Check out the following YouTube vids to get a flavour:
(what do you think? anyone else think the concept of a "first life avatar" is strange?)
(this second one is mostly about, I think, what sort of virtual learning spaces would students design? - this was what most of the session was about - so more info below.)
Are virtual spaces so different? what is the value added of first/second synch events? - The presenter talked about building an SL campus with a lecture theatre, 2 seminar rooms and a social area - and at first I thought, oh dear this was going to be the standard "we've replicated the real world" but then it opened out and discussed some interesting issues (the presenter was really a researcher in virtual worlds rather than being teaching and learning focused so that set the tone). The students were given one of the seminar rooms to redesign to better suit their learning needs - at first they just stuck in a sofa and a wii, the presenter suggested they might change the way the room is configured - but almost immediately the students abandoned the room shell completely. Some interesting stuff about the dynamics of unconstrained space, the trend for most of the design facts to be round (??) and a facinating exercise (called the interdisciplinary improv session) about editing their avatar to create a polar opposite and the issues of self-representation.
So are virtual worlds so different? Presenter suggested:
Yes - reality need not apply, rich visual spaces, new opportunities for engagement, framing very important to balance gamer background. Different constraints - lag, limited concurrency, downtime, digital divide.
No - still space designed by people, but can augment, still need authenticity for engagement.
Tips for using virtual or dual synch activities based on lessons learned (be warned...)
- check with the lawyers - Joanna (the presenter) was shot by one of her students in the middle of a presentation (as a joke) so to get him back, she set him on fire
- set parameters - free spaces still need ground rules
- make time to play with your students (I kid you not!)
- customising your own avatar is a mark of respect to your students (like dressing smartly)
- be creative and encourage experimentation
- join groups and listservs
- remember - reality need not apply
....and finally - the usual pre-presentation checks are still worth doing in SL. At an event within SL they invited a guest speaker but after the intro he walked onto the stage with his scripted genitals on the outside of his trousers, so embarrassed was he when he realised that he left without giving his talk - on the other hand at least in SL the floor truly can open up and swallow you!!!