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Monday, November 20, 2006

Clark Aldrich - "Second Life is not a teaching tool"

Clark Aldrich's recent post on LCB - The Learning Circuits Blog: Second Life is not a teaching tool - has me wondering what he thinks a "teaching tool" is?
Having said all of that, Second Life, as is, is not a teaching tool. It is content free. It is closer to a virtual classroom tool, or even a real-world meeting room or water cooler (without the actual water). Any content has to either bubble up from spontaneous conversations (great when they happen, but not predictable or scalable enough to provide an intellectual payoff), or be "brought in."

Ummm ... but aren't virtual classroom tools or meeting room tools a "teaching tool" if used correctly? And, if you are able to enhance these with persistent content, doesn't that become a teaching tool.

How about the ability to fly around the solar system? Could you maybe learn about the solar system that way? That's in there?

I think maybe Clark is more worried about distinquishing something from something:
mostly, I worry that educational simulations will be lumped together with Second Life

Not sure the point he's making. If someone scripts a simulation in Second Life, does that not count or something?

No matter what Clark says - Second Life is a teaching tool.

I personally believe that the next generation of Second Life that gets around some of the current technical issues and provides presence audio is going to have adoption patterns similar to virtual classroom / virtual meeting tools.


Anonymous said...

There’s several ways to understand Clark’s reaction to Second Life that are applicable to many of the changes you’re blogging about.
--- SME’s believe that quality depends on their expertise and input. It’s inconceivable that noob’s could come up with the same quality on their own. The lack of quality in Flickr photos and YouTube videos reinforces their belief that “learners cannot generate worthwhile content” and SME’s don’t have a lot to learn.
--- Short tail economics believes in playing “King of the Hill” on the bell curve. The stuff on the fringes of market share or sales ranking has to be inferior, unreliable and kept in its place. The dribble that appears in the vast majority of the 55 million blogs feeds their faith in their privileged positions in the competitive arenas.
--- Web 1.0 uses web sites as brochures liberated from the cost of ink, coated stock and postage. Web 2.0 makes no sense where gift cultures, participant initiatives and uncontrolled contributions yield “the wisdom of crowds” and citizen policing of lies, scams, product defects and high profile ineptitude.

Thus professionals with high commitments to content will be late adopters to these numerous innovations. As they see it, they have a lot to lose and very little to gain from democratizing the tools and distributing the power. Or as you have surmised: learning professionals make the worst learners (about changes outside their proficiencies).

Tony Karrer said...

Tom - so what do you really think? :)

Jesse Ezell said...

You certainly could script characters and evironments in an online world to simulate real life activities. However, I think the whole second life hype is way overrated. Walking around in a virtual environment certainly doesn't give you anything special, unless you are trying to teach people how to walk around. Possibly, you could make it more entertaining and interactive, but to achieve the realism required to make it fun, you would be better off coding against something like XNA and loading your code on the XBOX 360 with the Unreal or Source (Half-Life) engine. So, while the whole 3D environment might be an interesting concept, I don't think second life is anything more than a glorified version of the Sims. Modern game worlds are extremely expensive to build and the costs are increasing swiftly. Though things like XNA from Microsoft are intended to help slow the trend, I don't think that anyone has the time, money, or resources to really make anything impressive, as evidenced by the fact that they are to silly tools like second life instead of building on a real platform like XNA.

Jesse Ezell said...

Much more interesting use of virtual technology than second life (IMO):

Still, things like TTS are not quite good enough yet to be compelling and good voice talent is both expensive and time consuming. Add to that the fact that most organizations don't exactly have talented 3d artists on hand and you start to realize how far we have to go before we have realistic simulations. Gears of War has been stated to cost about $10 million ( While the realism is there, it still has nowhere near the amount of dialog and interactivity that would be required for even a rudimentary training system. Until the tools get better, I think we are just out of luck. I don't see any organization spending $10-20 million just to create a single course when they could train people for much less using more traditional methods.

Anonymous said...

SL has many fun aspects but also a lot of risks and obstacles that make it tricky to use at K12. For instance, free chat with any other user is a little disconcerting, particularly if working with young children, where child protection issues come up. Also, let's not forget that using sophisticated 3D game environments for teaching is likely to reinforce digital exclusion & digital divide issues. Those children fortunate enough to have 3D games (whether on a PC or other platform) will find it infinitely easier to navigate than those who are novices.

Tony Karrer said...

I agree that this version of Second Life is over hyped. However, I strongly believe that a future version of Second Life or some other tool that includes presence audio (you can hear people who are close to you) and integrated whiteboarding will be significantly better for virtual meetings and even more so for virtual conferences.

