The SLENZ Update – No 14, October 09, 2008

It’s not a game!

Courtesy TMJ

The public perception of anything on a computer with avatars – be they cartoon stick figures or the carefully-crafted, lifelike personnas of World of Warcraft, Warhammer or Grand Theft Auto – as being a game causes considerable angst among educators, academics and even businessmen wanting to do something serious with virtual worlds, like Second Life.

I must admit that when I first became a resident of Second Life some three years ago I saw it as an entertaining and relaxing game where I could create a young, goodlooking avatar who would make all the mistakes I made as a 20 to 30 year old (or fantasized about) but enjoy them more. For me Second Life became like a tavern where I could socialise with people around the world who were “role-playing”  – one might say hiding the truth about our real lives, if not actually lying –   just as much as I was, even though most of us never saw ourselves as actual roleplayers. Our fantasy avatars – one seldom sees a an untweaked, real life avatar in SL -  the clothing we wore and wear and even our homes were and are probably less dreary than our reality.

But after a few months in the “game” when SL friends took on real personnas and I saw the effects of “prototyping” (the Proteus effect as the Daedelus Project describes it http://www.nickyee.com/daedalus/archives/001569.php) I began to realise that Second Life was more than a game: that people could be hurt and could hurt, that people could learn and people could change through the process. That was my personal experience.

But for educators there is no doubt the question of whether Second Life, or any other multi-user virtual environment where players interact, is a game,  is a vexed one, as is the question whether they are not downright  harmful and possibly addictive.

Writer-at-large Anastasia Vesperman (SL: Feldspar Epstein), in the Australian-based Metaverse Journal, argues cogently that Second Life  is not a game and that it can contribute to the ongoing development of human beings in a positive way. http://www.metaversejournal.com/2008/10/07/second-life-%E2%80%93-game/

“Games created solely for educational purposes often have their content boiled dry as old bones, all the fun ripped from them in order to create “serious” games,” she says. She might have added “boring” and “politically correct” and a “real turn-off”. “Fun” in education, she said, was often viewed as being suspicious – anything lighthearted or playful was seen as not “serious”.

Her reasons for viewing  Second Life as “not a game” are sometimes simplistic but all the same worthwhile reading.

Must Read Report

Global Kids Inc. has released its first report from RezEd (www.RezEd.org), the  Global Kids’ 1200-member hub for learning and virtual worlds – but its not only for kids. It also has relevance for those looking at tertiary and adult education within virtual worlds.

The report summarises the range of activities and discussions taking place among those on the cutting edge of education, whether through commercial platforms like Dizzywood and Second Life or educational ones such as Quest Atlantis. The report highlights material produced for and by the RezEd community, including a range of MacArthur Foundation grantees, among them James Paul Gee, Sasha Barab, and Linda Burch. In addition A Report on Ethics and Virtual Worlds is introduced by a team from Harvard University’s GoodPlay Project.

In association with the release of the report, a special podcast explores the issue of Ethics and Virtual Worlds from the broad perspectives of the diverse RezEd community. The podcast includes an introduction by Sam Gilbert of the Good Play Project and audio excerpts from  RezEd podcast interviewees.

The report is available free for download here. http://www.holymeatballs.org/library/rezed/RezEdreport1.pdf

‘Real’ simulation?

For those of you still looking for the best simulations/visualisations in Second Life  the Sprott-Shaw EEEL System (Emulated Electricity on Electron Level)  electronics work bench  is something to behold.

This creation involves converting circuit schematics drawn on a 16×9 grid made completely inside of Second Life to usable input to an open source circuit simulator known as SPICE, developed at the Electronics Research
Laboratory of the University of California, Berkeley, as long ago as 1973. http://blog.magrathean.ca/2007/07/sprott-shaw-eeel-system-emulated.html

Invitation

An invitation has been issued on the SLED list  for those interested in joining an European peer-to-peer learning progamme on the use of multi-user virtual environments in education.
The European-funded MUVEnation project is now launching ‘Teaching and learning with MUVEs’. This is a one-year postgraduate programme, delivered online, for future and in-service teachers who want to use innovative methods and tools to address learners motivation and participation issues in compulsory education.

Although the programme will be taking place in Italy, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Belgium and France those not based in any of those countries who may be interested  should  contact the programme organiser before October, 15 2008. http://muvenation.org/blog/2008/10/06/the-muvenation-programme-is-open-participate-now/

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