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SL Learning journey – beginnings

Some of my previous blogs have been journeys down memory lane drawing together different aspects of my life experience and identifying threads which are coming together in the work I am currently engaged in. A more recent blog was a snapshot of some of my ‘informal’ learning experiences. In this blog, I will reflect on my experience of learning in Second Life. As with any retrospective view, lots will be missing and time frames will almost certainly be out of synch, but  it may help in clarifying what kind of learning is happening for me in that environment.

It is now almost 3 years since lizit Cleanslate was born (17/11/2006). I hadn’t heard much about SL in advance of creating an account. In fact, the main reason for taking a look at all was the possibility of an elearning consultancy with the Sussex Learning Network and mention being made of Second Life and various Web 2.0 technologies. I vaguely knew the OU had an interest in SL and a bit of searching unearthed the note with the name of the OU island and the person heading up work in SL.

If I am honest,  I don’t remember very much about what it was like when I first logged into SL – and I don’t really know what I was expecting. I do remember exercising choice in my original avatar – it had to be a furry, not only because this was fun, but also because there was no way I could identify with any of the other avatars on offer. Later on I rationalised this by saying I did not want an avatar that looked like me, or which was some kind of idealised female, but at the time, it probably had more to do with not being sure how seriously I could take this 3D virtual world I was entering. It looked far more like the games my son played than any kind of recognisable educational environment.

Like all newborn avatars, when I entered the virtual world, I landed on orientation island. The first task was learning to move – and there was no help message telling me what to do. I did work out that the arrow keys enabled movement and found my avatar rushing through orientation, surrounded by what seemed a large crowd of other avatars, all equally uncontrollable as my own. I’m not sure when I first referred to my avatar as me, but I suspect it didn’t take long. I tried some of the exercises on orientation island, but they didn’t seem to work – or I didn’t understand them – so I just hurried on with the aim of finding the OU island. I do remember eventually coming to a sign whichgave me a choice of entering the SL mainland or going to some kind of second stage orientation and choosing to go onto the mainland.  I did not know I could have picked up lots of freebies before entering the mainland, and I’m not sure I would have known how to, even if I had known.

By the time I got into SL proper, I was still feeling pretty clueless, unable to control my avatar, and unsure what I was meant to do next. If I remember correctly, I logged out and emailed Jacqui Bennett asking  how to access Cetlment and asking to be put on the list of OU SL users.

The second time I went into SL, I landed in a crowd of avatars in what seemed to be a Greek temple of some description. I got to know that landing place over the next few weeks, as it was my home location until I eventually learned I could make choices about where to enter SL and that I could set my own home location. This time, I had instructions on how to reach Cetlment and took myself there. It seemed somewhat barren, but there were a couple of avatars on the island. One of them looked very much like my avatar – same basic shape but slightly changed and wearing trousers instead of the somewhat strange skirt I had started life with. The other avatar had a name which was familiar from that person’s online identity in other settings. The two avatars were conversing with each other and did not seem aware of my presence – at least they didn’t acknowledge me. I moved out of earshot so I could not see their typed messages and explored the island a bit. I made sure I didn’t move too far away in case I got lost. At that stage, I did not know how to fly – I needed to ask my son how that might be done. Eventually, the conversation stopped and I was able to approach the avatar whose name I had recognised. We checked out that we both were who we thought we were and I got a guided tour of the locality, which basically meant I was shown his house and Anna’s house. Although I made the assumption the other avatar was a SL expert, I realised fairly quickly that he was about a page ahead of me, if that, in familiarising himself with the SL environment.

Not long after this, I visited Walton Hall with other members of the SLN elearning team. It was only my second visit to Milton Keynes and I was very aware of following the others around without a clue where I was or where I was going. As it was, we spent some time with John Woodthorpe looking at Second Life – the room we were in had a telephone conferencing facility, so we were talking to Jacqui over the telephone line while she took us through some SL basics and shared some of her thinking. We also took the opportunity to speak to some other people on campus that day including Peter Twining who was developing the schome project.

A couple of weeks later, I got the task of introducing SL at the SLN elearning advisory group. At that stage the jury was still very much still out. I suspect if I was not being paid to familiarise myself with SL and various other technologies, I would have left SL never to return by this point. I was still unsure how to move. I had visited a few sites but got hopelessly lost and the graphics were so poor I couldn’t see the point. At the same time, I knew people were getting excited about the possibilities of SL and were describing it as the next phase of the web. I had read a few journal articles and joined the SLED list and was ready to explore further, but unsure how…

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