Anna Peachey presented first at this event – describing the Schome Park part of the Schome project in which teens aged 13 to 17 explore alternative approaches to learning through the virtual environment of Second Life. During the presentation, she asked how many people in the room had an avatar in 2nd life and I’d say that over 90% raised their hands. This is, I think, quite unusual. At the end of her session, she asked for questions and the first questionner asked a question which I think illustrates the gulf we need to bridge when talking about the educational potential of both virtual worlds and web 2.0.
He began by identifying himself as somebody who had never been in Second Life. I need to paraphrase his question here, but basically he asked whether exposure to total freedom accorded to students using avatars within second life had a negative impact on students’ behaviour when they returned to their formal schooling environments and encountered constraints that they did not have to face in the virtual enviroment.
Anna answered this question very well, pointing out that as all the Schome students are anonymous we don’t know about their behaviour in schools. She then went on to explain that the virtual environment of Schome Park is not total anarchy – there is an AUP and the students have formed a community which has its own rules and that they negotiate these rules as a group. They also decide, as a community, what should happen when somebody infringes the AUP. She then went on to describe an interaction in which a group of students were discussing their experiences of SL and how it emerged that about 5 or 6 of the group had asperger’s syndrome. They talked about how helpful they found it to be in an environment in which they could present themselves and be accepted for that rather than pre-judged. It also emerged that many of the students had experienced bullying in their real lives and how Schome Park provided a supportive community through which to weather this.
What really struck me were the presumptions inherent in the question:
- Virtual worlds are anarchic places.
- Young people, when left to their own devices, will “go wild”.
- Formal schools are ordered places.
If these assumptions are widespread, then attempts to use new technologies in innovative and educational ways are likely to encounter considerable obstacles.