Saturday, May 24, 2014

Can Real Life Learn from Second Life?

 The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called "truth."

Dan Rather

Lately, I’ve been looking at the point in time and space where Second Life (SL) and Real Life (RL) intersect.  (Significant Other accuses me of becoming too existential and worries when I refer to SL before RL.)
My last foray into this subject was when I blogged about RL religion crossing over inworld. 
This time, I’ll be writing about education in RL being facilitated by SL.
For my two loyal readers (and Significant Other), who may fear that I’m about to once again test the boundaries of my senses.  Be not afraid for I had help with this topic.
I decided to write about SL’s educational potential after several discussions with a good friend of mine inworld.  Her name is Augusta Carolina Maria von Nassau or Augusta to her friends.  (Attempts to develop a diminutive for her have been met with withering looks which have kept me in my place.)  We met in the 1920’s Berlin sim in SL and became fast friends despite what Augusta sees as my Marxist deviancies.  (Significant Other, always trying to ascertain the motives of inworld friends for hanging around with me, feels Augusta uses me as an example of her charity work, looking after someone who obviously shouldn’t be roaming around untended in RL.)
In between our political jabbing, I have come to know a lot about Augusta and her motivations for coming and staying inworld.  Today, I’ll share some of her thinking about the role of virtual worlds like SL in education as well as a little about herself.
But, I have some other reasons for talking about virtual education.   A lot has been happening in RL lately relating to virtual reality (VR).  There’s the virtual headset, Oculus Rift and its recent acquisition by Facebook.  Something has to happen there.  (Either that or Mark Zuckerberg will be looking for a new job!)  SL Go, while I have reservations, shows that someone is still willing to make investments in SL.  Finally, we still have to see what happens with Ebbe Altberg, Linden Lab’s new CEO. 
IMHO, the promise of virtual reality still has to be delivered.  Novels such as Snowcrash and Reamde by Neal Stephenson gave glimpses of what the Metaverse could be.  VR 1.0 was comprised of SL,, Inworldz, and World of Warcraft to name but a few.  Could we see VR 2.0 arising from its predecessor’s ashes with these new investments in hardware and software.  Will SL return to the cover of Businessweek?
So, for all these reasons, now seems to be a good time to talk about SL and its potential for RL education purposes.
Back to my friend Augusta.
In RL, she’s been teaching high school world history for fifteen years.  She also does one twelfth grade course in Twentieth Century history.
Augusta came to SL in a somewhat interesting manner.  (OK, at least it was interesting to me.)  Required to maintain a steady stream of professional development, she was participating in a consortium of courses run by NorthTIER.  Three summers ago, her RL son-in-law encouraged her to try one on either gaming or role play (RP). One of the courses was conducted in SL.  She took it and was hooked.
The assignment Augusta undertook was to write a lesson based on SL that she could use in teaching.  She used the sadly now defunct Versailles sim as her entre inworld.
Augusta was impressed by the high level of realism in the RP.  In December of that year, she was laid up by surgery for five months in RL.  She used that time to immerse herself in SL.  Augusta tried a few sims and ended up, as she puts it, in Jo Yardley’s 1920’s Berlin.  For Augusta, Berlin was a real community with flexibility in the characters that could be created. 
 Inworld, Augusta’s avatar is based on a RL woman, Augusta Carolina Maria von Nassau-Weilburg, a cousin of the first Dutch Nassau ruler.  (One thing I’ve learned about Augusta, she doesn’t cut corners on her research.)  Upon arriving in Berlin, she listened a lot as her character developed initially. 
Her avatar is a noblewoman of diminished means, yet still proud and aristocratic.  (Even when hanging around with proletarians such as yours truly.) 
While conducting her research, Augusta found that it wasn't uncommon for women of many levels of Weimar society to come to Berlin for demographic reasons -- lack of men after WWI.  (For those who aren’t as well read as Augusta, lots of us guys got killed back then especially in the losing countries.)
Augusta felt she needed to really justify why her character was inworld and found that under the Weimar government, many landed noble families lost much of their land, were fined, and had no more legal advantages.  Although the people who lived in estates still saw the nobility as having a legitimate function when the Weimar government started faltering.  They were effectively impoverished too -- they had nice things, but no liquid assets to speak of.  Young women of Augusta's generation (like her own RL grandmothers) wanted a different life and didn't want their parents to arrange their marriages and all that. 
