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Friday, June 10, 2005

Second Life to teach cultural proficiency?

On Monday, the managers of the OCDE Instructional Services division (whithin which is the Educational Technology Department) were trained in cultural proficiency. This has been a year long recurring process and was well facilitated. Tough questions were asked and courageous conversations were had (though not often enough about our own organization and values, if I may humbly offer my own opinion).

At any rate, one of the biggest questions was how to help propagate such conversations down to districts, sites, teachers, and students. I noticed one of the older participants from a different department suggest training via scenarios on video. I immediately made the leap to computerized role playing simulations (did I say games?). Later, one of the administrators suggested role playing as a model as well. We even did an exercise where we had to pair up with someone we didn't know and try to guess the answers to several questions about them without asking them. It really was a great illustration of how we react and what knowledge or generalizations we fall back on in the lack of any real data.

I wonder what would happen if this exercise were carried out in Second Life as a role playing simulation environment... when the man you are looking at might be a woman, and the dark skin you are seeing might belong to a white person... or vice versa etc. The participants could get a sense of how different they are treated if they change gender, skin color, or physical fitness in the game world. I think this could be powerful.

Personally, I am not yet over making "hot chicks" when given the chance to customize a character, and it is amazing to me how people behave when they know darn well there is a 50/50 chance that the player of the female character is actually a male! Within moments of creating my last character I was hit on in-game by a guy that totally creeped me out. Now is that a powerful way to establish cultural proficiency or what? (At least, if you ignore my stubbornly adolescent desire to create attractive female characters... which I'm sure will loose it's appeal someday... right?)

I can't find it right now, but there is a group in England also studying the use of Second Life to help students with disabilities develop social skills they might otherwise be very reluctant to practice.

Too, head on over to Second Life Future Salon to see some of the amazing events happening in-game. Clark Adrich presented some of his latest book during a panel presentation in-game not too long ago.

Second Life is definitely more simulation than game... there is no goal after all... but there are many promising applications.

At first I was bummed to hear an in-game mentor (which is a wide spread but voluntary position - there are serious educational implications here) describe the environment to me as a "giant virtual chat room" in which people just "hang out." Later I realized that when I was out of the game and text chatting with a buddy I missed the interaction of avatars that can gesture and look around and overhear others and meet new people etc. I figure that my buddy and I might as well meet and chat in second life rather than on iChat! Of course, things might have been more complicated if he tried to hit on me. Hmmm. At any rate, perhaps we're on to something here.

One person I talked to at the Education Arcade conference was studying the difference in student performance when online classes are held in a virtual environment rather than simple text chat rooms; it seemed his initial findings suggested the virtual environment was more effective. Wish I could make which of these business cards that guy belonged to. Unfortunately, this will have to come with a big disclaimer about me not knowing the source (again).

Thanks for reading.

-Mark

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