[iDC] Virtual Worlds, Education, & Labor

Eric Gordon Eric_Gordon at emerson.edu
Tue Mar 6 10:17:18 EST 2007

As one of the organizers of OurFloatingPoints at Emerson and as one  
of the people behind designing our Second Life campus, I have to say  
a few things about our intentions, and more broadly speaking, about  
the possibilities of SL for education.  First, I find it difficult to  
speak of Second Life as if it possessed some innate qualities.   
That's like saying the Web "fosters community" or "collapses  
geography."  Blanket statements about a platform are necessarily  
limited to stereotypical characteristics and leave little room for  
technological adaptation to social formations.   That said, Second  
Life is neither the next big thing or dangerous for our educational  
goals -- however, it is a novel platform through which we can explore  
questions of presence, place, community, and exhibition.

Emerson College is an urban campus that hugs the southeast corner of  
the Boston Common.  The geography of Boston is important to the  
experience of being on campus.  Therefore, our decision to reproduce  
the architectural layout of campus and to recreate the Boston Common  
was deliberately made to correspond with our understanding of the  
platform's possibilities.  We see Second Life as a way of creatively  
re-imagining the space.  While, we're not able to screen student work  
in the physical Boston Common, it will be possible to do so in Second  
Life.  While it is not possible to hold a meeting outside in January,  
it will be possible in Second Life.  The virtual campus is not a  
fantastical space, but an enhanced space that can dialogue with the  
physical space.  I don't see Second Life as a replacement for the  
classroom,  the live event, the campus, or even the heart of Boston,  
but as an addendum to our existing arsenal of lived experiences.  One  
of the most interesting aspects of the SL platform is how people  
identify with places and create a sense of the familiar.  Whether  
this is through representations of institutions, geography, or  
products, familiarity and co-presence are potential qualities of the  
platform that deserve attention.  Our efforts are not, as Trebor  
suggests, a marketing tactic for the school.  While the  
administration's support for our efforts are certainly driven by  
those considerations, they understand that this is a faculty and  
student research project intended to investigate the possibilities  
and limitations of the environment.

The first element of our build is the theater wherein we hold live  
events.  The question of how to orchestrate a live event in Second  
Life has been the topic of much internal debate.  Primarily, can the  
Second LIfe audience, projected onto the screen during the event  
enhance the experience of those physically present?  What can the  
corresponding audience of avatars (composed of proximate and non- 
proximate users) offer to the live audience?  Is there a method of  
interaction between the two audience sets that would best activate  
the audience?  Can we use the platform to change the relationship  
between speaker and audience?  Can we use the platform to alter the  
format of speech followed by questions?  Again, we don't know the  
answer to these things, nor do we assume that Second Life supplies  
the answers.  But we're excited to place a virtual scaffolding around  
what has become normalized academic practice in order to replace,  
repair or simply protect what we already know.

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