We've all heard about the Second Life craze. Educators are running around sporting purple mohawks and Prada Bling...what IS this world coming to...?
When I signed up a few months back, I was frustrated because Second Life seemed like a huge money scam to me. Everyone charged for cool clothes, houses, land, and objects. I can't afford to buy that stuff in REAL life - I sure wasn't going to shell out precious clams for my avatar to buy it.
Then, in November, I stumbled upon the CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion project at the Harvard School of Law. Rebecca Nesson and her father, Professor Charles Nesson, and Gene Koo put together a dynamite semester of lectures, casts, and activities in Second Life. And...most importantly, anyone could access these materials...for free!!!!
They just finished the maiden voyage in early December, and I am dedicating my first post to them. So....how did they make out on the scale of proftitudinal justice? Well, by gosh...it's Harvard. They got 5 stars!
No, really. They deserved them, and here is why:
Is the website easy to navigate? Will students be able to work independently?
Yes! The main blog is easy to navigate. If you are a Harvard Law student, an Extension School student, or an At-Large participant (um, that's me), you know exactly where to go and what to do. I worked independently, and I didn't need help finding my way around.
Is the content easy to access? Is the content organized? Do the links work? Can I hear the podcasts and/or see the video podcasts?
The folks at Harvard put together a dynamite site. The videos are simply incredible! The trailer, for example, shows Charlie Nesson in Real Life (RL) and in Second Life (SL). In SL, he meets up with his daughter, Becca. She transforms into a butterfly to demonstrate that everything and anything is possible in SL. There is also a wonderful video tutorial put together by Rodica Buzescu. It is really easy to follow, and helps everyone get started in SL. I subscribed to the content through the free Democracy Player. The readings are all posted on the syllabus, as well. So, there is no need to dig out your library card. Finally, assignments, announcements, and everything you needed was clearly posted.
Can a non-registered student or professor use the content without taking the course?
Yes. The whole point of the course is to share material through open access means. In fact, they write quite a bit about how others can share, modify, and distribute the materials. For example, I intend to use Rodica's tutorial for my class in the Spring. Everything was easy to find, and the links are easy to share. So, I added a whole CyberOne section to my wiki on Second Life.
Is there enough content, and, if not, are there links to more information?
I don't know if there is enough information to teach law. I am not qualified to assess that aspect, but, from my perspective, there were a lot of great readings. For example, I will be asking my students to read John Perry Barlow's, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. I found that on the syllabus. The course seemed content-rich; there were plenty of resources in RL and in SL. Furthermore, since both Charlie and Becca are both Harvard educated lawyers, my guess is that the content is complete. Maybe someone with a background in law can comment?
Critic's Choice (this is where I get to be creative).
I am glad that I only allowed myself one star for this category. If I had more, I would give them 10 more for coolness and 15 more for simple brilliance. Really. When I think of Harvard Law school, I do not necessarily think of cool and innovate stuff like this. In watching Charlie Nesson, I could sense his passion for teaching and learning. In one video podcast, he talks about reading student papers. He was kind, genuine, and, most importantly, he used the paper as feedback for his lectures on argumentation (sorry, it had a special name...is there empathic argument?). So, he revisited those points. I was impressed by this. How many professors blame the students (entirely) for their inability to grasp a concept? He used their work to assess their ability to grasp his presentation of the content.
Further, Becca is just cool. Clearly, she inherited her father's passion, and she glows when she is talking about this project (yeah; that is a cheesy description, but I don't know how else to say it...she really glows). I was motivated by her attitude. She also was very good about giving credit to the (many) people who helped put the class together. Those rumors about Harvard people being stuffy, competitive, and out of touch are wrong. If these two people are any reflection of the whole, Harvard is full of creative, energetic, fair, and passionate educators.
So, yeah, it got 5 stars.