USB head set

This semester i am requiring my students to purchase a USB headset and mic so we can use voice chat in Second Life. Of course, when implementing SL nothing is as easy as it seems. As usual I look to Social Informatics as a way to analyze the problems. Social Informatics is “the interdisciplinary study of the design, uses and consequences of information technologies that takes into account their interaction with institutional and cultural contexts.” In this case problems with voice chat arose even though the students had the proper equipment, networks, and access to Second Life. Only about 1/2 my students were able to use voice chat…so what happened?

My RL classroom doesn’t have computers in it so when we have class in SL students need to find their own access. My instructions have always been, if your computer doesn’t work with Sl go to a computer lab or use the library, problem solved. But when you throw voice chat into the equation it shakes things up a bit. Most computer labs on campus are quite work spaces, students wear headphones and most talking is between two students who might be collaborating on a project. Talking in the labs, especially for students “playing a game” like Second Life is not tolerated. Some students couldn’t use voice because of the following scenarios:

1. students who were on campus because they had class before or after mine,

2. students who had to use a computer lab because their home computers couldn’t run SL

3. students who don’t own a laptop but were away from there desktop computer that can run SL

a student describes this on his blog

Another downside of being in the lab was the fact that I couldn’t talk. I should probably try to find a place on campus where I can get a fast connection and talk at the same time. (Any suggestions? I don’t live on campus so I can’t go to a dorm room, and I can’t play from home since I have class immediately before this one).

class in second life

About 2/3 of the class could not participate in the voice chat because they were in a computer lab, using a library computer, or at a wireless hotspot on campus where they couldn’t or rather, they didn’t feel comfortable talking. Very interesting barrier to a technology implementation, a social barrier rather than a technical barrier. The institutional and cultural context within the University of Texas at Austin acted as a barrier to voice chat in SL. Cases like this lend support the idea that we need to base our Second Life teaching on actual uses of Second Life rather than possible uses of Second Life.

Even with this barrier however, students reported that were more comfortable learning in SL compared to our face-2-face classess. Some quotes from their blogs are below.

One thing I noticed about holding class in Second Life was that more than the usual people participated in the discussions that we have. It seems that the barrier of shyness or being uncomfortable with expressing one’s opinion was just taken away. The reason for this I think is because when class is held in the virtual world, most everyone is in a comfortable zone, for me it was my apt. (which was a good thing because I didn’t feel like being out in this cold weather lol). Since you are not physically there, and instead a virtual form of yourself is there, then you are more inclined to participate without any sort of anxiety or fear to speak out.

Class in Second Life yesturday was really interesting in a fun way. I feel like i can open up and contribute more when i’m not in an actual classroom i think it’s because i’m shy in public. Having conversations through the computer is what our generation does though so i feel more comfortable that way.

once we were in the virtual environment everyone was talking. Arguments flew back and forth. Side conversations were held. For the first time in the two weeks we have been meeting, Joe’s conversation was practically secondary to the class conversation.

First off, I will say that the meeting was a lot more convenient and informative than meeting in a classroom. It was a big relief to be able to get an extra 1/2 hour of sleep.

BTW, Leslie Jarmon and I were featured in an article titled Universities Use Second Life to Teach Complex Concepts in Government Technology Magazine.

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