The final presentations for CyberOne took place without me (ARGH) and I can’t believe that the semester is almost over. Except for the fact that the class re-introduced me to SL (I tried it out a few years ago but quit because no one was really online) and made me spend so much time on it exploring the different virtual things going on to the point that I was beginning to look like one of the creatures from Quake 3, I truly enjoyed every moment.
I don’t think, however, that a virtual platform will serve as the answer in perfecting distance education. In the end, the quality of the course depends on two things: the dedication of the instructors and the quality of the contents. Which is the same in evaluating any course. Of course, those two factors are based on the assumption that the student does his or her best and blah blah. (Strangely, I find that for a lot of students, this doesn’t apply. Either that or we have a different understanding of what ‘doing our best’ is.)
Sometimes I wonder, however, if instructors have to go into all the effort to provide a 3D education and if that extra effort is really worth their time and expertise. For instance, I have seen Becca answer the same question at least five or six times, to students both at-large and distance. Since SL provides a private experience, people expect sincere answers and there is a level of responsibility in dealing nicely with unwanted visitors (ie: a lesbian based in China was trying to hit on Becca because she found female professors very attractive- one students suggested it may have been Gene in disguise, but I doubt he would have done anything along those lines).
So maybe Becca tolerated it or was enthusiastic about spending extra time because this was a new project and she has her father’s name to honor. But will professors in the future have time to deal one on one with every nitty question? Would students get more offended if an instructor doesn’t answer some casual “hello” sent by IM?
How much of a game do students think of SL- or any other virtual platform that is available now- that they don’t sense the decorum of the classroom? In a group meeting, even if we are only scheduled for one hour, isn’t it rude to just log off when time is up? Where are our ethics? Certainly if virtual education is to continue, we need to create rules.
In SL, I could wear a miniskirt and dance in front of Eon Berkman. In RL, I would NEVER do that in front of Charles Nesson. On the other hand, short private conversations and the more casual online atmosphere make my instructors seem more like living beings. Is it ironic to say that seeing them in their cyber avatars gives them a human feel? I feel like I really know them. But then, maybe it’s because I’ve been watching the videos and talking to them in SL and I can put two and two together, knowing that Becca in RL and Becca in SL are the same, yet different and overlap in some places and not in others. Given the fact that different platforms have different characteristics, mixed media is the way to go for a truly interactive educational experience. Only then, professors will have to take on less lectures because teaching will become not only intellectually, but emotionally draining. Also, I don’t know if it is good to get to close to your instructors. Maybe it’s better for me that Prof. Nesson is still on a podium with a crown of laurel leaves around his head. Maybe I don’t want to know that he goes out for a drink every Thursday night or likes wearing smelly socks.(hypothetical)