Friday, October 8, 2010
Confusion, Shock, Anger, then Plans by Educators in Second Life
Location: SLED e-list
At the SLED list I saw a pattern to the responses: shock, outrage, sadness, then planning. My own sense of betrayal and rage at Linden Lab was not atypical, but it reveals something about academics: we don't know or share the values of the corporate world.
Instead, we resemble the trust-and-handshake relationships of smaller businesses. My dad, a successful produce wholesaler, taught me, mixing coarse and wholesome adages as he often did, to "never screw your customer" and "always keep your word." While institutions of higher education compete for business, we do so with that sort of older-style (and I'd claim superior) ethos and a strong sense of community that does not consider profit to be the sole or final arbiter of value. I leave it up to better informed folks such as Dusan Writer and Tateru Nino to consider what Linden Lab may do in the months ahead about selling their company or at least seeking new investors.
Whatever the company's goals, Linden Lab's abrupt decision--by the standards of higher education--catches us in the middle of a fiscal year and in many cases, in the middle of grant-funded research. That is at least within the boundaries of what we know how to do. We can go back to those providing funds and ask for reallocation. And for those with existing projects that need to continue beyond the end of current contracts, combining efforts with other institutions can keep things going.
Helping Those Caught in the Headlights
More vexing to me are those who have made no Plan B, who really are not very skilled with the technologies of virtual worlds despite being talented teachers and researchers. Judging from the remarks on SLED and with colleagues in person, too many of us have done NO research on alternatives to SL, or we don't even know the current interface well enough to see what OpenSim grids might do differently if we make that move.
Now we find ourselves in a sea of new terms, alternative clients for visiting virtual worlds, and a universe of new grids. I've spent time in the past two days explaining to admins and colleagues, both on my campus and trickling in from e-mails, what third-party viewers ARE, what OpenSim is (typical line: "it's not a place, but a protocol for making places like SL"), how Hypergrid (which I'll soon try) works, and how inventory in SL works. Basic stuff, yes, but looking at the SLED list, I'm stunned by how common lack of basic knowledge can be.
I can understand why some folks will simply leave virtual worlds completely.
The tasks ahead are daunting. We pioneers don't get a lot of credit for this work, even though many of us believe this technology is going to change mainstream education. What to do?
Organizing and Sharing
First, join this wiki, from Lindy McKeown of The University of Southern Queensland, Australia and note how the changes are influencing your plans:
I doubt any lobbying will sway the Lab, though showing them how much money they will lose is a nice "up yours!" moment for us.
Second, if you know anything you can share about OpenSim worlds, start answering the many questions on lists such as SLED or EDUCAUSE Virtual Worlds. If you are sticking it out in SL, and need help with collaborations and consolidations, get on these e-lists and share.
In time we'll develop the sorts of networks that we had in SL and leverage existing connections, as we move onto other grids, as I plan to do, or we'll retrench and run leaner operations in SL.
Here Jokay Wollongong's example can guide us. She did both.
More on Jokay next week, when I cover her talk to educators at The Virtual World Education Roundtable.
Remaining Chipper, Determined, and Cunning
This is funny advice for grumpy me to give. But we will outlast one company who did not live by our mom-and-pop values.
At Montclair's soon-to-close Amphitheater, getting ready for the visit by Jokay Wollengong, I helped a faculty member new to SL figure out how to give notecards to students. Here is a teacher, on a doomed campus sim, carrying on bravely while discovering the wonder of teaching in a 3D immersive setting.
I kept a brave face but it was one of the few times I actually wanted to cry when using SL.
Let's stay brave, network, and to cop the title of the blog by John Lester (née Pathfinder Linden), "be cunning and full of tricks."