Friday, February 19, 2010

A Response To: "Mainstream" Faculty and Virtual Worlds

In a Strange Land: Some Thoughts About "Mainstream" Faculty and Virtual Worlds

Reading this article... It makes me wonder about something... I'm double posting my comment here just because I find it interesting. =^-^=

The conclusion I'm seeing: Educators are choosing to avoid using the Second Life virtual world as a platform due to the complexity of the interface. You're citing examples such as the 'Advanced' menu and scripting.

This sparks a question to me. Why do you think you have to go at it on your own?

So you can't script. This is true for many computer users. Yet, we run applications all day, every day, which were written by other people. The same market can and does exist in SL. Surely, it's not as corporate and 'professional' as Microsoft. But, if you can't script a slide-show projector; there is probably one available or you can contract a scriptor to make one for you. Building falls under this category, as well.

Also... The Advanced menu? Is there anything in there that's genuinely necessary? For regular day-to-day usage, I see nothing in the Advanced menu that serves a purpose. I would not weigh that feature in with any of the aspects of the learning curve of SL.

So, yes, there is a steep learning curve. But, I see that it's there because people are diving in head-first, reading a sliver of documentation, and expecting it to naturally just work without any experienced consultation.

I would compare this to hosting my own Email server. I simply don't know how. I've never set up an SMTP/POP server before. I don't know how to register a domain name. I'm not sure if I can gather up the hardware to build a computer I'd be willing to leave on 24/7 with suitable enough stability to manage any impending Email traffic.

So... What do I do? I find someone who knows how. In my personal life, I found Google's Email service to be quite nice. Professionally, I have an IT department hired to build, manage, and maintain a whole slew of online services. All I have to do is pay them to get it right and come to them with I'm faced with a problem.

SL is a bit deceptive this way. It's an Information Technology like any other, but, our mindsets think it's something far more natural. As a result, we unconsciously don't expect the process to by anything like adopting a technology.

I see a job description coming from this... Someone who has adapted to 'life' in a virtual world, knows the ins&outs, and can be relied upon on a professional basis to support productive use of the space. Just like the garage nerds of the 1980s... A new generation of marginalized nerd. The world doesn't see them yet, but, they're here now. Eventually, they'll come out of the woodwork, people will regret not investing in them sooner, and technological/cultural history will repeat itself all over again. (^_^)y


Brinda said...

perfectly stated!

Lord of the Eeple said...

Eh. It's not just the 'advanced' and scripting. One doesn't need those things. But just figuring out how to move about can be a minor challenge. Creating an avatar is a little task. It's a couple hours of work to get started in SL, seems to me. (I just did.)

Contrast this to a webinar. I enroll for a webinar I get a link in my email. Click the link and I'm there, voice-connected, hearing the lecture, seeing the slideshows and videos the presenters have prepared. One thing I am not doing is dicking around trying to get my camera angle right so I can see the slides clearly. The first time I attended a webinar I clicked in early to give myself learning-curve time, but it wasn't necessary.

I joined SL to attend professional meetings. First one, my avatar spazzed out and I had a hard time getting it to stop bumping into another person. Later, everybody had difficulty getting a blast of horribly loud Christmas music to stop so they could hear the voice chat. AND to my confusion and dismay, the director of that meeting was (at least briefly) for some reason under the impression that I was the cause of that blast of terrible music.

Neither of those things is remotely desirable for mainstream (or even kooky) educators such as myself.

I enjoy a good online waste of time, so I'm having fun with it and slowly finding useful things, but anybody who wants to use it for this kind of professional educator stuff will probably have the same response I did to searching around for things of that nature -- largely the educational resources in place are self-referential and there appears to be resistance to making it not so. (That is, the scheduled classes and meetings I have found are mostly about SL.)

I'm a librarian and it was suggested that I might like to volunteer at an SL reference desk. I would, but I was also told that some 80% of the questions are about SL itself, and since I can't answer those, I am not qualified. But they also told me that the organization has trouble because they cannot get real librarians to man this reference desk, and the volunteers aren't able to answer those research questions that do come up.

I can see it being a valuable communications medium for some very specific things. It's perfectly usable for all kinds of other things that don't actually require anything near so pretty and complex, but it's too complex to get started using it for that -- I am perfectly comfortable asking somebody to attend a webinar, but I wouldn't invite a bunch of colleagues to join SL for a meeting. They'd be furious and get bruises on their foreheads banging their heads trying to get going in the interface.