This is a short video about how the military is using Second Life to help manage the social and psychological needs of amputees --- including finding ways to let them be with their families virtually during recovery.
I really enjoyed seeing a soldier read to his daughter via Second Life. Reminded me of the days when I traveled a LOT for work and read to my daughter over the telephone ... using a book at each location.
So what does this mean for education? Perhaps that social workers and psychology majors should start getting used to tele-therapy options.
Not that I think they will replace all face-to-face interactions. (Why, whenever we talk about adding a virtual or computer-based tool, do people assume that we intend to use it to replace co-presence interactions??) But it may allow us to bridge distances in situations where being together is not practical. Think about specialized care consultations that could save on travel time - or even become possible where economies of scale would not allow a specialist to be consulted locally. Or where abusive spouses could talk to family members without any risk of physical harm. Or where families who are scattered due to military service or work requirements could be together.
Being virtually co-present is different than talking on the telephone. You can do things together in a game or a virtual world beyond just talking, providing the common experiences so necessary to maintain or (re)develop relationships. But unless tomorrow's leaders, teachers, and therapists have experience with these media, they won't have any idea of how to navigate the differences successfully.
We should be exposing our students to these developing tools now and working with them to help them succeed in whatever media is available to them as they live and work in a world of mixed interaction modalities.
I was asked recently by a professor for ideas on how students could limit the digital distractions of their life. I knew that a few products were out there but did not have any names to give him quickly. Low and behold, as I was engaging in some digitally enhanced procrastination myself, I discovered an article on Life Hacker about Kino.
Kino is literally a desktop mask that hides the background on your big, gorgeous screen so that you can focus on the task at keyboard ... saving attention so that you finish the project and can later put the digital real estate to good use watching Iron Man 2 trailers. This puts it into the category of tools that self-aware procrastinators, like me, use to manage ourselves. It ranks along side habits such as turning OFF my cell phone, shutting down my email program, and setting a timer in World of Warcraft. These actions make sure that I can hit a project hard, complete it, and move on to actually watching Iron Man 2 in the theater.
Problem is that they are all voluntary. And there's the rub. None of the tools to eliminate distractions work unless a person (student or teacher) wants to engage in them. Oh sure, parents and lab administrators can install programs to actually take the decision out of the hands of their students, but is this really necessary? Or is it actually counter-productive? At some point, teens and young adults (and older adults) need to start self-regulating by turning off distractions or turning on the distraction-muting programs themselves. As any early childhood educator will tell you, learning to self-regulate is a major life skill. If a 13 or 23 or 33 year old hasn't mastered that one yet, it is time for some remedial training.
Truth is, teens and college students are more capable of choosing to limit social media than we may think. Reports are coming in that they are logging off Facebook and other sites in order to improve grades and achieve other goals. One of my favorite blogs, Zen Habits has a list of tips for teens to manage the balance between goals and socializing via media.
The key is that, no matter how hard it may seem, you have to decide that you're in charge of how much of the data stream you will enjoy - and when. I'll keep posting tools to help whenever I find them!