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E-Learning and Instructional Support.

Kresge Library, Room 430
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Rochester , MI 48309-4479
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Second Life becomes new way for student to connect

Fri May 22, 2020 at 12:28 PM

Associate Professor of Psychology Cindy Sifonis’s cognative psychology students don’t have to worry about social distancing during their class. They can interact, share ideas, respond to assignments and experience the concepts they are learning without having to worry about the spread of COVID-19. It’s because their class work happens in a virtual world known as Second Life. 

Second Life is an online, virtual world where there is no conflict or game objective. It’s a place where people can interact with each other in a unique and engaging setting. 

“I usually get a lot of kick back at the beginning of the course. I hear ‘Why are we playing a video game,’” said Sifonis. She said Second Life isn’t a game, but a way of teaching and learning. “Once the students start doing it, they understand that this isn’t about playing a game.”

Sifonis uses Second Life in her cognitive behavior course and her creativity courses, both of which are offered online. 

At the beginning of the class, Sifonis asks students about themselves and their video game knowledge. She typically sets up an information session in the e-Learning and Instructional Support lab so she can help students learn to navigate Second Life together before sending them off on their own. With the COVID-19 closure, she has had to adapt to giving a remote lesson on using Second Life. 

She eases the students into it with simple tasks and then starts to introduce the class concepts. Sifonis said through a virtual world, she can teach topics that are typically difficult to understand. 

“Cognitive concepts are hard for students to understand. For the first half of the semester, I tell them just to walk around in Second Life. Having to navigate that, and the ups and downs, really ups the difficulty level and ends up being a great way to tie in the concepts of the class,” said Sifonis. 

Sifonis said she has an article that she shares with students that explains schemas and the memory for schemas. She said students can explore areas of Second Life and then apply that to the lesson about schemas. 

“You remember things you ‘see,’ but often you didn’t see it. You see it because you expect it to be there. So, they take in a scene, like a beach, and remember as much as they can about what they saw. Then we come back and see what was actually there. This ties in the content of the article with actual research” said Sifonis.

She said she was introduced to Second Life around 2004 and spent time figuring out how she could use it in teaching. She realized her students in her online cognitive behavior class could interact with each other, her and the content in a very unique way. “It’s interactive. I tend to use it to help understanding. Previously, I would present a journal article, have students regurgitate it. Now this turns it into an experience.”

While Sifonis was using Second Life long before the COVID-19 closure, she said it could be a new way for some classes to communicate and collaborate outside of a video conferencing call. 

According to BBC News, people are experiencing what is being coined “Zoom Fatigue.” Not only are users focused on the topic of the call, they are also processing non-verbal cues, gauging body language and having to see these same things in themselves through the mirror image on the screen. 

Christina Moore, Virtual Faculty Developer, from the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, wrote about the term “Zoombies.”

“In the context of COVID-19, it is important to also remember that we are humans in front of and apart from screens. While much of our work has always been connected to screens, this pandemic has made almost all of our work facilitated through screens, and we should recognize the toll that can take on ourselves and our students. We lose our sense of time because we have been stripped of our normal routines,” wrote Moore in a recent CETL teaching tip about humanizing online learning. “The new term ‘Zoombie’ refers to how one feels after being in too many Zoom meetings (see one definition of Zoombie, plus #zoombie in use). These pandemic-related struggles remind us that we have bodies that need to stretch, move, and rest; minds that need to reflect, slow down, prioritize, and orient. Some of this can happen with a screen, but we also need to step away.”

The Chronicle Higher Education article, “Why You Shouldn’t Try to Replicate Your Classroom Teaching Online,” indicates that communicating and interacting through 3D, animated avatars using our own voices, might be an inventive way to communicate and learn. 

The article cited software developers Kiran Bhat and Nahesh Ramasubramanian, who explained that interaction through animated avatars could be a solution for privacy concerns and the need to stay in one place, in front of a screen, to have conversations or class. They even said the avatars could virtually meet in a meeting place or other setting,  instead of a grid view on a users screen. 

While exploring the impacts of video conferencing is new, online faculty members are constantly looking for ways to enhance their online learning environments. Sifonis said her students, even the ones that push back in the beginning, are receptive to an avatar-based scenario for learning. 

“They get comfortable with it as the semester goes on. A lot of them say, ‘I thought it was going to be stupid, but it was a really useful tool,’” said Sifonis.