Saturday, November 14, 2009

More Thoughts on Second Life and Laptops

Tooters Office
Location: Slacking while reading student wikis

There's been quite a productive exchange of ideas on the SL Education List about the barriers that SL's steep graphics requirements pose. This drove my friend Tenchi Morigi to put her avatar into hibernation.

Here's a colleague's statement about student computers and my reply on the e-list:

So, what I'm saying is: for good operation and experience of SL one needs the best affordable graphics, rather than the *newest* possible computer. What schools and individuals do when they cannot afford this is another story, of course. But whatever course they take, they should be aware that SL teaching/learning will suffer greatly from low-quality graphics, ceteris paribus.

I'm in complete agreement here. Where we part ways may be how Linden Lab has presented SL as a mainstream tool for educators and typical students in higher education when it, ceteris paribus, is not.

Sadly for educators teaching first-year students, there may be no relatively foolproof way to integrate SL into classes. Courses must be listed online in order for students to register, and it can be tricky to have a Registrar add many lines stating "to take this course, your personal computer must possess XYZ graphics card or X GB of RAM" when LL's own systems requirements change quickly as new client versions emerge.

Two years of teaching SL in first-year composition have also shown me that the typical undergrad at my university will nod and even sign a waiver saying "my system meets the specs," and then find out otherwise. Many don't even know what RAM is: increasingly, kids I teach are more likely to use a handheld device than a PC for nearly every communications task.

My own teaching has been "bleeding edge" for many years, from the Daedalus Integrated Writing Environment to MOOs to SL. That experience taught me to hesitate before I bring in colleagues to try their projects. I now feel that way about SL. Unless a Linden Lab or third-party client emerge with lighter graphics requirements, I doubt that I will be able to continue using SL next year for my first years. I'll search for another world that works better on typical equipment.

SL would then, for me, become a "niche" product for advanced courses in the Rhetoric of Online Communities where students can be carefully informed ahead of time about the technical requirements for their coursework.

But I may be wrong. LL might devise ways for more of us to use their world, given the CEO's stated intention to bring in millions of new Residents. Will SL 2.0 play better on portable devices, or at least netbooks and low-end laptops?

For widespread educational adoption, the answer to that question will be decisive.


dirty said...

it's an interesting idea but you are requiring students to make in investment is a 'gaming' computer to take advantage of the courses.

Iggy O said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Iggy O said...

Nope, Dirty. That's not my claim at all.

It appears to be my correspondent at the SLED list, quoted in my post, who wants students to purchase gaming desktops.

In fact, if I am to continue using SL for first-year courses, I want the students to be able to take advantage of SL's treasures with what they typically employ: a Mac or PC laptop with 2 GB of RAM, a reasonably fast Intel processor, and a wireless connection (if possible).

There's a mint to be made for the company that produces an immersive VW that will run well on such equipment--the very machines that hardware makers market to parents of college-bound US kids.

Right now, Linden Lab is NOT that company. I wish they were, because the content in-world can be stunning. If something like Metaplace were MORE immersive (I have innate trouble with the Mario-Brothers avatars and tiny display) I'd be building educational content there. It runs like a dream, in a browser and without a client.

Linden Lab scratches its head and wonders why retention of students who use SL is so low after they finish a class. Some have said "they see it as part of class." Fair enough, but I'd wager that most students--and most are NOT gamers at my school--never see SL as more than a collection of gray prims, laggy walking, and a non-intuitive UI.

This is the Lab's doing, since for a long time they sold SL as a killer app for education even as they made back-office decisions that ramped up the graphics requirements. Instead of producing--or contracting out--a "lite" client for laptop users (/me misses OnRez badly), LL seems to be chasing the enterprise / desktop-socialite client bases.

Heh--maybe that is where the money is! I'm professor, not a marketing guru.