The Fall of the House of Teachbacks

Drexel Island is a desolate place, made more so because the section I’m touring, Literature Alive!, features the work of Edgar Allen Poe. The terrain has been made into a rugged, unforgiving place, bowing my avatar’s legs as he pauses to assess the best way to get to the ominous stone mansion at the shore’s edge.  He falls into a deep swamp more than once.

I had found this desolate manse as my avatar passed a weathered sign labelled “Fall of The House of Usher.”  He touched the sign out of habit, an Inspector Monk-type behavior that often results in the receipt of information in this virtual world.  Such is the case here — my avatar is prompted to accept a note card which, when he does, displays the text from “The Fall Of The House Of Usher.”

This is my challenge of most Second Life environments.  They tend to place a 2-dimensional collection of information in a 3-d world.  The information remains 2-dimensional, however. Words on a notecard, rather than a page.  The difference is semantics.

Drexel Island is a bit different from most educational lands within Second Life.  As I cross a drawbridge leading to the stone mansion, I am asked a question testing my knowledge of Poe’s work.  Only recalling the more familiar strains of “The Raven,” I fail, and plummet to the swamp beneath the drawbridge. A good eLearning technique, that.  Reward for a right answer is entry into the mansion.  Consequence for an incorrect answer, while minimal, exists.

It also provides the key for going into the house, although not the answer.  As my avatar flies out of the swamp, he considers that all he needs to do is fly over the drawbridge.  It works, but I am still impressed by that bit of programming.

Within the stone mansion -- a notecard displaying biographical notes of Poe (quoting Wikipedia) is displayed.

Within the stone mansion -- showing a notecard displaying biographical notes of Poe (quoting Wikipedia).

The remainder of the house is as bleak interactively as the decor. A portrait of Poe hangs on the far wall, prompting me to touch it for Poe’s biography.  I don’t touch it this time, distracted by a penguin that sits next to the image.  A penguin in Poe’s stories?  My avatar touches the penguin — no note card.  As I turn, I find a raven perched above the door I had entered.  No bust of Pallas, but when my avatar touches the raven, it calls: “Nevermore.”  Nice touch.  A nicer touch is the skeleton hidden within the wall, a la “Cask of Amontillado.”

This house is a virtual representation of the challenge of a teachback: that which the designer determines important is what becomes part of the teachback.

The first floor holds a few pieces of Poe imagery — by no means a compendium of his work, but a selection of the things that the designer could add to the house.  Few of them came with explanation — only the Poe portrait held some information.  The designer appeared to lose steam on the second floor – only a labyrinth of hallways leading to empty bedrooms. And schooldesks. Plenty of schooldesks. But what would I, the participant learn? More information was available in the moor’s note cards outside the house — the inside elements were cool, and showed that the designer knew of some of Poe’s more familiar topics.

A Lesson on Teaching Literature in Second Life

A Lesson on Teaching Literature in Second Life

Hidden beneath the house was an Easter Egg of sorts: a slideshow about Teaching Literature in Second Life.  Having not answered the password question, I fell into a circle of chests labelled:
Step 1: Adhere to course Outline and Course Objectives!
Step 2: Select an assignment that BENEFITS from virtual enhancement.
Step 3: Provide Rubrics and Assessment Expectations.
Step 4: Work With a Designer
Step 5: Stay Focused on the Goal

These interested me. I tried clicking the chests, hoping for more notecards bearing more information.  Alas, they just sat there, open, their treasures  swallowed up by the swamp.

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