This morning I skipped my shower and slept in a few extra minutes, because I knew I’d be spending the morning working virtually, in Avination! Two months ago I, too, had no idea what Avination was. But now, as an Avination n00b, I know that Avination is basically a reincarnation of the virtual world Second Life — only less populated and also less weird.
My virtual mission this morning was to meet-up in Avination with graduate students at the University of Iowa to help referee their end-of-semester projects. Five masters candidates were presenting and defending their research on pedagogical topics as diverse as: evidence based practice (EBP), scaffolded learning in “edutainment”, the projective stance in videogaming, participatory learning and convergence culture, and consumer health information seeking. They all did fantastic jobs, and it was a “participatory learning environment” for all involved! My co-referees were PhD candidates, school librarians, academic library directors, and instruction and outreach librarians, and I think I can speak for everyone when I say we all got a few kicks out of the experience.
My big take-away from the presenters’ research this morning is that physical and virtual learning environments do share many parallels, and that the key to learning in either is to create an environment that allows students to take ownership of their work and their creativity in a mentorship-style situation that provides both practical and theoretical learning. We agreed that it’s difficult to assess this kind of learning with mainstream tools that privilege quantitative measures, and tried to tease out some of the barriers to constructing other models for assessing learning.
And finally, because I’m never happy until I’ve found something to critique, the Avatars!!!! Oh my god the Avatars. One of the morning’s presenters discussed the problematic portrayal of race and culture in Grand Theft Auto, and can I just add that these problems persist in Second Life and Avination, too? I had three choices for my default female avatar: white and fully clothed, brown and sorta clothed, or black and kinda sexy-naked. What does that tell us about race and virtual representation? I was pretty annoyed that I had to pick the blondie in order to be classroom appropriate. And even so, my default outfit was a cloying schoolgirl-plaid miniskirt. Point being, I would rather be able to choose my sexy personas rather than having them chosen for me.
Thanks to all who hung out with me in Avination this morning, and thanks to the instructor for the invitation! I hope my boss will let me work virtually at the library from now on…