Preparing for a class next week I’ve been revisiting some of the resources that I’ve recommended for my MIL students. One of the articles, Jolly (2006), I’ve chosen because it describes the multiple roles of the in-world teacher. Based on a triple case study conducted in-world during term three of 2006 at Central Gippsland Institute of TAFE (GippsTAFE™) in south-east Victoria, Jolly has identified several roles of the teacher – here listed numerically to ease my reference:
- Teacher as explorer
- Teacher as a learner
- Teacher as avatar
- Teacher as a client
- Teacher as inductor
- Teacher as guide
- Teacher as planner
- Teacher as innovator
- Teacher as debriefer
- Teacher as an industry expert
- Teacher as preparer
- Teacher as facilitator
- Teacher as communicator
Besides the roles 4 and 10, which are directly linked to the subject matter in the cases and 3, which of course is distinct for teaching in virtual worlds, I don’t think the identified roles differ that much from conventional teaching – at least not when I compare the list to my own and my colleagues teaching at E-Learning Lab in general, and at MIL in particular. Teaching in an age heavily influenced by new technology and the Internet, in my opinion, naturally calls for multiple roles of the teacher, it is however interesting to see the roles listed, which also is one of the reasons why I recommend this article to my students.
Another argument for introducing the students to this article is much more important though. I think this article invites (even provokes) for discussions regarding the teacher’s ethical responsibilities. Returning to the 3rd role, teacher as an avatar, Jolly states:
It is important that the teacher has a number of avatars, each performing a different role. Their appearance, character traits, language, ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ may vary significantly. The students may not know who is behind any given avatar. (Jolly, 2006:8 – my highlight)
And Jolly continues explaining:
In the real world, the students clearly knew myself (Malcom Jolly) and fellow project team member Glenda McPherson through a range of face-to-face meetings/discussions with them. When we were in Second Life as Malcolm Dalgleish and Glenda Arrow, the students knew that we were behind the characters and this served an important role. As Glenda and Malcolm, the students knew that they could always turn to us for support/assistance. For some students this was very important and reassuring. (ibid: 8 – my highlight)
However, at other times Jolly played out the role of a different character:
As GippsTAFE Gonzales, the owner of GippsTAFE Island, my attire was more formal; I acted differently and exhibited different characteristics to Malcolm Dalgleish. I didn’t offer assistance unless specifically asked for it. From the student’s perspective, all they knew was that I was one of the project team. (ibid: 8 – my highlight)
Continuing the role-playing, Jolly sometimes acted as 4) a client in the “painting and decorating” class:
My role was to be the client, meet the student and discuss with them the type of refurbishment I wanted in my house. The students did not know who I was or where in the real world I was located. I was simply ‘the client’. In order to get to know me the student had to question me, ascertain my ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ or form assumptions based on my appearance or mannerisms. (ibid: 9 – my highlight)
Jolly sums up the experience of using different avatars/identities:
It is important that students know support is available through particular people (avatars) but it can also be extremely powerful for the teacher to assume other identities. These characters may simply be people passing by or standing around observing – their use provides the teacher with wonderful material when conducting a debriefing session. (ibid: 9)
I do believe that one of the great pedagogical potentials in avatar-based teaching and learning lies in the possibility to role-play, and I suppose Jolly and his colleagues were trying to enhance authenticity by acting out different characters. Want I don’t understand, is the need for anonymity, and I have to say that this example oversteps some of my personal ethical boundaries. Wouldn’t it be possible to role-play without anonymity, I mean, doesn’t acting exactly entail that you assume a different character? To me one of the most important roles of the teacher – if not the most important – is to be trustworthy, and that simply doesn’t align with acting anonymously in my point of view.
I’m greatly puzzled by this, since Jolly in so many other parts of the article expresses some very emphatic and sympatric thoughts. The 3 cases were conducted mainly at closed islands in-world, and I realize that the students were aware that they might encounter anonymous project staff members, but I still find it problematic to use anonymity like this in an educational context.
Nevertheless, the article makes for interesting discussions on the whole anonymity issue of online teaching and learning, and I’m looking forward to hearing my students’ responses to this.