Class To Be Held…Inside a Facebook App???

by Alphaville Herald on 29/01/10 at 10:51 am

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by Idoru Wellman, Herald Education Desk

On January 28, in what may be the first instance of a university course held inside Facebook, Northwestern University Philosophy Professor Peter Ludlow (known to Herald readers as Urizenus Sklar) recently attempted to hold his class, Conceptual Issues in Virtual Worlds, inside the Island Life application on Facebook.  The results were mixed.

Island Life is a fantasy farming game inside Facebook that is somewhat similar to Farmville.  The twist is that that Island Life (currently in beta) is the creation of game developer legend Raph Koster (Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies) and it allows people to visit each other and chat on their “islands”.  The game is a bit of a throwback to 2D graphical social platforms like The Sims Online and Habbo Hotel.

Koster’s most recent project had been Metaplace, an attempt to bring virtual world creation to the masses by providing a platform in which people could develop flash based virtual worlds.  The project recently closed down but the bulk of the development team moved with Koster to his Island Life project.

Reached for comment, Ludlow explained that his course is a freshman seminar designed to encourage writing skills, but as Ludlow explains “I couldn’t just assign papers to them; they need to become literate in new communications technologies. Hence, they will be called on to develop projects in virtual worlds, record those projects with machinima, blog about their experiences, give power point presentations about their projects, and write traditional papers.”

According to Ludlow, this particular class session on Island Life was principally used for resolving technical issues such as testing whether his island in Island Life could take the load of 13 students, to get students familiar with Ventrilo (the voice communications program they are using) and to determine whether meaningful conversations are possible in Island Life (in its current form).  In this instance, the topic of conversation was the comparative advantages of Second Life and Island Life with respect to the classroom experience.  Students used a combination of in game chat and Ventrilo voice communication.

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Students discuss the advantages of Island Life over Second Life.

Students saw different advantages for Island Life and Second Life (where they had previously held some classes).  On the one hand, Island Life was less “laggy” and less distracting.  On the other hand,  students found the chat program in Island Life to be primitive. 

One problem was that the chat bubbles tended to occlude each other.  Freshman Hanna Golanka, however, saw an advantage to this: “Although the blocking-each-other-out thing wasn't the greatest, the short lifespan of each text bubble meant that in order to pay attention to class, you had to really pay attention every second. I'll be honest – in Second Life there were times I wasn't reading the chat at all, and then would scroll back up and read anything that sounded important.” 

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Chat bubble trouble

Golanka also noted that there was a problem of overstimulation in Second Life – particularly in Ludlow’s classroom, which is a mushroom cave under his castle.  She felt that a traditional classroom architecture might be more apt.  “I think the actual atmosphere of Island Life was a better setting. Our characters sat on the logs while in Second Life they danced on mushrooms or built things. In this case, it's actually a negative that Second Life has so many more… options. It would probably be more effective to have class in an empty room or something like a classroom setting, but still, there are just so many possibilities in Second Life that it's hard to sit still (I guess that's what real classes would be like if we weren't taught that we were supposed to stay in our seats).”

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Getting distracted in their Second Life "classroom"

While Golanka found Second Life to be the superior platform overall, she chalked up much of this to the fact that Island Life is in early beta.  Indeed according to developer Raph Koster, his development team is just scratching the surface of what can be done with Island Life from a technical point of view. 

According to Ludlow, the interesting feature of Island Life lies in its potential to usher in a new generation of virtual world users. “Island Life, by taking advantage of the Facebook platform, may well be the application that brings robust custom virtual worlds to the masses.  It is flash based and is thus “of the web” and not a foreign body like Second Life, which requires a large client download.  It also piggybacks on the Facebook so it can rapidly acquire users via social networking rather than traditional advertising methods.”

For Ludlow, the real potential of virtual worlds is not really in the classroom experience, but in providing new ways of communicating ideas by immersing people inside of stories and virtual places.  In the future, virtual worlds will be used to communicate messages in a more experiential way.  His goal is to get students started on learning to develop these online experiences to communicate their ideas.  Facebook is important in this equation because it can bring these experiential messages closer to the typical internet user.

