Sunday, June 24, 2007

Online Woes: My Challenges with teaching in Second Life

I teach Supervision and Leadership online to second-year college students. I designed a management role-play simulation to deploy in Second Life (SL) for my students. Out of 25 students, only three signed up. Out of the three, only one had a computer robust enough to handle SL. What surprised me most was their full-blown indifference to the project indicated by the lack of questions and comments. Even more curious is that my students are digital natives! I thought for sure my students would get excited. I promoted the heck out of this project, posted screen shots, provided links to the SL website and SL resources, and told them how cool it is, ad infinitum. Not one of my students ever made it beyond Orientation Island.

I sensed that they didn't want more work and I was disappointed by their reaction or rather, lack thereof. I’m aware of many educators and universities who use SL quite successfully as a teaching tool. In fact, I attend their many conferences in SL to learn more. Most of the educators I meet who use SL, teach at traditional brick and mortar institutions. I am starting to wonder if my lack of success can be attributed to online course delivery.

A few students reported that SL computer requirements were incompatible with their systems. The college I teach for, Axia College, established Second Campus in SL for students and faculty to interact and to supplement curricula. They haven't opened it yet because they can't figure out how to effectively solve the technology limitations. This goes back to my question of the college being exclusively online. There is no way for administrators to control what sorts of computers students use. If it’s a traditional campus, computer labs solve this problem (assuming, of course, the computers in the labs aren’t antiques).

I met with the Dean of the college to discuss my experiences with launching the activity (apparently, I was the first instructor at my college to attempt learning activities in SL). He mentioned that the college is figuring out how to overcome this issue and mentioned the possibility of either providing students with laptops when they enroll or collaborate with a computer company to help students with major cost breaks.

Using Second Life as an accompaniment to online education seems to be a great way to enhance distance learning. I certainly didn’t expect my first attempt to yield such dismal results. I’ll keep trying.


Jennifer said...

Whatever you do, don't blame yourself. You did a great job of promoting it. I really do think people get busy or like you said, their computers can't handle it. I don't really get a chance to play games and I have to admit when I do, I'll play the old Sims (Sims 1), but even my computer crashes on that sometimes!

I think it would be great to incorporate it into the classroom though, but just be forewarned, there are many students who may not understand how to play or handle role-playing or virtual reality type of things on computers, know what I mean?

Keep up the great work though- you are a wonderful teacher! :)

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