Previous to our class in Second Life I knew what it was but had only seen it once and that was on The Office when Dwight was flying around hilariously looking like himself, check it out http://www.hulu.com/watch/15619/the-office-dwights-second-life. Anyway, maybe because of my lack of experience it was interesting to have a class in there. Though I think there are a lot of moral implications I have no intention of getting into that here because I think if you wanted to find a virtual world that could be used for education and controlled to keep out unwanted things I think you could. Just from an education perspective I think that education in virtual worlds is a mixed bag.
In distance education I think collaboration, environment and social presence are difficult things that some people would like to improve. The avatar issue is complex but may help some of these things in an educational setting. I found a little article that described interaction in distance education. The researcher wrote a commentary on their findings aside from the paper and said that, “Verbal immediacy behaviors can lessen the psychological distance between communicators online; overall sense of social presence is linked to learning (http://www.kent.edu/rcet/Publications/upload/ISP&ADpict.pdf).”
It seems that with an avatar you could potentially increase the sense of social presence and there could be an increase in verbal immediacy. The question is if the avatar can facilitate those things better than a real life web cam call or video conference? I have little experience with avatars but I think there is something to seeing how people portray themselves which would add to the social presence aspect. I think immediacy is a tossup.
As I researched some links related to the readings I came across a blogger who focuses on the business aspect of second life. He felt the avatars and the perspectives in virtual worlds could help people have more thought out conversations.
“As it turns out meeting with someone in a virtual space to have a conversation makes things quite a bit easier from another perspective: it lets you “take a step back” from the issue, think about it logically, and then contribute with something far more sane and sober than you might have otherwise.
This theory has actually been borne out among therapists who have been using virtual spaces for PTSD and conflict resolution with great success. Being somewhere and speaking to someone is one thing, but taking a step back and seeing yourself with someone having a conversation is something different altogether http://www.calebbooker.com/.”
I suppose if someone views the virtual conversation how they will say it and thinks about it long enough to “give themselves feedback” they might adjust what they would add to the conversation. I don’t know how many people would do that but there might be something to it. Anyway, avatars aside I think in some ways we are taking a step back in technology use as we hop into second life. This may be pure ignorance of what can be done in virtual worlds but in a video conference training I can have tons of resources at my fingertips including video, audio, PowerPoint, white boards etc. When you step into a virtual world you seem to lose all that technology. That sounds a little ironic since the fact you can have a virtual space is pretty amazing but it limits the kinds of interactions you can have around content.