Week 9 marked the last of the formal classes with the machinima presentations. During the days running up to the 11th March, I was very aware of increased student activity in Second Life. Over the weekend, I found myself engaged in trying to assist students with sorting out media streams and providing other last minute advice and assistance. Monday morning, there were heated words in one group as work had not been done which should have been, and little apparent understanding from some team members that failing to attend team meetings messed up other people’s planning and time management.
Come the day of the presentations, I was bowled over by the work the students had done and the professional quality of the machinimas. Given that most, if not all, the students had never been near Second Life before early January, their achievements were truly remarkable. Perhaps as important was the response of the clients, one of whom is planning to use the resources developed on a course next term and another who is planning to discuss how the machinima and materials might be used with colleagues on the Newton Project. Although the ethnography project is incomplete, it is still possible that this migh be used in some way with students next year.
Although it probably only applies to a very small percentage of students, there was a warning note sounded about the potential to become over-involved in Second Life. Some months ago, there was discussion on the SLED list about the fears expressed by some that Second Life might be addictive. The general view was that this was not the case. Students did not choose to go into Second Life, but were there because we took them there and, in general, did not engage with the virtual world beyond what their courses required them to do. Although students might spend long hours in Second Life engaged with specific projects and course requirements, this was seen as relating more to ‘flow’ rather than indicating anything more worrying. One student in his ILE presentation did indicate that he had found himself over-involved in Second Life to a point where it was becoming addictive. Not only had he engaged with the project, but he had become involved in the virtual world to the extent of finding a partner in the virtual environment. Although for many students this would not have been problematic, for this young man it was. He did acknowledge that he had ignored advice and it was only now he was aware of the problems, but nevertheless there may be something to be learned from this experience when it comes to considering the advice given to students about SL risks and the formation of working groups.
Apart from the housekeeping that will need to be done now – arranging to get builds moved to more permanent locations on the island, I have a number of tasks to address. I need to look at the chat logs and make sure files are appropriately named and saved. I need to speak to Pablo (and hopefully Judith) and sort out arrangements for next term. How will students be introduced to SL? What kind of induction will be needed? Possible use of the Sussex avatars? I also need to consider what kind of tracking can be used to monitor what use is being made of the island and the resources. For the past term, I have been clear that my interest is in how SL supports learning experiences and in how students deal with it when they get stuck when engaged in a learning experience or task. I need to clarify what I want from the use of the SL resources. Something about the effectiveness of SL as a learning environment when there is not the involvement and engagement that comes from creating products within the virtual world? I need to look at the augmentationist/immersionist stuff again – althought students may not fit those types, we are asking some to use SL as a tool and asking others to be more involved by doing stuff there. A lot to think about and plan!