Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ten revelations re: the 3D instructor

It's early, and I'm new at it, and we're just in beta. But still, teaching in a 3D virtual world has provided me with a few revelations, some large, some small. Here are ten of them, in no particular order.

1. Social norms make the cut. Not all of them, maybe, but polite introductions, the usual patterns of respect in dialog, even adjusting stance and position for personal space... all things that are so ingrained they come very naturally. It is hard, in fact, to imagine that you are not in the room with these people.

2. Self-consciousness is limited. This is a pleasant surprise. The usual level of anticipation before speaking to a crowd is lessened by a few significant factors, namely: any concerns whatever about appearance, dress, posture. My zipper will never be down, my nose will never run. I can concentrate on content and presentation.

3. The back row is back. I feared this would be so, and it seems to be. In an online, asynchronous environment no one can hide. Everyone is equal. In 3D, people can hide in the back, not speak up, avoid participation. The introduction of an interactive notebook in our world has made it possible to check everyone's work, but still, it's not easy to get everyone involved equally in discussion. Oh yes, and it's also possible for someone to try to dominate (muting them is possible, but see revelation 1 above).

4. Nonverbal is nonexistent. Yes, it's possible to nod, shake your head, raise your hand. You can even jump up and down. But the mood of the room comes through audio only, much like a conference call. I'm still concerned that impressions may even be misleading. A group of people looking at you intently, appearing engrossed... ah, all must be well.

5. Small groups that know each other work best. Anyone who has spent time in a 3D world with a few pals knows this, but it's true in a classroom. It's quite easy, quite fun, when you're all in it together.

6. Many souls in one body is weird, on a sci-fi scale. Okay, this is likely quite rare, but I had the experience of doing a demo when a group of people were participating through one avatar, projected on a screen in a conference room. I could hear them all speak. Because the environment generally feels real otherwise, this was actually somewhat unnerving. Threw off my groove. Not recommended.

7. Live is live. In spite of the fact that some of the pressure is off (see revelation 2 above), it's still a live environment. When something goes wrong, it goes wrong for all to see. Technology has to work for everyone, all at the same time. Given the nature of technology, there's always going to be something.

8. Instructions must be clear, but not as clear. One of the cardinal rules of online learning has been, make your instructions painfully clear. In fact, most written online directions get revised and revised and revised, so that eventually the most complex of instructions are written so well no one even notices they are complex. In a live environment, there's opportunity for backing up, starting over. Plus...

9. Help is at hand. People respond to their fellow classmates, helping them adjust audio or figure out how to change their point of view. This is a very good thing.

10. Skills transfer. This is true almost any way you want to define a skill or its transfer, whether it's the platform skills of presenters that work in-world and out, or whether it's learning something new in-world and using it out.

Try it when you can. I think you'll like it.

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