And not for nothing, Ludlow notes that having class inside Facebook brings the classroom closer to the students.  “My students are on Facebook during class anyway.  I might as well move the class into Facebook. If you can’t beat them, join them.”

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Some people are never satisfied

12 Responses to “Class To Be Held…Inside a Facebook App???”

  1. Scylla Rhiadra

    Jan 29th, 2010

    Wait — the Herald has an “Education Desk”???????

  2. Alyx Stoklitsky

    Jan 29th, 2010

    A perfect example of why I do not have facebook account.

  3. Melanie Aluveaux

    Jan 29th, 2010

    Thanks for this update! I have held classes in Second Life, and the students always have technical issues with the platform. I think I will try this new venue when its available. It sounds as if it will be easier for my students to navigate.

  4. Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia

    Jan 29th, 2010

    Ludlow is probably the first to hold class in Island Life, but he is definitely not the first to hold class in Facebook. There are a lot of professors who teach using Facebook. You can find one Facebook education group here:

    This semester I have a library science class in Facebook, and 3 of my professors chat using FB chat during their office hours.

    I love using new mediums in a classroom, but when I’m in a class like that I’m frequently unsure about who is doing the teaching and who is doing the learning. I guess I’m the one paying tuition, so that makes me the learner, right? It just doesn’t always feel like learning when I am explaining things like RSS or what IP addresses are to a comm media professor (true story). There’s a divide between those who have internet access and those who don’t, but among those who do have internet access there is a division between who are adept at manipulating new mediums and the unwashed masses who give us our traffic numbers. That division is more difficult to navigate. To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan: If you don’t work the medium it will work you over.


    Jan 29th, 2010

    I’m bored let’s grief Island Life.

  6. coco

    Jan 29th, 2010

    Enough with the “Legend” Stuff. Metaplace was a huge FAIL, and all we got here is The PALACE from 1995 embeded in a FREE ID scraper app.

  7. THIS AM THE FUTURE, as plain as the nose on the side of my head.

    I done sinned up for ol’ Profusser Ludow’s klass over on that-there fake island.

    Y’all kin see how good my ritin’ done got after I got my A++

    (Doc, I’ll take that-there case of store likker any time, like you done promised me for ritin’ this up here at the fake newspaper).

  8. Matt Faliszek

    Jan 29th, 2010

    Bah, so the freshman this year actually have class inside a virtual world? All we got to do last year was spend a little bit of laggy time inside the sims, without actually getting much done. and why the change in the name of the class? it is a bit more fitting though, now.

  9. inous

    Jan 30th, 2010

    How is this relevant at all o.O ? Seriously a class inside this? What can you do? Chat and grow crops? Maybe for an agriculture class? Raph and metaplace dont have any credibility in my opinion anymore; and this is just lame. On a sidenote, I take it that the ‘reporter’ was present in this intimate non-event to be able to talk about it (with the screencaps, the chatlog); then why write about it in this way, in 3rd person? Is the reporter a student or the professor, and why not mention this at all? Not to forget that fb accounts cant be made for avatars. Yet you go around happily taking screencaps and giving names, but present yourself as invisible. I think there is an issue in there. You couldn’t be that professor and writing it up with an alt? tsk tsk.

  10. LunarRaid

    Jan 30th, 2010

    Interesting points. The MP staff is actually working on the chat issue; it’s high on their to-do list. They didn’t start with a decent chat system because they didn’t even know if the FB users would CARE about multiplayer support. Since it seems they do, better chat is on the way, especially with the addition of ‘Party Island’.

    I’m not entirely sure why the idea is that IL is the new Metaplace, though. Island life is just ONE project they are working on and plan to make using MP as a platform. With the servers left over from the original MP and the already-built multiplayer backbone, they have a superior engine for FB games.

  11. Edna

    Feb 1st, 2010

    Congratulations in even getting your freshman to come to class. I figured ALL 18 and 19 year-olds were too stoned or busy sexting to bother with going to class. Our younger generation is doomed. Doomed.

  12. Rusalka Writer

    Feb 3rd, 2010

    What really hurts SL in this sort of setting is the Teen Grid. When I started college I was seventeen years old, so good luck with a freshman seminar that met in SL. And a high school class? Can’t be done unless the teacher is left behind. That is a killer limitation on SL’s role as an education platform.

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