Angela A Thomas

Our NMC Session - Teaching On the Second Life Stage: Playful Educational Strategies for Serious Purposes

August 18, 2007 · 4 Comments

(Note: Thanks to Jokay for taking these snapshots!)

Kim and I doing our roleplaying session for NMC

Kim Flintoff and I did our NMC Symposium on Creativity in Second Life session this morning. Our session introduced the concept of educational drama and involved setting up a context and doing some role-playing. Here is the abstract again for anybody who missed it:

Teaching On the Second Life Stage: Playful Educational Strategies for Serious Purposes


Angela Thomas (aka Anya Ixchel), University of Sydney

Kim Flintoff (Kim Pasternak), Edith Cowan University

Theatrical spaces have historically been places used to teach, purge and shape culture. For over a decade, virtual reality has offered a new kind of theatrical space; now, with the rise of social networking spaces, many more people are using the potential of the web to perform, critique and comment on cultural issues. Second Life provides a new and exciting space where students can explore issues that are both personal and global in significance. Teaching strategies which incorporate dramatic and theatrical components are perfectly suited in the Second Life environment for engaging students in playful but meaningful reflection on such issues. This session will involve participants in role-playing, reflection and discussion. Participants will also be encouraged to brainstorm the possibilities of incorporating such strategies into their own educational programs.

We set the drama in a fictional Second Life future, one in which the company of Linden Lab had outlawed anything M rated and above. Setting the drama in a fictional place, space or time allows people to reflect on significant cultural issues from the safety of that fictional distance. Learning can take place somewhere in the space between the fictional and the real.

We provided an open letter to the Lindens set in 2009 for participants to read. Here’s a copy of our letter:

Open Letter to Linden Lab Staff

February 20, 2009

We, the undersigned, are concerned about way Second Life has moved away from its grassroots principles of freedom of expression and participatory culture into a sanitized Disneyland state. We recall in 2004 when Phillip Linden proudly, enthusiastically and energetically espoused his philosophical stance about Second Life:

“So SL poses a new question… what if the online environment offered you MORE freedoms than the real world, in just about every way. I assert … that we might therefore actually behave better in such a place. We might learn faster, interact more deeply, and therefore become better people, at least on some levels. Little has been written about this. I am asserting that this will only occur in an environment in which the freedoms are not a laundry list of experiences, a-la-Disneyland, but instead a fundamental ability to express yourself; these are the real freedoms. I am saying that if you have more freedoms, in an expressive sense, you might have better or at least more complex behavior.” (Philip Linden, Second Life Herald Interview, June 21, 2004)

Indeed, during the first three to four years of Second Life, citizenship grew to several million users precisely because of the liberties and creativities found in such an “infinite possibilities” standpoint. People entered Second Life for a multiplicity of purposes, and its success today is directly related to the opportunities provided by user created content. Collaborative creativity on a global scale was never so exciting and exhilarating, and you might even recall that in 2007, the ground-breaking educational innovators at the New Media Consortium held a symposium on creativity in Second Life.

Yet since early 2007, there has been a steady decline in the freedoms enjoyed by and afforded to our citizens. First of all, advertising and signage related to certain sexual practices was outlawed. Soon thereafter, all casinos and houses of gambling were removed. In early 2008, there was crackdown on all explicit sexual practices – the furry avatar was removed as an option at log-in, and all Gorean sims were shut down. By the end of 2008, all known sims and clubs that offered simulated sexual practices were removed without warning.

But by far we, the undersigned, believe that the most debilitating move on Linden Lab’s part is the new TOS policy issued in January of this year, 2009, to remove all M rated sims and M rated content, even in citizen’s private homes. With 30 million users, all over 18 and adult, we cannot understand this move to reduce Second Life to Disneyland, which serves only to stifle the creativity and personal freedom of expression out of each and very one of us. Second Life is no longer a deeply compelling place for us to live, to work, and to do our business. We therefore call for an immediate return to the terms of service as set out at the beginning of 2007.


Then we gave out role badges (student, teacher, parent, admin) and participants worked in small groups to research a position they would take in response to the letter.

Roleplaying session for NMC

Roleplaying session for NMC

Then we held a TV press conference - the poster advertising the TV press conference had the title: “Disneyland or Jurassic Park: What kind of Second Life do YOU want?” This involved the presenter (Kim) speaking to representatives of each group, while the roving reporter (me!) took commentary from the streets and questions from our studio audience.

Roleplaying session for NMC

Roleplaying session for NMC

At the end people had to submit votes for whether or not they would also sign the open letter to the Lindens.

These are the strategies we used:

  • Text as starting point
  • Group in-role research and discussion
  • Role-play (teacher in role, questioning, mantle of the expert)
  • Decision / Conscience alley

If we had time, we could have also done the following:

  • Teacher in role as the “expert” – the teacher could hold a town hall meeting where Philip Linden (the teacher or a brave student) comes to hear what people have said and talk to their concerns
  • Writing in role / photography in role – students could write a fictional blog post about the press conference – either collectively, or individually, and include a snapshot they took
  • In groups, students create a still image of themselves in the future, to depict what the outcome of their letter was by 2010

The 50 minutes to an hour was nowhere enough to do the subject justice, but hopefully it was sufficient for people to get a taste of how easily and effectively drama and role-playing can be employed to stimulate research, discussion and enthusiasm about a topic. And it was fun - I was laughing a lot and had to toggle my voice off, especially when Corwin Carillon, that rebellious chain smoking anarchist, came to do his “vox pop” soundbyte :) Thanks to everybody who made this session such a pleasure!

Categories: cyberculture
Tagged: conference talks, new literacies, NMC, role-playing, secondlife, slcreativity

4 responses so far ↓

  • jokay // August 18, 2007 at 6:40 pm

    Congrats to both you and Kim.. it was a great session. Fantastic to see the participation and interaction! Well done! ;)

    And glad you like the pics! ;)

  • Our NMC workshop : Dramatech Space // August 19, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    [...] material requirements for the drama were quite simple - Angela has some good pictures on her discussion of the event.  We used a mock up TV studio, a couple of sofas, a changeable [...]

  • NMC Campus Observer » Symposium on Creativity: Friday Highlights // August 22, 2007 at 10:22 am

    [...] We really did not have enough time to play these out in enough detail, but Anya and Kim presented an excellent framework and structure for setting up role plays- and showed that it can be done without fancy islands or even owning land. For more see Anya/Angela’s blog post summary… [...]

  • Getting started on MUVENATION | Dramatech Space // November 1, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    [...] in Second Life.  Angela Thomas (Anya Ixchel) and I (Kim Pasternak) were jointly running a session Our NMC Session - Teaching On the Second Life Stage: Playful Educational Strategies for Serious Pur… (and here too) where we were using drama strategies to explore issues of inetrnet governance.  We [...]

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