IRL: Fail

This abstract for an upcoming dissertation defense came through the email today. I predict / hope that it fails. If it's really that easy to get a doctorate, then I should be the Surgeon General of English.

Everyone’s a Kool-Aid Man Today:
Pedagogical Implications of Teaching First-Year Composition in Second Life

Second Life (SL), a massively multi-user virtual environment (MMUVE), is being called the metaverse, a parallel universe, and a world not unlike our own. This makes SL the perfect environment for first-year composition students; pursuing a second life offers students “analogies and metaphors for real-world issues [and] can provide a way for students to discuss issues in a safe environment, where there are no real-world consequences” (Williams, Hendricks, and Winkler 11). This concept also supports Pratt’s theory of a contact zone where students can grapple with conflicting ideas; however, these contact zones are rarely “safe” environments because students’ preconceived ideas are challenged and emotions can explode in such circumstances. In SL students experience issues that we often ask them to write about, such as identity or otherness, but of which they have little knowledge.

This ethnographic research investigates the world of SL and its uses in first-year composition. It seeks to answer the questions:
• Will using SL change student writing?
• Will my students come to understand SL as a culture different from their own?
• Will they embrace this new medium and form an online identity?
• How will they react to such learning?

I investigated whether or not student experiences in SL would in any way change their writing. What I found was that SL can be an exciting and volatile experience for educators who choose to use it. Students became engaged with their writing and began making connections between their own lives and the topics we pursued. The theme for the class was otherness, which included issues of identity in both RL and SL. Students made connections as they experienced things in SL that were not possible in RL, such as becoming an oversized Kool-Aid man and then having to socialize with complete strangers as this other (Freire, Giroux, and hooks).

As students began to understand the connections between SL and RL, many commented that SL gave them thought-provoking topics about which to write. The students’ responses to SL, both negative and positive, were evident in their writings, including low-risk/pre-writing assignments such as blogs, journals, and quick writes (Bean, Fulwiler, and Murray) and more traditional essays. SL gives teachers a missing tool for helping student writing: experience.