Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Virtual Facilitation

Last week, I attended (in real life) a two-day workshop on building essential facilitation skills for Berklee faculty, staff, and administrators.  It was an interesting experience to focus primarily on the process rather than on the content, and there were many valuable aspects to the workshop.  It was also a different experience to be holed up in the Sheraton Hotel right here in Boston for eight hours a day, almost as if it were a Second Life environment.  By the end I felt a little as if I were inhabiting a new avatar, Facilitation Grrl perhaps, but I also think that 2 days of indoor air, no gym, too little time with the twins, and too much coffee might have taken its toll as well.   An immersive experience indeed.  
It made me think about the issues raised by SL for facilitation, and as usual, I find that plenty of others have thought about this before me.  Beth 's Blog has a good post about online synchronous practices, and Rafi Santo over at RezEd, a good first stop for anything to do with education in SL, outlines as many kinds of situations that would require different kinds of facilitation as he can think of.  There is a New Zealand (I think) company offering specialized training in online facilitation: Zenergy and, not surprisingly, people offering the service of facilitation in SL for a fee.  
In teaching a class in SL, juggling both the text chat and video chat presents unique facilitation issues that have no parallel in brick-and-mortar education settings.  My teacher in the MassArt course Creativity in Second Life was very good at that; she would ask a question and while people were thinking or fiddling with screens or headphones or simply thinking of an answer, she would also type a short version of the question, sometimes only a word, that invited participation in both kinds of chat.  But so many of the excellent techniques we learned in the workshop were based on the kinds of body language, eye contact, facial expressions, and proximity that are absent in SL.  Until there is true video mapping of a person's face while they are talking, there won't be those non-verbal forms of information available in virtual communication.  
There are also so many distractions in SL even under the best of circumstances, forget about if there were people trying to avoid full participation who need to be brought into the group dynamic, that that would be very challenging.  It is one thing when everything is voluntary, but if education in SL were to become more widespread and part of requirements for an on-campus or online course, then other problems might arise.  
On another topic, I will be turning my attention full-time to my sabbatical project in just a few weeks.  I have been easing into the project over the summer, taking the Mass Art course, reading up on a few things, joining some listservs, working on a conference presentation for the Second Life Education Community Conference 2008 in early September, and also finishing up a book manuscript on media history and I Love Lucy, a topic I have been writing about off and on since I was a grad student.  It is interesting to think about what has changed in terms of the technological and representational challenges that the collaborators in the new medium of early television faced, in comparison to what we face as we create the new media of virtual worlds.

1 comment:

Junix Software said...

Were glad that your are being part of the virtual staff now a days... go for it!