Thursday, January 29, 2009

Second Life Education Support Faire: Through the eyes of a visitor

Location: Several Spots on the Faire

Since Iggy managed to drag me into SL supported education it is no wonder that I spent the last days wandering the SL education faire like Iggy. Since I am neither an academic nor a faculty member I think that I have a rather different perspective on the faire and especially its visitors.

To quote Iggy there were of course quite some "fashionally challenged" people around. This is surely not the nicest sight to see but generally not an unsolvable problem. The amazing fact behind academic clothing habits is rather that those academics that have been longer on the grid already tend to mix geeky habits with the stereotype "coolness" of the typical avatar. So seeing a bodybuilder surfer guy with wild hair and three day beard wearing a tux shirt not only made me smile but almost die laughing.

It is not really what you wear, its rather the way how you wear it. Combining the pieces of your avatar (I am not only talking clothing here) is essential because body language goes even a step further in SL then it does in RL. And this is important since the visual is still the most developed sense on the grid and so the visual will be the first thing students encounter when they first enter the grid. Keeping in mind that it is still a widespread prejudice that people using SL regularly must be some kind of social failure, how will the picture of such a teacher avatar remain in the students heads? There is nothing wrong with a pimped up or original avatar, but it always depends on how this avatar connects to the RL picture since the teacher is most likely the one that is constantly compared with his/her avatar.

While this fashionissue is surely worth a note and sometimes a good laugh, two things struck my eye while i nicely blended into the background and observed what was going on.

As Iggy already pointed out a good deal of the people on the faire are actually newbies. Being new to a surrounding like the grid can be confusing, I am not going to argue that since it is true. Nevertheless I think that members of schools, universities and other educational bodies should be in an age where they know how to behave. This includes basic knowledge of proper behaviour and codes of conduct. Sadly I have noticed that a newbie in SL seems to be a newbie regardless of age and profession. Shouting avatars, no sense of politeness and a latent rudeness within some visitors of the faire were quite disturbing in my eyes. It became even more disturbing when I noticed a university professor (he was first rezzed about a year ago) who was actually talking to a newbie colleague simply walked away in the middle of the conversation leaving his colleague helpless in the middle of changing his appearance. I think that especially those teaching a class have to have a flawless behavior to transfer that onto their students.

The last thing I noticed is that also academics are human beings. Denying that SL has a sexual component which is frequented by quite a big part of the users doesn´t make any sense because it is not hidden and easy to find. Yet I think one should think what kind of groups they join with an avatar that also is used for teaching. I had quite a good laugh when I found sexual content usergroups within user profiles. In general I don´t think that this is a reason for an uproar and the proclamation of the end of the world as we know it (great song by REM by the way), I think that displaying the membership of a group that is centered around forced and non-consensual BDSM might not be the smartest choice. You could of course hide the group from public display, yet I think an alt would be the smarter choice since it might avoid the embarrassment of your student finding you while on some "research project" tied up in a bondage being whipped by some rubberdolls (sorry for the graphics here but I think everyone should get the point now).

I think the general reception of SL as a game is probably the reason why these people are having a hard time on the grid. Starting to see SL as what it is ... an extension of RL, will solve that situation. As in RL codes of conduct, proper behaviour and politeness are values that should be obeyed (even though in certain situations they might not apply fully).

Of course this is not true for every visitor of the faire (thank god) in fact the most people who dared talking to me were polite and eager to learn. Yet it cannot be denied that the cases I described above happened more then once in the last two days while I was there. This might seem like a misuse of rather striking examples, yet I think that events like these should be considered in preparation of own explorations on the grid and in preparation of classes that are going to make use of SL.


Iggy O said...

Techi, your comments nail down some concerns I've had:

1)The "mix" of typical SL style with, say, a tuxedo shirt is refreshing. Too many faculty avatars tend to be very typically beautiful/handsome or so surreal that they put students off. I suspect that faculty, either way, do not feel all that comfortable in-world and wish to conceal a bit about themselves. That may explain why one rarely sees a middle aged, slightly out-of-shape avatar dressed in nondescript formal clothing. That is most of us in real life (I of course look exactly like George Clooney and wear only Armani suits at Richmond when I teach).

2) Experienced SL faculty can be short-tempered with noobs. I love noobs, so I enjoy befriending nice ones. It's possible, of course, that the scene you witnessed included IM that you did not overhear, and the person walking away was told that was fine as his/her colleague adjusted appearance.

3) Faculty should not be in sexually oriented groups, or should use an ALT if they plan to act kinky. I never played around at Hojo Kilda's Eden Club, but I became a member when I did an interview with her--carefully censored by my editor--for the local paper. I left the group when, newbie that I was, the membership remained public in my profile and some colleagues with avatars made a few cutting remarks :)

Tenchi Morigi said...

to 1) I don´t have anything against the dress up game ... especially not me but it always depends on the way it is done. running around like arnold schwarzenegger bigger african american brother without a certain background is not really usefulin my eyes ... when wearing a spartan armor while being a history professor ... bang 100% hit ... its all a matter how it is done. if its not out place (like you said looking like george clooney and wearing armani) then there is nothing wrong with it but rather enhancing

to 2) yes this is true. difficult to say now. It was just somewhat awkward when I saw it.

to 3) nothing more to add your horror