This week isn’t over yet, but as I am now away from Sussex, it seems fair enough to treat it as the end of the week. Looking back, the last few days have felt a bit like a roller coaster ride with moments of deep despair about what the students are or are not doing combined with exhileration at seeing activity and hearing excitement at achievement.
Starting with the low points – and, I guess an acknowledgment of my personal involvement and investment in this course and in particular the Second Life aspects of it. On Monday, I covered the U/G project meeting. Before the meeting there was an email from one of the groups saying they would not be present and everything was in hand. If only I could believe things were as under control as reported, especially when there was clearly some misunderstanding about the tasks still needing to be completed. An exciting project with an enthusiastic client, but so little being done to use the affordances of SL. (By chance, I bumped into the client later in the day and she mentioned she might be meeting the group, but was a little concerned about assisting them – I encouraged her to both meet with them and to express high expectations of what they might achieve, especially as she hopes to be able to use their deliverables with real students and potential students.)
Initially 2 students turned up at the meeting. A positive was that one had at long last produced a project specification and we were able to discuss that and potential extensions to it. The other student was feeling pretty low as he was having difficulty getting communication within his group and getting things done. The frustration was compunded by the late arrival of another student, who refused to accept my suggestion that those present in the group could make decisions and allocate work within the group; how could people be allocated tasks if they were not present and might not want to undertake those tasks. Some time later a third member of the group arrived and the 3 of them decided to go and do some work on their project in the lab. It felt as though we had moved away from rock bottom.
The other really low point of the week was Wednesday and the workshop. Just 3 students turned up with no explanations or apologies from any of the others. Although students are free to choose whether or not to attend classes, it is incredible to think people are choosing to miss out on opportunities, some of which cannot be repeated. This week there was an opportunity not only to interact with each other and hear a theoretical, scene setting to the topic in hand, but the opportunity to interact with people from elsewhere. Others gave their time freely to benefit people who just didn’t show. I felt angry and disappointed at this lack of engagement.
Alongside the lows there have been highs. Monday evening I was able to go in world and find 5 students engaged in work on their builds. There was a real buzz as one project (the one with the 3 students from the morning) had begun to take shape and had a direction to go in and the effort was beginning to pay off. The other group were tackling the problem of the dead parrot – or how to remove oxygen from a virtual glass globe and make the globe implode! Again it was good to see the amount of work going on and the sense of enjoyment and effort as people created their build together.
Perhaps the real high of the week was Tuesday morning, when the dispirited student of Monday turned up wanting to check out what he was doing was OK. In fact, he was beaming and full of pride (rightly so) at having cracked some tricky scripting problems and got his build doing what is was meant to do!
Although students have not engaged with the project in the same way this year as last year, nevertheless, there has been engagement and clear demonstrations of student learning and overcoming problems to achieve success. It might be a rollercoaster ride but there are definitely some highs along the way!