This morning Bora and I both gave talks in Second Life. Since this was a pretty new experience for me, I thought I'd share my thoughts on it.
Ever since the days when I watched cartoons on Saturday mornings, I thought it might be fun to be in one. But when I tried it this morning, truthfully, it was a bit scary. I haven't experienced stage fright like that for quite awhile. Perhaps it was the setting. I was really nervous and I hadn't practiced with Second Life enough to know what to do.
Watching a talk in Second Life
Moving around in my avatar felt awkward. It was strange not to be able to control my body in the way I expected and sometimes, if I did something too quickly, the motion made me queasy. Worries that my avatar would leap up or dance at an inappropriate time increased the anxiety. Luckily, my daughter beat some of that fear out of me last week, when she grabbed the mouse out of my hand and plunged my avatar right into the ocean. I decided that if my avatar could walk under the ocean and be fine, I could survive a poster session.
It was also odd to have everyone present under a different name. I would have liked to know who the people attending the talks really were. Sometimes, I forgot who I was. People would try to talk me and I wouldn't respond because I didn't recognize my Second Life alias.
Still, this combination of nerves and adrenaline was okay (or maybe the heat was off in our house and I was just shivering from the cold?). I think I could even do it again and it wouldn't be nearly as scary.
Wired Campus, the technology voice of The Chronicicle of Higher Education, has had several articles on Second Life, of late (for example: A Second Life for Academics. They seem focused on whether or not Second Life will be accepted down the road as a viable means of teaching and whether competitors will emerge. My limited experience was unnerving, but I could get used to it and I can see that it would be intriguing to kids and a novel experience for older students.
Will it help them learn? Probably.
Will students learn better, deeper, more efficiently that our current methods? I don't know. I do know visualization helps tremendously, and students who are geographically challenged could really benefit by having access to good teachers. The potential is certainly there.
I do see two challenges, though, in using Second Life. The first challenge was the technology. If I were a serious gamer, I might have a better video card, more RAM, and better I/O, but I'm not. For me, it seemed that things moved awfully slow. Second, there is a learning curve. I didn't know what was expected of me and I didn't know any of the Second Life etiquette or how to behave. More practice would have been good.
Will I visit Second Life in the future? Perhaps. I think I will go back and check out the posters in a more leisurely fashion. Some of the posters have bells in front of them that you can use to send e-mails to the authors and ask questions.
So there you have it. I visited Second Life, survived it and even had fun.
Now, it's your turn.
For information on future SciFoo talks, check out the schedule at the SciFoo wiki.
For a great play by play description of our day in Second Life, check out Bertalan Mesko's live coverage at ScienceRoll.