A Seacoast in Bohemia

Dancing in the Dihybrids
September 22, 2007, 2:16 am
Filed under: Class Notes

Well, we’ve about finished our Mendelian Review, so next week we’ll be back in the RL Lab, doing PCR.  This week we did pedigree analysis in the Tower, and visited the Cattery to brush up on sex linked genes, and looked at linked and unlinked markers in the North Garden of the Abbey. 

As you can see, the students are becoming more adventurous with their avatars.   They’ve been given a small allowance and Landmarks for good freebie places and they’ve been shopping!

This week the speakers were installed in the computer lab, so we have sound.  Somebody dropped a nice music streamer off at genome recently, and I’ve set it up on the terrace, so the students can pick their own music.  Since there was nobody nearby to be disturbed by the unlablike sounds, we had dancing in the dihybrids, complete with rave sticks.  I love the ability to get outside the usual classroom mold in Second Life.

Lesson of the week:  only one student at a time can generate a big data set within the chat radius of 25M.  Otherwise the chat record gets muddled.  This means they have to check with one another before pushing the button!  Not a bad exercise in group cooperation. 


Sidewalks and Text Trails
September 21, 2007, 11:05 pm
Filed under: Class Notes

There has been much excitement about the advent of Voice in Second Life.  I have to admit that it’s fun to be able to sit around on the grass and actually converse, viva voce, with a few other avatars.

But I remain a big fan of text chat, which seems to have some special advantage for teaching at Second Life.  I saw just a few of them with the genetics class this week.  We were continuing to review Mendelian inheritance patterns, doing intermediate dominance, and the Mixollamas among other things. 

Since the experimental objects deliver data via the chat channel, the text record also is a raw data record.  Not only is the data recorded, it is time stamped, so in addition to being able to check data summaries against the raw data, I also get some idea about who is doing what when.  This is quite useful for understanding how students move around the island as they work. 

How they move around the island was one of my weekly AHA moments.  One of their tasks was to see how frequently specific patterns in the colors of the mixollamas emerged and also to see if any of the possible patterns might appear more frequently than others, or if all seemed to be equally probable.  The “main herd” of the mixollamas is around the apple tree near the gazebo in the Terrace area.  However, there is another gazebo down behind the Abbey, installed to make the east entrance to the Island a little more friendly looking.  Because I think the mixollamas are cute, I put a couple of them by that gazebo, nibbling on the grapes that climb the gazebo walls.  They have the same scripting as the main herd mixollamas, so they produce the same coat patterns with the same frequencies, BUT there was no instructional sign with those llamas.   In my mind, they weren’t part of the herd. 

Wrong!  A couple of the students saw those llamas behind the greenhouse and ran their experiments with them.  However, they didn’t have the instructions that live in the sign that explains the features of the main herd, including how to reset the counters that record the clicks!   Fortunately I was hovering,  so I could explain the resetting process and also put up another copy of the Mixollama sign.   

I have a certain picture of the navigational layout of Genome Island, that is,  the “natural” routes that people will follow as they move around.  There are sidewalks, stepping stones, lighting fixtures to mark the main routes.   And besides, the first thing everybody gets is a Guide to Genome that tells them where everything is.  But my mental map of Genome is,  like my posted office hours,  a snare and a delusion.   Students drop in and see me whenever they like.  They mostly don’t read the Guide.  They forge new paths around the island, and end up in unexpected places  Too bad they can’t leave wear patterns in the grass and tell me where the sidewalks — and maybe the llamas — SHOULD be!

But more about text.  After everybody had finished the intermediate dominance experiments, we gathered in the Abbey to discuss dominance and genotypes and predicted vs experimental ratios and good stuff like that.  We sat at that anachronistic glass table and chatted.  In text.  We could just have talked, since we were all in the same room, but I wanted to try an in-world chat, so we typed.   It was a slightly out-of-body experience, since there we all were, dumb as stones, and typing away.  But I discovered something interesting.  It’s extremely difficult to do the “articulated pause, ” like, you know, ummm, like, well, YOU know.  In text chat, YOU HAVE TO SAY SOMETHING!  You have to figure out what you are trying to say and say it.  It’s wonderful.   Long live the Chat Log.

Passing Notes and Spare Avatars
September 8, 2007, 8:04 pm
Filed under: Class Notes

Genome Island is an evolving project, and I’ve tried various ways for students to record and report on their experiences there.   All data goes into the Chat Record.  Where does it go from there?  I’ve tried several things:

  • Record the data on a notecard and drag or send it to me in world (via give inventory).
  • Record the data on a notecard and drag it into a student file in my Tower Office.
  • Record the data on a notecard and drag into into an analytical object like the Chi Square notebook. 
  • Copy and paste the data into an Excel File for summary and analysis.
  • Copy and paste the data into MS Word for reporting. 
  • Data summaries from Excel can also be copied into Word. 

After the students had used these various methods, we discussed the process and decided that we didn’t need to use all of them.  Since other course materials and student grades are kept on the WebCT, we decided that the simplest and least confusing method of reporting would be just to put the data directly into Excel and Word, and to upload the final Word reports to the WebCT Assignments section. 

ds_jr.jpgSince Second Life is at its most powerful for self-paced learning, I can post a Second Life Assignment to the WebCT, and the students can then complete it at their convenience, working either in splended isolation or it small groups.  If their reports come back to the same place, it closes the loop nicely, and I can then read and return comments on their work to the same place.  Then I can do followup discussions in class for any areas that emerge as tricky. 

I like moving back and forth between my university environment and the Second Life metaverse.  One of the things that Second Life does is to allow me to construct a representation of my own mental landscape, and invite students to come in and walk around there too.   

The second week  was not without technical difficulties.  One student was suddenly and inexplicably deprived of Chat.  She could write messages, which the other students and I could see, but she couldn’t see ours.  She also wasn’t getting the object chat that provides the data record, nor was she getting IMs.   The Second Life Help staff suggested some possible solutions, but the problem hadn’t been solved by the end of the week.  It was actually something they hadn’t encountered before, so I guess we’re ALL learning about this new environment. 

Fortunately, there was a spare avatar she could use.  I had created a new avatar to run through the orientation process with the students, and he was available.  I gave her his password and the use of him for as long as she needs him.   When her own avatar is working again, she can send him any inventory he has accumulated.