Over the past few years, I’ve had a number of opportunities to play around in Second Life. My first experience was as a Highly Accomplished ICT Educator with the now defunct PLANE project. I joined PLANE at the very beginning of its flight, in 2012. PLANE, which stood for Professional Learning Anywhere: A Network for Educators, strived to develop a game- based professional learning platform for educators, providing them with opportunities to build networks that were not reliant on their geographic location, and to allow them to collaborate with colleagues, and take part in asynchronous professional learning which supported their professional development.
After completing a few boot camps, I picked up SL fairly quickly – possibly due to my previous experience in gaming, the platform was fairly natural to me, and once I got my head around the controls it was a fairly easy learning curve. In my role as HAICTE, I assisted the SL experts in running a few boot camps for PLANE participants, acting as a flight attendant of sorts in the PLANE metaphor. We had a few team meetings in SL, and ran a couple of teach meets in-world, and I was confident and comfortable in the use of the platform as a communication and collaboration zone.
Then, PLANE derailed. Funding was cut, and after a while support for the PD sessions provided on the site was no longer available. From this time until the beginning of 2015, my SL avatar sat neglected in cyberspace, waiting for me to return and give her a wardrobe update and take her flying. When I joined the executive of SLANSW at the end of last year, some planning about future and events was discussed, and it was suggested by our president that we run some PD sessions in Second Life, to allow geographically isolated teacher librarians to be able to access the professional learning without the need to travel. PD in your PJ’s has always appealed to me as a concept, given that our profession is becoming more and more time poor, and there are increasing pressures for educators to complete mandated professional learning in their own time. I also believe that it’s a valuable opportunity for educators to ensure that they are taking responsibility for their own professional learning, and thus experiencing professional development which targets their individual needs and interests, rather than the “one size fits all” PD which is often provided at a school level.
(Image: SLANSW Second Life Bootcamp featuring Jokay and Stanley Yip, in the leadup to a SLANSW PD Event run in-world)
Again, SL was a quick pick-up for me. A couple of Second Life sessions with speakers including Dan Haessler and Hamish Curry provided participants the opportunity to develop our in-world skills whilst engaging in some meaningful conversations with other educators about our own often very diverse circumstances. This led to some wonderful sharing of ideas for potential solutions to problems around topics such as well-being and design thinking. Great stuff.
Cue INF506, and another opportunity to play in-world, and explore the opportunities for virtual reality experiences like Second Life for developing connections. The distance education experience is a perfect opportunity to explore non-traditional communication and collaboration options. I was unable to join my fellow students in-world during our scheduled bootcamps due to timing, however did meet a few people in Second Life for some small group catch-ups, which we honed our skills. It was an engaging way to develop our expertise in a largely unfamiliar setting for many of us, and allowed for some valuable conversation about our study experiences. What I have found, though, is that whilst my experiences in-world have been largely positive, they haven’t led to any strong desire on my part to include it as an ongoing part of my life, either professionally or personally. I can play around with it when needed, but it hasn’t become an embedded part of my professional practice or my online life.
So, how does a virtual world like Second Life lend itself to supporting information services? That’s a great question. And, I suspect, the answer will vary depending on the interests and experiences of the individuals and the information services in question. One of the key benefits of a virtual world is the sense of connection that it can provide. Rather than just “dialling in” to a webinar, or participating in an online meeting through any of the multitude of online platforms available, a virtual world creates a sense of presence (Hill and Meister, 2013). You are really there with your fellow participants, in the form of your avatar. You interact with the same environment as them, sit on the lounge beside the avatar of a colleague from miles away, and share in conversations and connections with people in a far more engaging way that you would in a slightly more clinical chat box of an Adobe Connect room, for example.
One of the downsides, however, is the often overwhelming technical skill required for such a connection. During my frequent experiences with SL bootcamps, I have discovered many people who find the whole environment too much to cope with. Concentrating on the conversations, figuring out how to move to new locations, and the skills needed to troubleshoot any technical issues has the potential to create a barrier for people who may already feel geographically isolated – they then become more isolated by their perceived lack of skill in a virtual world too. Helmer and Learning Light reference the key strengths and weaknesses of Second Life as a learning environment, and the steep learning curve for most participants, as well as the significant time required to develop mastery of the virtual world, as high on the list of problems (2007).
The potential for virtual worlds in information services are limited only by the imaginations of the librarians and educators who are continuing to explore new ways to provide opportunities for connection with their clients. Virtual libraries, hang outs, in-world author talks and workshop experiences, and any number of other services that might meet the needs of clients are possible. It’s essential, though, that the needs of the clients are placed at the centre of any decision to embark on a virtual world project – otherwise, these adventures will go the way of my initial Second Life explorations, and become an infrequent adventure rather than a regular part of an individual’s interaction with the information service.
Helmer, J., & Learning Light (2007). Second Life and virtual worlds. Retrieved from http://www.norfolkelearningforum.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/virtual-worlds_ll_oct_2007.pdf
Hill, V., & Meister, M. (2013). Virtual worlds and libraries Gridhopping to new worlds. College & Research Libraries News, 74(1), 43-47. Retrieved from http://crln.acrl.org/content/74/1/43.full