Monday, 26 February 2007

Bonus level - Reflections on Second Life Tasks

The 'treasure hunt' tasks during this course have been a useful tool for exploring the environment and potentials of SL. Having a goal to accomplish, which encourages research skills, problem-solving, in-world knowledge and creativity, alongside the added element of competition against fellow students (and a Linden cash prize!), contribute to making a 'treasure hunt' challenge intrinsically motivating, in Malone's words (for me anyway). The student discussions that develop during each week are testament to the engaging quality of these tasks. I also appreciated the open-ended non-specific nature of some weeks' tasks - encouraging the students to act creatively, bringing about a diverse range of possible 'answers'.

News task
This was relatively straightforward, with 'hunters' discovering RL news sources such as Reuters, and SL specific news sources. The RL news outlets signify yet another digital means of accessing media information. With the increasing popularity of RSS feeds, podcasts and online news videos, SL offers an alternative way of distributing and consuming information. Whether SL based news sources will become as popular as other web-based suppliers remains to be seen.

Ivory Tower of Primitives
I had until this week been almost completely unaware of the accessibility of building applications within SL. I could appreciate that people were making all kinds of inanimate and animate objects, but thought that this required special expertise, far removed from my relative inexperience. However the Ivory Tower tutorials show just how easy building in SL can be (tho more complex creations of course take time and experience). This feature of SL, that it's inhabitants can really contribute to its overall design, is both appealing and valuable. A participant doesn't have to be a 'designer' to make something that serves a useful purpose. Hence SL environments (provided you pay for it) can be crafted to meet a range of educational needs, whether it's a simple class space, a museum, or even a presentation suite complete with video screen - without its creator being particularly well qualified. This versatility and 'maleability' of the SL environment is surely one of its greatest benefits, allowing it to be created by its inhabitants, thus increasing a greater sense of ownership. As Barry Brown and Marek Bell write with reference to a game called *There*, a precursor to SL, ' games occupy our attention for longer than many of the traditional office applications studied... . It is not only that games are an interesting new application of collaborative systems, but that in looking at games [we have] the opportunity to consider new purposes for the systems we design, and new social benefits that they can produce.' The ability to constuct the digital environment makes it a much more powerful tool for representing the needs of a digital generation. [From ''There' as a collaborative environment', Proceedings of the 2004 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work]

Buy and Sell task
This week's task offered a good insight into the economic system within SL. My research for interesting artefacts led me too 'The Yak Shack', an area provided by Save the Children, which offers yaks for sale, the proceeds of which go to impoverished families in Tibet. What someone is going to do with a digital representation of a yak, I don't know (tho apparently they are customisable, and can be entered into livestock competitions), but it is certainly and innovative way of raising money (albeit Linden dollars). People are obviously prepared to pay to enhance their image (with clothes and hairstyles) and their surroundings (buying plots of land) and this has created an entire micro-economy. I have yet to be persuaded to part with any RL money yet, but I suppose that if it enabled the creation of a learning zone that had practical applications, a fraction of the cost of a RL setting, it would certainly be money well spent.

Join a Group task
Joined the Pacman appreciation club. Couldn't resist having the title 'Pacman' hovering above my head.

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