One of the most challenging things about Second Life teaching is that you are never completely in control. Students can use instant message as a background to a lecture, they can text chat during a lecture, or they can even “tune out” altogether by watching a You Tube video, or going for a sandwich. Ellie, my avatar, sometimes gets depressed about this, but I remind her that even in a real-life lecture, students can do all of these things; they’ll use their phones to text, they’ll talk in class, and they certainly “zone out” a lot.

The real difference between Second Life and actual life teaching is that the Second Life teacher is much more aware of how little attention students really pay us. The SL teacher spends more time thinking of ways to get around this by involving students in the work at hand; smaller autonomous groups work well, and any kind of tool that requires input or manipulation is usually very successful.

collaborative concept mapping
collaborative concept mapping

On Tuesday Ellie went to Jenette Forager’s weekly forum on SL tools (search for IMMERSION: tools.jam), where she found out about Salahzar Stenvaag’s new mapping tool. She tried it out in her class this week, and she’s pretty pleased with the results.

When rezzed, the tool offers a simple menu for building a concept map. What is truly brilliant about this tool is that any member of the group can add elements, move them, change their shape & colour, and even drop inventory into map components. Ellie’s just starting out with this group of newbie students, so participation was pretty rudimentary, but we finished with a complete map of feminist philosophies, accompanied by a short discussion of their characteristics. As the class learns more, this model can be modified and enlarged, and now that the students know how the tool works, they’ll be able to build maps independently

The theory of concept mapping has been a central topic in the in the Connectivity and Connective Knowledge course I’m following at the University of Manitoba. I’m coordinating the SL discussion group, and I’m looking forward to the next meeting, when we’ll be trying out Salazar’s new tool with more experienced avatars.