From this arose the woman whom I know inworld as Augusta Carolina Maria von Nassau.  Few inworld, especially outside of 1920’s Berlin have put as much thought and work into their avatars.  (I can only imagine what her RL lesson plans are like.)
While I conduct my interview, Augusta and I are sitting outdoors at the Café Elektric in 1920’s Berlin.  I ask her about what RL lessons can be learned from SL.
She replies that as a history teacher, she have more depth when teaching the Weimar era.  Her students know about the Nazis and the Holocaust, but their knowledge tends to jump from WWI to WWII without considering what happened in between.
My next question is if she sees inworld as a laboratory?
Augusta replies emphatically in the affirmative adding there are people who are making it happen. She mentions Spiff Whitfield who has a sim that he uses in New York state that is a rebuild of Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam and he is also working on one that is set in the medieval era.
Continuing, Augusta says that she has seen wonderful sims here that are based on literature -- many are in Linden Endowment for the Arts (LEA) areas.
 Regarding Spiff's site, for example, Augusta explains it has tasks the students have to run through -- it's very multidisciplinary and a great way to really get into the Holocaust and support the book at the same time.
 But, there are issues with trying to use virtual worlds in RL education as Augusta explains to me.  First, she won’t take teenagers in.  Perfectly understood and I agree with her.  Next, administrations are leery of new technology.  Then there are overburdened colleagues without the time for SL’s steep learning curve.  Finally, SL’s reputation doesn’t help.  (Augusta’s son-in-law was floored upon discovering how much time she spent inworld when he tried to recruit her into World of Warcraft.)
As our interview draws to a close (Both our RLs are calling for us.) I ask Augusta about her future with SL and in experimenting with its educational potential.
Augusta thinks for a moment before replying.  She then says that she would like to spend more time in 1920’s Berlin.  Augusta would like to be more involved with the education groups inworld and their events.  She recently gave a tour of Berlin to one such group and enjoyed it immensely. 
In RL, Augusta wants to participate more actively with societies for technology in education at the state and international levels. She hopes to submit an article to a RL journal on how to use SL to enhance content in teaching.  Augusta’s goal is to become a force for bringing the kind of experimental education offered by SL forward. 
Finally, Augusta will return to blogging!  Her intention is to alternate between her own fictional accounts of life in 1920’s Berlin with educational reflective pieces.  She’s recently added Twitter to her toolset to help expand her reach.
Our interview ends and I thank Augusta for her time and candor.
Coming away, I can’t help but think about this woman and all she does.  While Augusta never complains when we meet about being a teacher, I know that sadly in my country we do not respect or reward teachers as we should.
Yet, despite that, teachers like Augusta continue to educate our young people and strive to find new ways like using SL to do this.  We don’t deserve women and men like her. 
I would ask you to please read Augusta’s blog and follow her on Twitter.  Her handle is @Augusta_vN .  Not for her sake but for yours.  She has a lot to say.
I also think about how thin the fabric between SL and RL is becoming and how maybe someday, there won’t be a distinction any longer.
I want to thank Augusta again for her friendship and for putting up with me during our interview. 
I’ve included a few pictures of Augusta from her personal portfolio.  Except for the picture of us doing the interview, all the rest have been done by photographers more talented than me!
Don’t forget to drop by 1920’s Berlin and visit with Augusta and the others!  (They throw some great parties in that town!  Not that Augusta would know anything about these.)  Just remember to wear period costume please!
As always, I’m grateful to all inworld for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.   
My Twitter handle is @webspelunker.  Please feel free to follow me and I’d be happy to follow you.
I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

          If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.



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