Preparing to give a conference talk at 6am on a Monday morning is possibly not the most appetizing of thoughts. But when you are speaking to an audience in Kuala Lumpur and you are still in London then the delivery times become somewhat constrained. The symposium on Second Life was a session scheduled as part of the LYICT conference held a couple of weeks ago and I admit if it hadn't been for the Elluminate video feed and my fashion reputation I would have been tempted to to remain in my dressing gown for the whole thing. There were four of us on the UK end of the panel (Helen Keegan, Graham Attwell and David White) with a jet lagged Steve Wheeler fronting the show in Malaysia. Technically a risky venture but it worked, just.
With only had 10 minutes to fill I wanted to keep the presentation short and simple. After some last minute dithering I decided to tackle one of the recurring criticisms of Second Life - the perceived lack of innovation in many in-world learning and teaching activities. The result was an identification of six barriers:
- Technical - machine and human related [and standards related]
- Identity - the tension between playfulness and professionalism
- Culture - reading the codes and etiquette of SL
- Collaboration - building trust
- Time - even simple things take time
- Economic - nothing is for free
These are expanded in the slideshare presentation (which has been updated since the original talk) and feel comprehensive - there are probably more I agree but that depends on the level of granularity one wants to go into:
Update (28/10/08): There is also I feel a seventh barrier and that is "Design" - perhaps this is a meta-barrier but SL does offer up very particular design challenges.
One of the interesting points that came out of this whole exercise was choice of technology. Originally we had planned to deliver the session from Second Life but the advance testing revealed what a challenge it would be. Not only were we going to have to trust the technical robustness of the platform (gulp) but we were also forced to assess the question of added value from using Second Life? Fighting server lag, low bandwidth problems, variable audio quality and the sheer awkwardness of manipulating an in-world slide viewer were just too much to contemplate so we shifted to the Elluminate - an audiographic video conferencing tool. But what really tipped it for me was the lack of tools in SL for getting feedback from the audience. How do I know I am being heard - do I need to adjust volume, where is the back channel for people to participate, ask questions ... and so on? Status indicators are key. I think using SL for conferencing requires caution ... think about the value-added, why make life difficult when it is not necessary? As a final thought, translated into pictures, here is a vision for SL that would help make it more usable - a whiteboard, an integrated IRC type chat client and a status indicator panel - perfect: