I was recently challenged with running a series of events inside Second Life for the JISC Innovating eLearning Conference. These were carefully paced to include a couple of orientation sessions for new avatars, a tour and an evening social event (a ‘fashion show’ as it turned out). For me, I was surprised to find that the biggest challenge of all these three happenings was the SL tour. The one that I had initially felt the most relaxed about. On the surface, a simple case of gathering a collection of meaningful locations and guiding the participants around each venue. But as with all things in Second Life nothing is ever quite as simple as one imagines. Having visited each location, built the notecards, the notecard giver, the automated group joining tool and picked a suitable start location on Emerge Island I over confidently assumed nothing could go wrong. Whoops. By 2pm, the scheduled start time, I was already trying to deal with 30 plus avatars in what I can only describe as complete mayhem. I have never experienced anything like it in Second Life before, and maybe never will again. As the sim started to lag with so many arrivals and so much activity the phrase ‘like trying to herd cats’ did not even come close. Through a mixture of shouting coaxing, pushing and patience I finally, with the help of the tours guides, managed to get small groups to teleport out to the first locations in what was some sort of ordered fashion. Phew. It was an impressive moment - exciting, panicky and intense. Perhaps all the things that make SL such a compelling place to be.
The tour was a learning experience for everyone and I have gathered together the threads from the post-tour discussion so anyone else who wants to create a tour in SL can take away the good practices that we all discovered:
- Make sure you have a group set up in advance (for us this was the "JISC SL sessions" group) and use an automated group joining tool in-world to make it easy for everyone to sign up;
- Prepare the tour locations and save on a notecard. Use a separate notecard with instructions for setting up the client to provide a good experience at each spot, such as the graphics and media settings. Ten locations in two hours is plenty, with a few extra added and marked as "related" for people to come back and explore at leisure;
- If you have tour guides then brief them in advance.
- On the notecard (thanks to Michael Vallance for this suggestion) you can add some pertinent questions about each location and aim for a more quest like experience;
- Get everyone to arrive in an area with seating and get everyone to sit down, so that you can see numbers and minimise distractions;
- In front of the seats have a media screen where you can place the instructions - texture with an image or stream in a webpage. Put a script inside the screen so that when it is touched it hands out the pre-prepared tour notecards. The instructions on the screen should give basic orientation instructions such as:
- How to join the group and activate the tag;
- The structure of the tour (see below);
- Get the tour guides to help those who are struggling;
- Then, and this depends on numbers:
- Organise into small groups of not more than 4 (any more is just too tough to keep together) and send off in staggered departures;
- Or for larger numbers simply send off the participants in pairs. Each pair "friends" each other so they can communicate via IM and then support each other. The pairs head off on their own and make their way around;
- Tour guides can be located at the arrival points at each destination and keep everyone moving around the circuit;
- Use the group channel to check where everyone is and keep the tour as a whole in motion;
- Gather everyone back to the starting location at the end for a debrief and for gathering impressions;
- A small tour circuit works far better than a large one. With a limited number of locations it means that groups (or pairs) will bump into other as they wander around - recognisable by their group tag - so lots of serendipity and always a friendly face somewhere at each location.
Creating a tour is an excellent activity and this is something that I would like our participants on the MUVEnation programme to also have a go at doing. Choosing spaces inside SL to visit is a reflective exercise and requires some thought into why you have chosen a location – its value and its purpose.