Virtual Literature Circles

Facilitating a literature circle takes skill and even the most practiced practitioners sometimes have challenges in encouraging the reticent to speak up.  In her article “The Virtual Circle” Stacy Kitsis describes how she used blogging to support student participation and thoughtful reflection. This English teacher describes a number of positive observations including increases in engagement and interaction, completion of homework, and active reading.  Ms. Kitsis described how the more reticent students chose to use pseudonyms for their blogs and were ‘not shy’ with their entries.

The success described could be taken a step further by conducting the literature circles in an immersive environment.  Positive aspects achieved in blogging could be even more enhanced as students use their avatars to reflect and discuss the selected literature.  The discussions could take place in voice or in text, the latter offers an archival benefit.

A Metaphor for Teaching Those We Don’t Understand

As I attempted to help a newcomer to SL and kept getting the response “I don’t see that.”  “Not on my screen”.  “Not there” “Don’t have that”, it hit me that teachers who are well-meaning but unprepared reach a level of frustration because their students “Don’t see that”.

The issue here was that I was using the OLD viewer, the viewer I am comfortable with and the newcomer was using the NEW viewer, the viewer available to newcomers to SL.  I knew what this new av needed to do and gave very specific instructions. However, the newcomer, trying to follow every step, became increasingly frustrated at being given directions for a view she did not have.  Then I became frustrated and the result was a complete lack of progress until I re-logged with the new viewer and figured out where the buttons were and how to find the functions I had been describing.  It did take some time, I was out of my comfort level and went back to my old viewer immediately following the “lesson”.  I never did find the “stop all animations”.

When a teacher is trying to teach students with a different view on life, a different culture, a different language background, a different perspective, a different comfort level – the same thing happens.  The student gets frustrated and the teacher gets frustrated resulting in lack of progress.  The solution is that the teacher acquires the necessary knowledge and skill set to be able to help the students being taught.  A teacher needs to see what the student sees, even if it is a little uncomfortable at first, in order to effectively support learning.

Visual Arts in The Virtual World

The virtual world is of course a visual art in and of itself, but there is potential to provide learning experiences in a virtual setting that would otherwise be impossible in the real world.  In my experience, the world of visual arts can be brought to students to consume in 4 ways.

First the traditional way of walking around a museum and looking at the art.  One of the most extensive museums in the virtual world that I have seen is the Dresden Museum on Second Life (Dresden Gallery 120,128,26), which houses 750 masterpieces of European art.  An avatar can walk around the museum  and see the famous art, clicking on it to get information as it is desired. This method of learning about the art mimics a strategy used in the real world.

An avatar floats down Rumsey's Map Museum tower

The second method takes the display and viewing of works to a different level, literally.  Here an avatar can view a large collection of artwork in a “museum”  that can be traversed only in a virtual setting.  A wonderful example of this is the Rumsey Map Museum on Second Life ( Rumsey Maps 2 (193,201,715)).  The avatar visiting this museum  can fly through a tower to view the extensive map collection, stopping to click on any of interest to get additional information.

The third method of  learning about art in a virtual setting involves becoming a part of the art.  Art Box (Klaw 5,21,46) on Second Life has selected pieces of artwork with human subjects.

An avatar becomes a part of a famous piece of art in Art Box.

Participants are provided an opportunity to choose a painting and then click on a poseball to become the subject in the art.  The owners offer props and costumes for some of the art work.  Laguna Beach California has a real life, annual art show reminiscent of this strategy of enjoying art.  Actors dress and pose while backdrops and lighting are used to duplicate a painting in real life.   In the virtual setting the participant gets to make the art selection and become a part of it.  Certainly more immersive than just looking at it.

Sitting in Van Gogh's room. The builder created an elongated room to ensure groups of visitors had a correct view.

Finally, an avatar can visit a location and be completely immersed in the art.  In the case of Arles (168,23,29) on Second Life.  This amazing sim allows avatars to walk around Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings as they may have been seen by the artist.  The paintings are a 3D form and allow complete interaction.  An avatar can climb one of the famous yellow haystacks, sit in a cafe and enjoy the “starry night”, or even sit in Van Gogh’s bedroom.

The many museums in the virtual environment  each have policies regarding the use of the images they display.  It is best to experience them by visiting the location.

The places described here are not available to students under 18 years of age, but the methods may be used to create art locations in the Opensim grids so that students may interact with art and thus learn about it.  Better yet, students may become the producers and create these environments with art work in the public domain or even their own art work.

Student Management

I’ve gathered some ideas, perhaps promising practices in managing students in a virtual world.  These ideas have come from educators who instruct in a virtual setting.  Naming of avatars is a great way to manage your students and keep track of what they do as well as ensuring you have the correct students in your virtual setting.

  • Having students use their first names and the last name of the school identifies the student and put them in the school “family” .  A teacher on RG uses this method and she can easily spot who is around and what they are doing.  She can also identify any intruders.
  • Another teacher of RG reports using Student1, Student2, and a last name associated with the school or geographic location of the school. This method works well for when you have to reuse avatars for different students.
  • A variation of  the above method would be to use a group tag.  So the student could have use an avatar names Student 1 or a first and last name they select but then use a group tag that identifies the school.
  • Another strategy used in the virtual setting has been to make t-shirts identifying the school and/or the student.  The Tshirt could display the first name of the student, thus identifying the student even though the avatar name is “Student One” or it could display the name of the school.