Have you ever tried to do break-out sessions in a virtual meeting tool. It's horrible today. But with presence audio and whiteboarding, it would be WAY, WAY better in Second Life. Okay - break up into groups of three. Easy in second life - hard today in virtual meeting tools.

Expect there to be versions of WebEx in the future that offer a 3D world with avatars.

Anonymous said...

I should have prefaced my comment with the following:
When we seek first to understand, then to be understood, we meet less resistance and get buy-in sooner. The professionals opposing Second Life, blogging and Web 2.0 tools, appear to need more understanding. Here's some.

Jesse Ezell said...

Just remember though, the 3D aspect itself doesn't add much in a lot of cases. Part of the power of the internet / computer revolution is the removal of distance, now we are trying to add it back in. Ever tried to walk across the World of Warcraft map? :)

Karl Kapp said...

I think Second Life is a “teaching tool” like PowerPoint is a teaching tool.

To paraphrase the futurist Daniel Burros “Hey, I’ve seen people make a million dollars with a PowerPoint presentation and I have seen people loose a million dollars with a PowerPoint presentation. The difference? Hey, it’s not the PowerPoint.”

Second Life has the potential to do some really great training and educating in a variety of areas; the solar system, virtual oil rigs, virtual customer service experiences, etc. (all requiring 3D to really get a sense of the items, to really understand an orbit...go in orbit of the sun, to understand the functioning of an oil rig, you need 3D).

It also has the potential to do some pretty stupid and dumb stuff as well; virtual hate groups, gangs, thieves, etc.

What we need to do as people involved in learning and technology is to help others decide when a certain teaching tool makes sense and when it doesn’t. Not every teaching tool makes sense all the time. Our job is to understand the tool and then help others apply the tool to the right learning…much easier said than done.

To Jesse’s point about the current state of the technology used for something like Second Life, st reminds me of early on in the days of the internet when the initial wave of video over the web was all the rage “RealVideo” and streaming videos were the future of the web. Someone wisely said to me, “Yes, the video is bad now, but you need to know how it works, it’s limitations and its potential. So, when it does get perfected, you are ready.If you wait until its perfect, you’ll be left behind.”

Same idea with Second Life, no…it might not be ready for the prime time but if you aren’t ready for it, by the time it is ready…it will pass you.

Also, I think it will be ready earlier than we think. Yes, now it takes lots of money to create similar tools and they are not ready yet, however, if you look at Ray Kurzweil’s (The Singularity is Near) exponential growth charts, he clearly indicates that technology development and adoption accelerates and becomes easier to use and more cost effective, not at the same rate as today, but at an accelerated rate. The tools for things like Second Life will get continue to get better at an accelerated rate and will be perfected and ready for prime time much sooner than any of use believe.

In fact, tools in development in someone’s basement or R&D lab will probably overtake Second Life at some point (especially one’s aimed specifically at the learning market) but these new tools will owe a nod and a wink to the creators of Second Life and to those who dwell in that metaverse.

Tony Karrer said...

Karl - that was extremely well said.

Jessee - the advantage of the 3d environment for a virtual session is that its familiar to people. If I ask folks to break up into groups of 3, it makes sense. In WebEx or others, some have break out capabilities but I wouldn't even try to do a break out. So, while I think that there's a clunkiness and overhead to 3d environments, it has advantages. And it's a lot less overhead than going in person to something.

Darius said...

I think Clark's point is that Second Life is not a good institutional learning environment (government/private school, corporate) … because of the variables the educator cannot control:
1) Attention interruption
2) Testing that cannot be gamed
3) Advanced/secure programming & data storage
4) Portability
5) Intellectual Property and Copyright theft

I believe an open source, 3D, peer to peer, programming with IDE and full class library, “packaged as a platform” solution would address most of Clark’s concerns. The best contender, that I know of, and that I know is in experimental use by the military and higher education, is Croquet sponsored by the Croquet Consortium.


