Rebecca and I presented recently at the MSERA Conference in Mobile. Our paper was about how tours in SL could be used as a tool to enhance community building amongst online learners. We’ve been doing tours for around 2 years now, on a variety of topics and with various groups. The overall results tend to point that, yes, it can be a valuable tool, but there’s still plenty to learn about how to “tweak” it so that the groups “gel.”
One very obvious point that we’ve found is that groups who tour together *must* go through an orientation session of some type before touring. If a group of newbies is dumped into a touring situation, they don’t know how to communicate, nor get around, nor etiquette. They don’t know how to find notecards, nor use landmarks, nor understand directions. As you might guess, as tour guides, if we get a group of complete newcomers in, there isn’t we can do to get along on the tour.
We had one such incident this previous week. We were situated to lead an accessibility issues tour with a group from UAB. We were under the understanding that, though the group would be newbies, they would have gone through an orientation session prior to attending the tour. We confirmed these instructions with the instructor. Yet, when between 20-30 students arrived at Jaguarland, not only had they not ever gone through orientation, many had just created their avatars moments before. They didn’t know how to communicate, didn’t know how to receive the tour notecard, had no clue how to use landmarks–bottom line, the tour was pretty much dead.
Trying to think on our feet, Rebecca and I tossed up the slurls in local chat for the areas we were supposed to visit. This, they could understand–just click and they’d get to where we were to go. The problem then was that they had no idea about inworld etiquette–what’s acceptable and what isn’t. So when we arrived at Virtual Ability and they were told to go through the orientation area, instead they walked right into an event and didn’t make a great impression.
After the group had logged out, it was left to Rebecca and I (mostly Rebecca) to soothe over the situation with the sim owners to convince them that, no, we were not a group of griefers but actually were trying to make the best of a bad situation with a group from another school–that due to their not going through orientation earlier, we’d tried to take them through the VA orientation. (I should add that it wasn’t the majority of the group that interrupted the event going on, just a few–but enough to upset those in attendance.)
So, lesson learned–if you’re an educator looking to use virtual tours with your classes as a means of creating shared experience bonds as well as allowing them to see how others are using virtual worlds in education, taking the time to do an orientation session with your students is essential. Most orientation areas have training sectioned out, so you can assign only the sections that you think are the most important.
The Quick Start for V2 can be found here. This is useful to print out and have handy while you get acclimated to using SL. If you’re on the older viewer, this link should allow you to access the Quick Start for it.
The list of orientation/gateway areas can be found here. We usually use Caledon Oxbridge University, Virtual Ability, Non-Profit Commons, or Saint Leo University. While touring might be thought of as being “easy” compared to building and scripting large simulations, it still can have a myriad of headaches associated with it, many of which can be avoided by simply going through a short training session prior to touring.