Ellie Brewster, my avatar, has very strong views on Elluminate. The very mention of it makes her lip curl with disdain. She likens it to a prop in a famous comedy:

Wall, that vile Wall which did these lovers sunder;
And through Wall’s chink, poor souls, they are content
To whisper.

Pyramus and Thisby did better with that obstructive masonry than Ellie ever will with Elluminate; she says it’s like taking a class from inside a coffin.

What is it about learning technology like Elluminate that doesn’t work for avatars? Perhaps the most important thing is context. Before learning about the objectives of the course, or even looking at the course outline, important context has to be assimilated. In an actual class, students want to know about other students. They’re interested in gender/race/class variables. They don’t want to be the only 20-year-old in a class whose average age is 50. They want to know if the teacher looks like a reasonable person (drooling is a great way to reduce numbers in an oversubscribed class).

Ellie Brewster
Ellie Brewster

In Second Life, avatars don’t have to worry about these differences, but they do take in the context. Ellie would be wondering why the avatar in the third row is wearing a rubber duck on his head. This is not irrelevant; cues like this can tell us a lot about the social makeup of a class, helping us to predict whether we will be learning in an atmosphere of conflict, of enforced conformity, or of relaxed creativity. The important thing is to watch for reactions to the duck.

Ellie thinks that learning in Elluminate is like having blinkers. People are always telling her where to look. She says she’s not a horse, and if she wants to spend her time in class contemplating the guy with the duck, it will probably all come out the same in the end.