*Trapped* in Second Life

I finally took a few hours to explore Second Life, about which I’ve attended many conference sessions over the last several months. I have learned that innovative instructors teach classes in this virtual world, and are turning it into a true VLE (Virtual Learning Environment). There are spaces like EduIsland, and people like Corwin Carillon (Nick Noakes‘ “in world” name) and Lyr Lobo (Cynthia Calongne) from New Media Consortium. Colleges are recreated entire campuses in SL, complete with student services.

So I wanted to get in and look around. Keep in mind I am NOT a gamer! I don’t even like games. The learning curve was high for me, since I am not at all attuned to virtual 3-D environments. A few weeks ago, I needed help from other people just to get my avatar looking like me (yes, other people walk around with tails and fox ears, but I wanted to be me — Lane is a last name in SL, so I got to be LisaM Lane). Yesterday I went to the NMC campus in SL to look around. It was a TRIP.

It was a combination of being a baby with a big brain, and taking some sort of drug where you’re not sure of the side effects. I had to learn how to walk, and turn my head, even after I went through the orientation. I fell down stairs, I learned to fly, I went parachuting without a parachute.

But then, I went into a building, to a meeting room, and managed to sit down in a chair (you right-click on the chair and click “Sit here” on the menu). When I tried to get up (“Stand up”), I got stuck in the chair. My legs were embedded in the seat and I could not moved forward or backward. It took me ten minutes, and finally I got out by sitting somewhere else.

How embarrassing! No one was in the room, thank goodness. Can you imagine me going into SL to meet like-minded tech-savvy professionals and getting STUCK IN A CHAIR? What if I had done what I read you must never do (choose “Take off…” thinking you will fly and accidentally click “clothing”, making you naked)? I would be in a professional environment, with professional colleagues, naked and stuck inside the furniture. Oh, the humiliation….

I did manage to do other things, like lie on the beach, jet ski, and ride a shark. These thrills did not erase the experience of being stuck in the chair, or of walking into walls, or zig-zagging up a staircase like my avatar was drunk, or sitting down in a boat only to have it instantly sink. I don’t know yet how to change clothes or find a class to take (or maybe I should say, “sit in on”!).

I felt like Alice through the looking class, but thanked my lucky stars there was no White Queen there, with her shawl flying and telling me, “Dear, you really should get out of that chair — you look quite foolish.” Of course, she claimed to be able to do six impossible things before breakfast. Maybe I can too.

Mashing it up

I am trying to get my head around the idea of a “mashup”, a cobbling together of two technologies, or uses of technology, or even media tracks, to create something new. It seems to belong in the same brain space as “sampling”.

A recent PC World article called Google Maps’ new “My Maps” feature a mashup, and it seemed to assume that readers knew what one was. Wikipedia, of course, has some good definitions, and indicates up front that its origin is in the seeming destruction of content.

But in one of the most interesting examples of a media mashup, a point is made that the process begins with deconstruction of content, then putting it together in a way that forms a new idea. The MediaCommons Project’s In Media Res has a mashup called “The Last Lion King of Scotland“, a video that uses footage from “The Lion King” and soundtrack clips from “The Last King of Scotland” (yes, it does sound odd, and it is!).

Even more interesting is the discussion, a commenting feature embedded in the page, enabling viewers to discuss the piece, and possible student-created projects using the same techniques. I’d love comments on these ideas!

TechEd #1: Wikis

Debbie Faires of San Jose State University helped me understand some good uses for wikis. I currently use wikis only for quiz development (students add and edit questions, from which I choose for the quiz if they do enough work!). I began this last year using pbwiki (see the original wiki we made by using “history103” as the password). Now I use the wiki inside of Moodle.

Debbie noted that some of the best wikis have WYSIWYG editors, like Seedwiki which has a formatting bar instead of code. For most wikis, you must know the syntax to create links. She was fond of Google Docs, where each user is color coded for easy reference, and the wiki opens automatically in edit view. Flickr, I was reminded, can be used to have students annotate images easily, as a collaborative project. And Bubbleshare (which I learned about at a WOW2 podcast) can create slideshows to share. Debbie also reintroduced me to Zoho.com, which has chat and show applications as well as wikis.

One use is document creation collaboration among faculty. It is recommended that one not use the word “wiki”. I already violated this tenet when MiraCosta developed its Technology Plan in a wiki on my advice, using the defunct schtuff.com, now absorbed by pbwiki. I realize now that more people would have been less afraid to use the sucker if I’d called it a “collaborative document” or just “a document we can all edit”.

But the most fascinating aspect of the presentation was the usage tips. Here’s what I can do with a wiki:
* Appointment signup — everyone can see everyone else’s time slots, and sign up for meetings or office hours
* Ongoing collections — sustained collections of information that stay and are updated from semester to semester
* Podcast editing — students add time markers to class podcasts to make it easier for all students to scan to a particular topic
* Assignment sharing — students add their assignment and all appear on one page, making a large document collection
* User guides — students creating user guides (to the Course Management System, for example) to help other students
* Student book reviews — students can share individual readings with others
* Lecture links — students can create and update links that have gone down or moved
* Spreadsheet creation — the online form of each student or group giving a report on one aspect, but all are responsible for learning the whole thing (the example was each group being assigned a particular nation and reporting on working conditions)
* Resource page — student-created and edited collection of readings

One instructor assigned students to report individually on the conglomerated knowledge represented in the wiki, and assigned individual grades this way.

Debbies presentation wiki (of course!) can be found at TechEdWiki.pbwiki.com.

Now they’re Twittering

Twitter? I guess it’s the newest thing in social networking. The Unethical Blogger says:
Twitter allows the masses to finally answer the question “what are you doing?”

To me, it looks like a txt form of what students do walking around San Elijo with their cell phone: “Yeah. Whatcha up to?… I just got out of class…no…walking out back to smoke a cig…yeah..I gotta class in 10 minutes…you going over to Mom’s later?…uh huh…”

Second Life

Interesting NY Times article (sign up for free account) on colleges using Second Life to teach online. I’ve been thinking about looking into this, and the whole idea of creating such a virtual community in an educational setting. It relates to the discussion of whether it’s a good idea to co-opt teenagers’ social web world and using it for education. I’m recalling a side discussion at the Tech Plan Retreat over how students move to the next hot thing: from MySpace to Facebook to Bebo , because their space is being taken over by our generation.

Social bookmarking

I checked out both Delicious and Magnolia today, trying to find a way to organize my disparate bookmarks in a way that might help others also.

It’s a bizarre idea, social bookmarking, but it makes some sense to use any means necessary to pare down the vast library of the internet.

I also used Google’s blog search for the first time.What shocked me was clicking on links to blogs on my chosen topic (“online teaching”) and finding lists that were obviously connected to ads for other things entirely.

I also noticed there are already sites containing feeds from several social bookmarking sites, trying to compile them, like popurls. Man there was a lot of junk there.

None of this is helping organize my multiple sets of bookmarks in three different browsers on three different computers — it’s just helping me add to them!