A Seacoast in Bohemia

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.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

For me, type chat can be similar to the exhilarating experience of communicating with friends and colleagues with whom I do not share a common first language. I am forced to speak and listen carefully, both to understand and to be understood. Not much room for sloppiness of communication!

But it’s been equally delightful to sit in the grass alongside the Cattery and actually hear the LOL.

I continue to hold you up as one of the most inspired and inspiring educators I’ve ever met. Long Live Max.

Comment by Sherrie Y

Thanks for the kind words and also for your comments on the utility of text for negotiating a second language. I think that the language of the discipline is also a second language for the students, so maybe having to write it can also help them become more comfortable as residents in this new environment.

Comment by seacoast

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