My students began logging into Second Life on Tuesday night and most of them have spent between 1-2 hours in SL. In class today (Thursday) i asked them to use one word to describe their experience so far. They came up with interesting words that reinforce the work I’ve done on the Second Life learning curve, particularly in regards to the user experience.
As a caveat, I wanted my students to have a true first time experience so i had them log in to SL on their own and they started at orientation Island. For this particular course since one of our goals is to evaluate virtual worlds as a work platform it is important for me to have the students experience what an average user experiences when they first join Second Life. They need to understand why virtual worlds and SL in particular have such a low retention rate for first time users. If this class wasn’t an information studies course I would not have them go through (dis)orientation, instead I would have them start at NMC and I would be there to immeadiatly teleport them to my class island (Similar to the way we setup the Girlstart 4 day Teen SL camp)
Why are these words important? First we need to acknowledge that the common perception around the SLED community that students will naturally (as in digital native…) love Second Life is a myth. This is my six semester teaching undergrads in Second Life and i can tell you that most students are disappointed with SL and they expect much more from SL than what is there. Students explained that the words “boring”, “empty”, “ugly” referred to the graphics, the “feel” of SL, and low polygon count of the world when compared to online games they have played. A few of them laughed at the “stretched-out” textures that were plaster all over the virtual world. Seriously, these students are not impressed by the graphics of Second Life in the same kind of ways that educators are. One student said, Sl looks a little better than Runscape but nowhere near early Everquest.
This part is for Linden Lab… It’s been a few years now that I’ve been tracking the user experience of students and they are still saying the same things about the interface and client…Listen to these words – “frustrating”, “tedious”, “awkward”, “complicated”. The students were describing how difficult it is to leave orientation island and to understand the metaphors of an inventory, islands, welcome area, orientation area, base hair and prim hair, walking “into” the water..etc…
Some of the positive things the students mentioned were “advanced”, “friendly”, “malleable”, and “addicting”. The students were amazed at the amount of user-generated content in SL and that people they met in SL were overall friendly and would give them things. They felt the ability to edit their appearance to be addicting and many spent way more time on that than they thought. Intrestingly, the students all the way back to Fall 2006 said they same things about their avatars and avatar customization became a key component in the design of a roleplay activity designed for an English course (picture below, paper here)
Now for the last word…”Porn”…not much to say except to acknowledge that SL has a lot of porn and that as educators we need to prepare students to the likely possibility that at some point they will encounter porn in Second Life.
At the end of the semester I will ask students to again describe SL in one word and I will report the words back on the o’l blog. It’ll be interesting to see if/how they change.