The technology gap in action: Second Life vs. College Instructors

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Sandra Porter
A bit of unsolicited advice for workshop presenters I'm currently in Washington, D.C. at the Advanced Technology Education conference co-sponsored by National Science Foundation and the American Association of Community Colleges. The people here are an interesting mix of instructors teaching high tech stuff and instructors who sometimes seem more advanced in age than technological know-how. Mind you, people are doing amazing things. Some colleges have nanotechnology, some microfabrication, some biotechnology, computer forensics, but some of the high tech programs are managed by some very low tech people. This situation isn't uncommon in either education or science. I've known directors of institutes who only recently learned how to do their own e-mail. Still, if you're a workshop presenter at this type of conference, the nature of your audience is something that you might like to consider. It's not that I didn't have fun, or enjoy practicing with Second Life, but.... If you're giving a four-hour workshop, for this audience, on Second Life, here are some hints for next year: Hint number 1: Do not assume that your audience knows how to use their laptops. Sure they can type, but many people are used to using a mouse. Those people do not know how to right-click when they're using a lap top and a touch pad. I'm one of those people, but I know that it can be done and I'm willing to press all the keys to figure which key combinations will do the job. Some of the people I was sitting with thought that you could only right click if you had a mouse. Luckily, they had me. Suggestion - tell people how to right click with different kinds of laptops. Hint number 2: No matter what you do, if you're giving a presentation in a hotel, the bandwidth will probably suck. It will even be worse if there are people in the room who discover that Second Life has been upgraded in the past month and they need to download a 62 Mb upgrade (namely me, and I wasn't the only one.) Suggestion: strongly encourage people to download - and test the software- within a few days of the conference. Hint number 3: Bandwidth problems apparently get worse if everyone tries to visit the same site at the same time. Unfortunately, this kind of experience will undoubtably convince a few instructors that this won't work in a class room either and certainly leave them thinking that Second Life is not ready for prime time. Suggestion: Send people to a variety of sites and not just one. BTW - some of the people at my table, and I, visited Genome Island and said hello to Max Chatnoir. Thanks Max! Hint number 4: Some instructors will be freaked out simply by the experience of visiting Second Life. Do not tell them that all they have to do is program in C++ in order to do things. Sure, it's cool to build things, but some people are challenged enough by trying to make the avatars sit down or teleport. Suggestion: Do not tell people that they have to know how to program to use Second Life. Tell them that they can do more, if they know how, but don't tell them that it's necessary. Hint number 5: Give instructors a list of resources and places they can go, and perhaps talks they can attend. Instructors like assignments and some of them are not going to understand how Second Life could be a useful learning tool unless they visit it themselves. Next time: It would be good to show a short movie from Second Life or even show an avatar doing some very basic things, before having everyone log in and clog the intertubes. Then ask if people have questions. None of the presenters asked if we had any questions! Then, give people time to play, but have some sort of instructions for them. All the people around me got totally lost. Some direction would have been nice. Overall, I think the presenters had a lot to deal with from the bandwidth standpoint and did an admirable job under the circumstances, but next time.....

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