As part of the MIL course this year the students could choose to do their didactic analysis of SL either asynchronously in FirstClass or synchronously in SL, and 6 out 8 students chose the latter. Regardless of mode the students were asked to investigate 5 elements of particular importance when dealing with didactic analysis; Didactics (understood as theoretical foundation) and target groups, Orientation and navigation, Interaction, Learning processes and Audio-visuals. All of the students received the Zebra presenter and could use the sandbox to arrange the setting for their presentations, but they were also encouraged to find tools and places on their own. Each presentation was set to last approx. 2 hrs. and judging by the comments from all the students who chose the SL format, the analysis thus ended up feeling like an oral exam. In this and upcoming posts I’ll present some of the students’ findings and reflections.
Perlo & Francine
First up were Perlo & Francine who had found a free practice classroom for trainee teachers at one of the EduIslands. Perlo & Francine had chosen to prepare their analysis as a streamed video which we were able to watch via the presenter in the classroom. As foundation for their analysis they had chosen the Didactic Relation model and the target group was adult students at a Teacher College studying religion. The purpose of using SL should be to conduct field studies that would otherwise be impossible to do in real life within the given college settings. Perlo & Francine envisioned using SL as part of a blended learning environment where they would include a wiki for the students’ asynchronous reflections and also f2f activities e.g. workshops aimed at teaching the students how to use SL.
One of the advantages Perlo & Francine pointed out about SL is the way the medium allows the user to change perspective, not only via camera controls, but rather because of the avatar phenomenon that enables the user to have a detached, 3rd person view on him-/herself and the activities/interactions in the environment. Conversely they also pointed to the other pole in the participation-observation continuum, where – provided you feel immersed or attached to your avatar – you would be able to participate (almost) like a native in different cultures. This change of perspective and the ontologically challenging question of being present or not was underlined by the way Perlo & Francine chose to present their thoughts as themselves in the video, but displayed on a screen and discussed in-world as avatars.
Despite their enthusiasm about SL as teaching and learning medium, they also worried about especially technical challenges, the fact that most communication in SL is in English and the rather vast amount of time that is needed to get to know SL sufficiently so that the students actually would be able to use SL as intended. Nonetheless, they did find the possibility to do field studies via SL to be really appealing and worth trying out, and they are currently preparing a course that’ll be running in the beginning of 2010. After the presentation we visited a couple of the religious places that would be relevant in their course:
The Kaaba at IslamOnline
Praying at The Cijian Temple
Afterwards Perlo & Francine reflected on the experience in FirstClass and they both focused on the many things – especially technological – that you need to pay attention to when teaching in-world. Compared to f2f they found it more difficult to control and mange the activities, make sure everybody understood their instructions and when touring making sure nobody got lost. These are quite typical impressions from initial teaching experience in-world – but don’t worry – it does get easier in time :-)