I’m usually so high after a great class that I’m can’t sleep.
A huge part of my resistance to taking the “Teaching Through Literature with Young Adults” graduate course online was selfishly not wanting to lose my weekly fixes but also unwilling to give up the opportunity to model for students and help them understand the power of real-time collaborative critical inquiry.
When I discovered Second Life though, I realized how immersive it was for me – that a true meeting of the minds seemed more possible than in other real-time Web spaces I had experienced. James Paul Gee has written that one has to be embodied to experience immersion in a virtual space, and I and most of my 75 students who have joined me in Second Life would agree. I taught a different “generic” course during the summer and my students from the YA literature course actually requested that we meet in Second Life when they learned that option wasn’t in the course syllabus.
We meet in the Bookhenge, like its namesake a sanctuary for contemplation, only this virtual one for contemplation of YA literature. The Bookhenge was originally a space on NC State University’s Wolflands II Island but now sits on an island of its own sponsored by the non-profit United Star Distance Learning Consortium.
I knew I was onto something when after my first class in Second Life one student wrote in her evaluation that it was like a “family reunion where you hadn’t seen everyone for a long time and you were carrying on several conversations at once” and another that her husband watched her and observed that she was physically in the same room with him but yet she was not there mentally and emotionally as she pounded on the keyboard and talked back to the screen.
And that was before the days of dependable voice chat. In a more recent class after our first group work, a student remarked that it “seemed like a real class.”
In these real classes, we culminate what we call “collaborative critical inquiries” that began asynchronously with everyone reading and writing about an issue in learning through literature with young adults. Then we often begin our real-time session with small group exploration of issues. The small groups bring their results to the class and we engage in a seminar.
Second Life also works great for our virtual book clubs with students forming groups to read and create video responses to YA books. It’s pretty exciting when their video responses are shown on the big screen in the Bookhenge and we pass out the virtual popcorn.
All of the classes in Second Life are archived at www.bookosphere.net Be sure and check out our final class of the Summer I session (Summer Class 05) when we shared videos of our action learning projects. These videos are archived on our YouTube Channel — Bookhenge 2010 if you’d like to learn more about the projects.
We also host guest speakers and once a year meet with an important young adult author. Authors often are attracted to the cool factor of meeting in Second Life. Last year we met with Laurie Halse Anderson, the 2009 American Library Association’s Margaret A. Edwards Award for the Writing of Young Adult Literature.
But the most exciting real-time event of the year is the Melinda Awards for Young Adult Literature. Named after Laurie Halse Anderson’s unforgettable character, Melinda, in her Printz Honor Book, Speak, the Melinda Awards bring together our class plus the Eva Perry Mock Printz Book Club, recognized as best teen literature program in the country in 2009 by the American Library Association. The teen read over 450 of the young adult books published each year to place their votes for those of highest literary quality. They share their short list with us. We read and create bookcasts to share. And then we all meet in a huge, campy Oscar-themed awards program to present our faves. The teens and I meet in all our Oscar finery; we stream the event into the Bookhenge where my students meet with us. Through the magic of some high-tech baling wire, our actual and virtual voices can be heard real-time.
One of the questions to ask ourselves when we choose what tools to include in our PLEs is could there be a better tool considering such factors as the learning curve, time, effort, and sometimes expense. With Viewer 2.0, students can usually learn all they need to know in 20 minutes or less and the cost is nothing.
Webinars with tools like Elluminate work great for basically one-way communication and would often be essentially lecture without the back channel. I find that transactions can be more two-way in Second Life and it’s easy to use small, collaborative group work activities and then regroup as the whole class.
Some may worry that Second Life would be addictive. I think PLENK 2010 is more.