the conversation for the sake of better teaching and learning, .
        • Eloise  
          Taking the points backwards...

          We did plan for your inclusion, but not for the low level of skills present within the NMC group. As a group, they were far more demanding of the time of the instructors than expected or planned for. We also had no idea how many people would attend. If there had been 5 people from NMC, would their impact on the class, even if they were all completely new to SL have been as great? Of course not. It makes good planning harder, wouldn't you say?

          The "building a scene" part of the course is built in to the planning and the assessment of the course, and well advertised. I believe you will find, and the university agrees, that it falls under the remit of "increasing use of ICT" or however it is phrased in their learning goals. We can, rather pointlessly I feel, argue about whether other tools might be better. I would argue, and I'm sure Desi would, that the building aspects of this will be moderate to low, creating scenes which evoke a scene from a particular story to enable others to learn about it - are you really going to try and argue that such a goal doesn't require reading, understanding and visualising a text, surely all good, valuable things for any literature class?

          Again it's a clash of styles question. You observed one part of one class (the students had just had 90 minutes in a classroom before the SL part of the class). Could that element have been addressed in a different way? Sure. Does it make sense in the overall context of the course? I don't have that information too hand. Given I am going to continue to defend the use of SL for the students to build their scenes in, a class which combines a useful activity in research and direct academic learning without (we had expected) being too taxing, and combines some basic SL buying object, rezzing objects, positioning objects and embedding notecards into objects type skills strikes me as actually very useful and contributing strongly to the overall course.

          I do take your point that the participants seemed unwilling and/or unable to 'listen' or read signs, with the exception of the person who read the sign and commented on the spelling rather than digesting the content. Perhaps we could have done more about it - but since you were apparently there throughout, would you care to suggest when we had time to do anything of the sort? Even if we had, given how obviously the participants failed to listen, continuously and consistently, would it have made any difference?
  • Beth Ritter-Guth  
    Thank you for your post and responses; you have articulated, quite clearly, the issues of the presentation.

    The commenter failed to hear the announcements that this was the second night of class and that these students are adult learners learning concepts in SL for the first time. I have always advocated for content before technology, but if students are to use SL, they need to learn skills like rezzing objects and creating notecards using ethical practices. These were the goals of the lesson; the review of terminology is the standard for first week college level classes in literature.

    While I will still shape and mold the class for the future, I think it is important to note (as you do in your post) that some of the guests were rude and unruly - seeing the event as a social one and not an educational one. This made classroom management difficult.

    In Real Life, I would never walk into a classroom, chat with my firends, ignore the directions, ignore the readings, and then criticize the instructor.
  • Alan Levine  
    As the person responsible for inviting the unruly guests to class, I apologize for the hassle, especially if it interfered with the actual students. We were very excited to have an opportunity to experience an SL learning activity rather than have just talk about it, and appreciate all that you and Desi did to try an accommodate this. It was a heroic effort, indeed.

    In perfect vision hindsight, I would have set up much more clear instructions and reminders for the guests of what they needed to do and act. It is a reminder that for all the Sl affords in being able to do things not possible in RL, it provides the opportunity for people to act out in appropriately.

    A small distinction is that the many of people who showed up are not affiliated with or are truly a part of the NMC organization, and largely we do not know much about them. The Teachers Buzz group is an open invite we send to the education community (e.g. via SLED). For any sort of experience like this in the future, we will aim to make it clear that we request only people show up who are serious about participating.

    That said, again, we deeply appreciate the effort to invite an open group and regret the inconvenience it incurred. It reinforced for me how hard it is to lead such activities where the typical codes of behavior can unfortunately be tossed carelessly behind.
    • Eloise  
      Hi Alan,

      Sorry for the confusion - people attending as part of the NMC Teacher's Buzz become "the NMC attendees" quite easily by abbreviation. I didn't intend to imply they represented NMC as an organisation in any way shape or form.

      We all survived the experience, and a lot of lessons to be learnt all round it appears - a BIG reminder that they're observing and attending a RL class, and they are asked to participate in that class with respect for the RL students is something that, in hindsight, we should have made much clearer - and perhaps something you might like to consider emphasising if you do such a Buzz again.

      We've had positive comments - and those that completed the feedback gave positive comments too, by and large - so, although it was very hard work, unduly and unpredictably harder than it needed to be, at least some of the attendees got something positive and we've not lost any of the RL students, so not a disaster!
  • Beth Ritter-Guth  
    Alan makes an excellent distinction here; the unruly and rude persons are not affiliated with NMC necessarily.

    Alan did an excellent job publicizing the event and indicating that is was a RL class; his wording indicated that it was not a showcase and was, in fact, "real time" education.

    It is also important to note that 95% of the guests were AWESOME!!!!! The 5% that were rude do not represent the whole. Further, of those 5%, only 1-2% were flat-out rude. Many of the remaining 3% did not realize they were BEING rude (I immed people and asked them to take cross chat to IM) and they were super duper apologetic and shaped up quickly :-)

    My classes are open to all in SL, and the Buzz series is an excellent one. I appreciate NMC's devotion to helping resident educators experience the environment.

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