September 20, 2008

Second Life for Critical Thinking

One of the fanastic sessions I was able to attend at SLedCC '08 was done by Dr. Bo Brinkman of Miami University entitled: Using Second Life and Linden Lab as Case Studies to Problemetize the Creation of New Technologies. What follows are my notes from the session. I have not yet found an online copy of the conference proceedings.

Dr. Brinkman teaches undergraduate Computer Science courses. One course he teaches is about the societal impact of technology in which he challenges computer science and engineering students to think critically about technology solutions. A challenge to reaching this objective is that his students grew up with technology and so have trouble reflecting upon the disruption (positive and negative) caused my introduction of new technology.

To help students take a more critical stance, he uses Second Life as a technological phenomenon that is not fully mature. It is a program or platform that is at the initial development end of the adoption spectrum. As such, it is something that is not proven to be valued and necessary - not a household appliance or entrenched communication medium. And it is causing some disruption at various levels in peoples lives and society.

Second Life, in fact, is creating cognitive dissonance throughout industrialized society. It is challenging ideas of what is property, the contexts in which earning money is legitimate, what is communication, what is real, etc. In Second Life, we have fewer traditional ways of enforcing acceptable behavior - in fact, we often find that "acceptable behavior" is a contested concept.

As such, Second Life was very successful in creating cognitive dissonance with his class (better than with videogames). It helped students challenge folk wisdom (which he calls "myth") and understandings. Since most students don't have emotional ties to it, they can look at it more critically than they would at something they trust such as Facebook. Once they HAVE developed a critical stance, it can be turned also to things that they trust such as Facebook, MySpace, etc.

His method:
- post a common myth or misconception or point of controversy and have them discuss
- check to see if it is really true
- critical writing: pick a point of controversy and have them analyse a point of view on it
- take a point discussed regarding SL and extrapolate to similar first life situations

Critical thinking is one of those difficult points that we often desire to instill in students of all ages, but I hear it frequently mentioned at the university level. Think of what reflective, critical learning can be done in the area of business, ethics, epistemology, law, etc. in a world in which the "residents" are from many cultures throughout the world. It is a fertile ground for questioning one's point of view - and that of society.

Posted by bjohnson at September 20, 2008 3:02 PM