Confession: In the past, I’ve been extremely quick to dismiss the value of Second Life in the context of teaching and learning.
Even worse, my dismissal was not fact-based … and, if truth be told, I’ve gone out of my way to avoid opportunities to ‘gather the facts’ by attending presentations at conferences, conducting my own research online, speaking with my colleagues, etc.
So I, dear reader, am as surprised as any of you to have had an egg-on-my-face epiphany this morning …
Please allow me to elaborate:
- Yesterday, I witnessed a demonstration of Nortel web.alive (dubbed by some as ‘Second Life for business’)
- This morning I was brainstorming content with a colleague for an upcoming presentation on computing resources available for researchers at York
It was at some point during this morning’s brainstorming session that the egg hit me squarely in the face:
Why not use Nortel web.alive to prepare graduate students for presenting their research?
Often feared more than death and taxes, public speaking is an essential aspect of academic research – regardless of the discipline.
Enter Nortel web.alive with its virtual environment of a large lecture hall – complete with a podium, projection screen for sharing slides, and most importantly an audience!
As a former graduate student, I could easily ‘see’ myself in this environment with increasingly realistic audiences comprised of friends, family and/or pets, fellow graduate students, my research supervisor, my supervisory committee, etc. Because Nortel web.alive only requires a Web browser, my audience isn’t geographically constrained. This geographical freedom is important as it allows for participation – e.g., between graduate students at York in Toronto and their supervisor who just happens to be on sabbatical in the UK. (Trust me, this happens!)
As the manager of Network Operations at York, I’m always keen to encourage novel use of our campus network. The public-speaking use case I’ve described here has the potential to make innovative use of our campus network, regional network (GTAnet), provincial network (ORION), and even national network (CANARIE) that would ultimately allow for global connectivity.
While I busy myself scraping the egg off my face, please chime in with your feedback. Does this sound useful? Are you aware of other efforts to use virtual environments to confront the fear of public speaking? Are there related applications that come to mind for you? (As someone who’s taught classes of about 300 students in large lecture halls, a little bit of a priori experimentation in a virtual environment would’ve been greatly appreciated!)
Update (November 13, 2009): I just Google’d the title of this article and came up with a few, relevant hits; further research is required.