On camera controls and field trips

Camera controls, I think, are the best invention in SL: we all love them and use a them a lot, either to look closer at a picture or a text, or move around without having to keep pressing the keyboard arrow to walk (and admit it, also to spy on our neighbours 😉  )

Yet, they are the worst enemies of collaboration and communication in SL.

Let’s see why. Imagine we are in Real Life. We go together to visit an art gallery, a museum or a nice building as a part of a learning activity. We get in, and since our teacher knows that not everybody has the same pace or interest when visiting such places, he tells us that we have 30 minutes to have a look around. To make the visit more interesting he can ask us to chose one piece of art we like and to be prepared talk about it to the group later, or if a guided visit is planned, to start thinking about possible questions we would like to ask to our guide.

People start moving around and it’s very probable that small groups will form. Since we are social animals, it’s very likely that some discussion or interchange of information and opinion will start while the small groups move around the gallery or museum. There is communication, then, and collaborative thinking since what the people beside me are telling will somehow produce a reaction in me: make me notice a detail I did not see at first or make me think about something I was not aware of at the beginning.

The teacher, on his part, will see what we are concentrating our attention on at each moment, and may be could go from one group to the other, to encourage or participate in the debate and may be add here and there a piece of information, thus stimulating further the conversation among the students and avoiding to “lecture” his students.

Let’s see now the same situation in SL. The teacher and the group walk inside the gallery, museum or whatever. The teacher ask the students to look at the art pieces and chose one they like in order to talk about it to their classmates or to ask questions about it to the teacher/guide who will explain something later about the artist/place.

Everybody stay stuck where they are and start moving around with camera controls. Nobody knows what the others are looking at nor where they stop because something struck their eyes. No spontaneous communication is possible. Although we are all in the same space, there is not “shared space”, since the space we feel we are in is it delimited by what our eyes see, and we are all seeing different things, ignoring where the others “are” at the moment.

As the silence starts to be heavy the teacher, who don’t see them moving, does not know if people did understand the task. He cannot intervene to encourage discussion or to add some little pieces of information and he is strongly tempted to break the silence by filling it, lecturing the students…. But this was not the aim of the activity he had planned. His encouragement to move around and look at things are seldom followed, because students are actually “moving around” with their camera controls, so they do not see why the teacher is asking them to do what they are already doing.

The solution could be:

a)      to abolish camera controls 🙂  …..impossible in SL

b)      go all together around the place and stop all together in front of different art pieces. It works, but it tends to be more teacher leaded than what we would like, and less student centred than what we aspired to. As well, since when Mr. teacher is present we all aspect him to “do things” and not us, the conversation lead (and load) will often fall on him.

This is what I learned while organising art exhibition in 2008, and what remembered when visiting an art gallery in 2009, where we visited in group the gallery and I asked in turn the students to chose an art piece and to discuss it together.

Yet, I do not know how and why, I forgot it completely when carrying out our visit to the Assisi Cathedral, where everybody just stood at the back of the church and nobody really knew what was going on. Since I’m still hitting on my head with a pan for my mistake, I decided to write it down, to learn a lesson and to remember it, and hoping that my experience will be somehow useful to other teachers who are planning similar things.

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