Monday, October 22, 2007

Second Draft Second Life

Before I had come to AoIR, I had been told by UCLA's Lisa Gerrard, a specialist in teaching writing online in a MOO, that there was a woman already teaching composition in the online virtual world Second Life. It turned out to be Sarah "Intellagirl" Robbins, a pedagogue-researcher who actually understands the conventions of the digital environments she sends her students into and even understands the, who presented at the very end of the Association of Internet Researchers conference.

This media release from Ball State explains the relationship between the university and Robbins' experimental teaching as follows:

There was one class in 2006-2007 in which students dressed up as the Kool-Aid Man and entered a dance club to simulate the trouble of living with obesity.

The class was a freshman English composition class taught by doctoral student Sarah Robbins. Robbins met with her students twice a week on a virtual island in Second Life (SL) named Middletown, paid for by the Center for Media Design (CMD).

In her AoIR talk Robbins explains that much of the writing work that students did in the class, which she described as prolific, was actually through electronic text, particularly web logs. She did show how a student doing a research project about the cost of textbooks created a monumental sculpture in SL, which depicted an iconic student being weighed down by books, Atlas-like, which could reveal the text of the research project when clicked. But the difficulty of transferring print documents to 3D virtual environments makes virtual reports still a bit clunky, although Robbins said some managed to make essayistic compositions with machinima video compositions.

Robbins thought that the advantage of her experiment was basically cultural, in that the experience allowed her students to create both a more playful and cohesive academic community, which spontaneously celebrated seasons by decorating the pedagogical environment with holiday-appropriate objects. Robbins said that she encouraged what she saw as team-building by giving her students scripted virtual objects like watermelon guns or giant dominos.

Robbins blogs at, and she and her partner Mark Bell are working on Second Life for Dummies.

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