Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Virtual Harlem: A Trove of Good Pedagogy

Virtual Harlem Tour
Location: Virtual Harlem Sim

Aha! Moments are not rare in Second Life, though over time I've found them coming a little less frequently as I gain experience in the virtual world.

Simulations that are well made for teaching, however, still get me so excited that I can barely resist the urge to teleport home and begin building one. That was the effect of Virtual Harlem on me, during the a recent tour of the three-sim region. One feels immersed in the place and the presence of others living as though it were the Jazz Age. Classes in writing and African-American studies use the project; other academic disciplines certainly could as well.

I toured an interactive museum of The Men in Bronze: Harlem Hellfighters, a pioneering all-black unit that served our nation in the Great War. The videos there have not been readily available to the public, and museum director Daoud Zipper, an archivist with the Washington University Film Archive, was delighted to share his materials in Virtual Harlem.

He's hoping to re-enact the famous homecoming march of the Hellfighters, from lower Manhattan to Harlem, too. Student, faculty, and friends would portray the marchers as well as the eager crowds that greeted them in a powerfully postive moment in African-American history.
Virtual Harlem: Hellfighters M...

In Virtual Harlem we already had a crowd the day of my tour, including conferees from the conference on Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education. Claudia Linden dropped by Virtual Harlem Books to chat with students from a second-semester writing class led by
Bryan Mnemonic. His co-presenters Oronoque Westland (my friend from the SL Education Round Table) and Carrie Pennell are pictured.
Virtual Harlem Talk

I didn't tell Bryan's students that they had guest of honor; Claudia has long been an avid supporter of education at the Lab, and the students were so delighted to talk about their projects and the class that I didn't want to spoil the magic with any self-consciousness.

Time did not permit me to get over to the Cotton Club to chat with Zora Neale Hurston and Bessie Smith. I plan a return visit in my Jazz-Age finest. I was able to catch most of a set by Trowzer Boa's Jazz band, in the public park/performance space. They play live jazz there regularly.

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