Friday, November 6, 2009

Judged by Pictures: Students Consider Second Life & Anonymity

A URspider meets the lamplight...
Location: Classroom

Picture credit: URSpider4 at Koinup

Wagner James Au and Tateru Nino have sounded off this week about important changes implemented or possible in Second Life, such as linking SL more richly to Facebook or Linden Lab's turn-key business solution, starting price $55,000, "Nebraska."

I kept saying to myself, "I like my fake dreads. I can wear a tie in real life."

So before SL comes to mean "Suit Life" or just a Facebook application, I asked my writing students about the role of anonymity (a touted option in Nebraska and, presumably, a hypothetical Facebook/SL mashup).

The verdict from fifteen first-year college students about RL and SL conflation:

--13 prefer anonymity for avatars as an option
--1 prefers RL identification
--1 absent

--1 uses YoVille and loves it. 2 other have heard of it. All of them have Facebook accounts.

Noteworthy quotations by students:

On real-life identity:

" the NWN readers (read, old geezers) realize how much anonymity that Facebook permits?" (noting that none of the class use their RL names in their profiles)
  • "If businesses want RL identifications, let them build their own virtual worlds."
  • "In Burning Life people were being who they were wanting to be."
  • "On Facebook you do judge [others] by their pictures."
  • [Without some anonymity] "There would be no diversity any more on SL...people in Gorean culture don't want disclosure."
  • "It would be a turn off to know that you are playing SL with a bunch of older people."
  • "SL is about avatar-to-avatar; Facebook is about person-to-person."
On steep graphics requirements for virtual worlds:
  • "An Ethernet cord is not convenient. If it won't run on a laptop on wireless, I won't do it."
  • "Not everyone can afford an Alienware desktop to see this stuff."
Go, students! My only gripe back to them was "stop whining, buy an Ethernet cord, and log back on." It's a silly excuse. Those who bought cords report a dramatic bump in performance on SL and Heritage Key.

College is not about their convenience; at a selective and attentive school like mine, it's about their practicing critical-thinking skills and learning new things that harried high-school teachers don't have time to teach.

But some conveniences have their place: half of the class reported using Facebook to plan group-activities for SL, as it relates to doing assignments.

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