SAESL Blog: Research Etiquette in SL

If you’ll allow me, I haven’t posted in a while here at the SAESL blog, but something’s been on my mind of late…

This past week, I encountered two self-proclaimed researchers in Second Life that really made me take a step back and wonder who is training these people?  I realize that it’s the time of the spring semester that all of the Sociology and Educational Research classes are starting to really get into gear for their final projects and I think newbie researchers coming into the field of virtual worlds are great!  However, the two I ran into this week were not newbie researchers but NOOB researchers, meaning they had not done their homework as far as what Second Life is nor the people who use it, nor the various cultures therein.  They didn’t know the first thing about how to go about conducting inworld interviews and surveys.  They both wanted things handed to them.  As such, they showed a lack of respect for other researchers and educators who are immersed in virtual worlds as a platform for learning environments and research.

The first encounter happened last Tuesday in the middle of a class taking place at Oxbridge University (one I was sitting in on).  He walked right up into the front of the classroom while the instructor was on the stage showing slides and announced that he was from [insert well-known school here] and would anyone like to be interviewed for his research?  I told him that there may be plenty of interviewees around after the class was finished.  To his credit, he sat down at the back of the class for the remainder of the session.  When the instructor was done, she opened the floor for him to discuss his research but instead of complying, he got up and walked out.  We all shrugged it off.  In a few moments though, he caught up with me.  I was presented with an immediate friend request (which for those of you in SL know isn’t exactly polite–you should always ask if its okay first–but that’s part of my point, this person was clueless about the culture he was claiming to study).  Rather than argue, I accepted.  Then he opened with his first question–“What made you decide to come into this game of Second Life.”  At that, I went off.  I’m usually very willing to help new individuals in SL.  I wouldn’t volunteer my time at Oxbridge if I wasn’t.  However, as I looked at this guy’s profile and saw that he was nearly two months into SL and he was absolutely clueless about the culture, I’d had it.  I told him he better do his homework if he expected to be a researcher.  To this, he replied that he didn’t want to “bias” his research (Oh, and his replies were almost completely riddled with textspeak–so he does know that part of the tech culture, just not much about SL).  But how would actually learning about a subject before going in so that you don’t come off looking like a total goofball creating bias?  But I digress.  Again, to his credit, he took the criticism, told me he’d look into it and basically told me that I wasn’t really the type of player he was looking to interview (again, use of the word “player” instead of “resident” which is the official LL term for its users–depicts someone who hasn’t done even the basic reading about Second Life and virtual worlds).

Then, on Thursday, we had only one person show up for the Jaguarland tour.  He had issues with understanding local text from private IM and seemed unfamiliar with using notecards.  That’s nothing new with people on tours, though we usually ask that they’ve gone through some kind of training or tutorial before trying to tour.  It wasn’t until the tour arrived at Open University’s campus that we discovered our tourist’s real reason for joining Bama and myself–he was [insert dramatic music here], a researcher!  And he didn’t need the rest of the tour but wanted us to help him with his research.  After a few questions, it became clear that he didn’t know the first thing about scripting the most simple devices, nor did he know that any kiosks that he might build to take people to his survey would have to be placed on land that he owned or had permission from the landowners to place objects on–yet, he’s a researcher in Second Life.  It didn’t take long for the two of us to understand that he’d come along simply to try to talk us into doing his legwork for him.

Yes, I’ve been involved with only these two cases recently.  The instructor who was interrupted told me it happens to her surprisingly often–that these “researchers” announce themselves in her class on an all-too-regular basis.  This is rather appalling to me.  Whether or not you think the virtual world is “real” or not, as a researcher, what makes it even remotely seem okay to interrupt an instructor’s class–even if you don’t even faintly understand the content?  How is understanding what a virtual world is or knowing a bit about the etiquette and the culture (including the slang and terminology) going to “bias” your research?  And really, is taking a few beginners classes inworld to learn and understand even the most basic scripting, building, and land rules beyond the grasp of people–or do these researchers consider it beneath them?

I’ve been thinking on it and we may have a new addition to Jaguarland coming up.  I’d like to gather some information from others who are fully immersed as educators in SL and see what they think about research etiquette–what they would tell students doing projects in SL or even more experienced researchers who are new to SL.  Using this information, I could use the Pathways LMS to construct a “learning path” that would guide and inform new researchers in SL about the do’s and don’ts.  I think such a project would be useful–the landmark could be handed out to anyone to pass along.  Small classes could even come through the learning path together.  It’s just one more potential project for Jaguarland.  And considering what I’ve just experienced, we can’t get it finished soon enough. 🙂

/end rant

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