Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Blast at the Chronicle's Second Life Coverage

Angry Iggy

Location: Mixing a Drink (of water--Mama taught me no Martinis when you are pissed off)

Marty Keltz of The Virtual Worlds Story Project poked me with a stick today, when I was already testy. He let me loose on "After Frustrations in Second Life, Colleges Look to New Virtual Worlds" in the usually well informed Chronicle of Higher Education.

So visit the story and watch the fur fly. Marty, if we meet in NYC or Richmond and you are drinking man, the famously secret great Martinis at Thai Diner II are on me. If you are not a drinking drive us home. And his partner in TVWSP, Jenaia Morane, gets her drinks on me, too, for her riposte, "Ignorance Abounds."

Here's my reply to Mr. Young:

The author does a disservice to those of us who have worked hard building immersive simulations in Second Life. That said, I'm not a fanboy of Linden Lab (though I have taught four classes using their world and in networked classrooms since the early 90s). It takes time to teach well in SL, and it's advisable to spend at least a semester studying the world before bringing students in.

So I want to note, first, where Mr. Young gets it right.

First, the author understands the power of simulations, which is the most compelling application for virtual-world technology.

Bravo. Young's also correct in stating that educators "need more control than Second Life gives them." Much of the blame for that rests with the company, not the world itself.

Here Mr. Young misses a really key part of this story.

Too often since the short-lived "media hype" era for SL ended in 2007, Linden Lab has taken its education customers for granted. Examples abound. They don't understand that many first-year students outside the US are 17, not the minimum of 18 needed to create an account. While ramping up system-requiremnents to look more like higher-end games, the company doesn't consider the systems that students will use to connect to SL. Doing so on a typical student laptop via wireless can spell disaster. They have not provided educators with ways to back up our simualtions on local equipment, except for a laughably expensive "enterprise solution" or third-party clients of limited utility.

With OpenSim worlds, for all their warts, a school can host its own virtual world and control its own IP.

Mr. Young could have written a far stronger indictment of this particular virtual world's shortcomings, however, had he not shown his lack of skill in SL and, say, taken a look at the fine (and not so rosy) study of experienced users just released by the New Media Consortium:

It's painful when a reporter shows his "noob" status. He states--and this had me alternately laughing and groaning--that "I regularly get stuck between pieces of virtual furniture, wander around aimlessly looking for the person I'm trying to meet up with, or lose patience as I wait for my online avatar to walk between virtual classrooms."

That, Mr. Young, is your fault, not SL's. I learned such basics within my first semester with SL. My students last term had those "level one" skills down in...two weeks.

There are many reasons to doubt that virtual worlds will soon attract a large number of faculty. But The Chronicle should have sent someone "in-world" who at least possessed enough skills to avoid his own bias about using the interface. I'm not angling for that job...I'm too ticked by Linden Lab. But at least, as I teach my writing students immediately, one begins analysis by noting one's biases and lack of expertise.

BTW, "RIP Second Life" is, as we'd say "in world" a lame link to have.

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