10 March 2008

Building the new teaching machine. Part 1.

I'm really getting into the idea of virtual reality as the new distance education. Back in the old days, you had correspondence courses, which I won't knock since Ben and Jerry got their start with a correspondence course from Penn State. Then came the internet and interfaces like Blackboard, that provide for real-time chat and more of a sense of being in a semester-like situation -- you can actually interact to an extent with your students and/or your classmates. But it's all textual. It's like the web back in the days of Lynx and Gopher.

Second Life changes all that. Now you've got visual and with advances in graphics, the visuals will only get more lifelike and will ultimately be customizable to be more true to life, if you so desire -- your avatar can be based on a scanned photo for instance.

In my opinion, that leads to a paradox: I believe virtual worlds are so very popular these days mainly because you aren't yourself. You may think you are yourself, and anonymity does lend itself to comments like, "I can be myself in Second Life [because no one knows who I am, because I can be less inhibited, because I control my interactions]. And that precisely is why you aren't who you are. So Virtual Reality has its limitations as far as reality is concerned.

Official situations, like class situations, would require a certain consistency as far as identification is concerned, and while your classmates may never know who you are in real life, your instructor will, and for proper credit, your institution will as well. So the absolute freedom we've come to expect from hiding behind avatars and anonymous accounts goes by the wayside.

But the possibilities for something coming close to live in-class interaction can only grow stronger, at least until peak oil crushes us by making it too expensive to run the massive server farms we need to be virtual.

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