Why Interactive 3D?
I believe that the strength to be found in 3D environments has already be researched and summarized by Janet Murray in “Hamlet on the Holodeck – the Future of Narrative in Cyberspace”. In that book, she traces how, for each new medium, technology changes the communication medium content, authoring, and the communication medium’s structure, information, size, duration. The techniques to influence the mind are, in turn, formed by the limitations of the physics of the medium. From oral tradition to song/poetry/verse, to parchments as memory aids, to the codex, to the novel, to radio, to movies, to TV, to computational 3D, each style, genera, and techniques are formed by the physical limitations of the medium. The “novel” explores personalities and their relationships. The “movie” explains by action (you don’t want someone just explaining by talking in a movie but showing you). The radio draws on environmental sounds, metaphors, and visual vocabulary to sway the imagination.
Murray says that interactive 3D teaches by explaining the “process” of the dynamics of an environment that changes over time. It’s hard to explain in just words, pictures, or movies how the intricacies of the interdependent actions and reactions work in complicated systems described by “systems theory”. These systems can be found in social interdependent dynamics as well as the ecologies of the physical world and as also in the interdependent dynamics of past discoveries and the changes in the world of knowledge within every discipline. It’s hard to rewind a movie and run it a gain with a few different choices made in the beginning.
Note that each medium doesn’t exclude the prior art but usually incorporates it. One should also expect 3D to allow one to use text or 2D as easily as 3D or the efforts will seem feeble. Murray shows that each new medium in its genesis was a poorer copy of the prior art and took about 20 years of experimentation to get its own feet and techniques. (Novels can pan and zoom but movies can do it faster.)
I suppose the holodeck in Star Trek could have been just 2D. Somehow I think that would have made a very different story and very different lessons for the characters. Going the other way, why couldn’t the bridge and its controls for controlling the whole ship have just been a holodeck? Have “who you need”, “what they say”, and your own “controls” everywhere you go. No more “can’t get to the bridge” by broken lifts. The 2D controls they used were just as “virtual” and subject to the same “bugs” (so the story goes).
Someday we will control whole companies by manipulating them within visual representations of them. ERP and accounting systems are just text & 2D representations of models of the company. But you must admit that they are rigid, easily outdated, and very poor shadows to try to represent the moment by moment dynamics of a modern company and their dynamic working environments… competitive, legal, global, social, labor, etc.
Today, “processes” change so fast and new process constantly created by large social groups, that text and 2D just can’t keep a person informed fast enough. That’s the motive behind the BIM (Building Intelligence Modeling) process. Blueprints just aren’t fast enough anymore to keep all parties informed of all the latest changes by all parties in the time it takes to build a skyscraper or any other large building project.
3D lets you create on model and the story/presentation/teaching-material changes (including its scope and focus) by simply adjusting the camera’s point of view. This is similar to how movies/TV change the story by changing the camera’s point of view, but with the participant in control of the camera and hence the in control of the story.
For example, if the environmentalist groups actually simulated the process of destruction, economic impact, all environments affected, alternatives, groups, individuals, and personalities involved and their unique interests, you might be more informed than by any other medium. We’re talking about such things as the “serious games” studied at the “Serious Games Summit”.
3D’s best use will be by simulations to, first, document processes, then become “practice-ware” to gain skills in the environments, and finally as “predictive-ware” when predictive mathematical models take on visual form, substance, and a life of their own that can more meaningfully interact with our own lives. Controlling and defining “processes” in complex, ever shifting, win-lose, interdependent environments and their related economies while absorbing and evaluating massive amounts of feedback, is what many of today’s youth are learning in MMORPGs.


Jesse Ezell said...

Karl, your thoughts are well written, but I would disagree on two points:

1) Waiting for technology maturity does not mean getting left behind. Look at youtube. They waited till there was a lightweight and widespread video player and took the world by storm. In many cases, waiting till maturity leaves you in a better position because you don't sour your users or waste money developing content with tools that are quickly outdated and aren't mature enough.

2) How close are we? I think we are a lot farther than you might think. This is no different than fuel cells or text to speech or speech recognition. When the first prototypes came out, everyone assumed that in a few short years, the technology would be improved enough to have widespread adoption. There is something about people that likes to jump the gun and assume that the easy part is coming up with the initial implementation. The fact is that it takes for more time to refine the initial implementation into something ready for the mass market than it does to come up with the initial implementation. Just because you can see the potential and imagine the possibilities doesn't mean that they are coming soon.

Honestly, even if we had the tools, most companies would still have to upgrade their entire hardware infrastructure to get the computing power required for realistic training simulations. Vista's heavy graphics requirements will push hardware in the right direction, but until now, there has been virtually no reason for most organizations to install anything other than a low end graphics card in their machines.

Karl Kapp said...


In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let's agree to disagree;)

Hugh O'Donnell said...

I represent the first Scottish school that has purchased an island on the Teen Grid of Second Life. We have had a small project on an education island on the Adult Grid and in a short space of time we've been convinced (I teach Secondary English (11-18yo) re. the use of SecondLife, both for gifted learners and those with learning difficulties.

We've recently put together a proposal for a package of funding from the Scottish government - yes, it's that high-level.

visit our progress at:


Anonymous said...

Interesting references to SL being over hyped, so was the internet.

Also about Real Video, the creator at SL was a VP of Real in his late 20's.

Now that SL code will go open-source, i's probably here to stay (think FireFox, Blender, Moodle)