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DR. BO BRINKMAN MIAMI UNIVERSITY COMP. SCIENCE Using SL and Linden Lab as Case Studies to Problematize the Social Impact of New Technologies.

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Presentation on theme: "DR. BO BRINKMAN MIAMI UNIVERSITY COMP. SCIENCE Using SL and Linden Lab as Case Studies to Problematize the Social Impact of New Technologies."— Presentation transcript:

1 DR. BO BRINKMAN MIAMI UNIVERSITY COMP. SCIENCE Using SL and Linden Lab as Case Studies to Problematize the Social Impact of New Technologies

2 Key goal General: Teach students to think critically about technology  Specific: Predict impacts of new technology

3 Key challenges Computers/web are normal Gut/naïve reactions feel trustworthy Result: Myth formation, critical thinking short-circuits

4 Key measures of success Students should …  …realize that gut reactions are often wrong  …realize that myths tend to form around new technologies  …be willing to critically analyze own assumptions about technology The “Ah-ha! Moment” – “I don’t know as much as I thought I did …”

5 Previous approach: Historical precedent Question: Can “video games” be art (or literature)? Legal implication: Art often exempt from obscenity laws. Student opinion: Games are just games … I wouldn’t go to a museum to see a game!


7 Historical precedent approach Works okay, but…  …studying SL seems to work better.

8 My approach: Study Second Life Students…  …try SL  …exposed to common perceptions/myths of SL  …with help of instructor  Deconstruct myths  Foster cognitive dissonance  Problematize unacknowledged contexts  …transfer analytical skills to another tech or context

9 Main contribution Not new:  Using cognitive dissonance to encourage critical thinking New in this talk:  Using SL gets to the “A-ha! moment” very quickly  Using SL works for a larger percentage of the class

10 Talk/Paper contents Talk: High level view  Terms  Why SL?  Transfer  Example discussion  The pedagogical patterns Paper  Formal pedagogical patterns  Many more example topics

11 Myth In my usage  Do NOT care about truth/falsity  DO care about quality of arguments for/against  Many common myths about technology are assumed to be self- evident Def: Widely held belief that is unproven

12 Cognitive dissonance Def: Person holds two conflicting beliefs Use: Motivates critical thought (if properly managed!) Application:  Student reactions to SL – 1 st belief  Contrary information introduced by instructor (or peer) – 2 nd belief  Rejection rare: Low stakes due to SL context

13 Problematize Def: Challenge belief if dependant on unacknowledged context Use: Challenge student feelings of comfort with technology Example: My friends know I am a responsible person, so posting drunken party pictures on Facebook won’t negatively impact me  Key error: Context assumes only friends will see it

14 Why SL? Tech analyzed must be…  …mostly unfamiliar to students.  …well understood by instructor.  …relatively immature (as a technology). Learning to address cognitive dissonance…  …is easier when stakes are lower  …can be transferred to other contexts later

15 Transfer Critical thinking skills learned in SL must be pulled up/across to other contexts  Else, no useful learning

16 Context: My class Title: Social and Ethical Implications of Technology Audience: Sophomores/Juniors of any major Viewpoint: Technology inherent in the definitions of “human” and “social” Relevant course objective:  The student should be able to analyze and predict the effects of a new technology on jobs, class structures, globalization, or other social concerns.

17 At first sight…







24 Pattern 1: Blog-drama == common (mis)conceptions Problem: Need a topic Audience: Instructor or advanced student Solution:  Track discussions relevant to your field in blogs, forums  Look for drama Example proposition: In Second Life you can be whatever you want.

25 Pattern 2: Reflective writing Widely used, enough said Example: Critique or defend the proposition.

26 Pattern 3: S(L)afe cognitive dissonance Problem: Students must learn constructive ways to cope with dissonance. Denial is common with familiar technology topics. Solution: Induce dissonance with a topic that is…  …likely to be poorly understood  …unlikely to have high emotional investment

27 Step 1: Introduce a proposition, get student predictions Student predictions: In Second Life, you can be whatever you want. Choose your own:  Race, gender, level of attractiveness, height, weight  Designer clothes, fancy house  Character’s personality, back story, etc

28 Step 2: Introduce dissonant beliefs Have best “clothes” Look any age Judged purely on ideas Be attractive (female) It is not real Meetings in jammies Daryth’s dragons Kid avie controversy Avie birth-date matters Hit on all the time People really get upset How should avie look/act? Unacknowledged context: Assumes that there is no social pressure or external control in SL

29 Step 3: Critical writing Thesis-driven paper, usually with research Example topics:  What was the origin of anti-weapon and/or anti-particle policies in SL? What does this tell us about how new technologies create new cultural norms?  Should crimes motivated by hate of an SL characteristic be deemed “hate crimes?”  What types of avatars should be banned, and why?  Interview 5 long-time residents. How do they use their avatar to communicate their (self-)identity to others?

30 Pattern 4: Back to RL Problem: Students do not always realize a skill learned in one context (SL) applies in other contexts (other techs, and non-tech life) Solution: Instructor (or peer) constructs parallel/linked question about RL

31 Example: Moving dissonance into RL How does email style affect your perceptions of the sender?  Collect 20 emails  Annotate with your assumptions about the sender  Write thesis-driven analysis Most people act differently around “real friends” than they do around “co-workers.” Facebook presents the same profile to everyone you friend.  Is extensive use of Facebook compatible with professionalism?

32 Outcomes assessment Problematizing student perceptions was even easier than expected – Plenty of room for misperceptions/assumptions about SL Course assessment (not unit assessment): 83% indicated improvement in ability to think critically about impacts of technology Unit assessment: Almost unanimous agreement by students that they experienced cognitive dissonance (or “were surprised”)

33 Other lessons learned Video gaming experience “uncorrelated” with student success Humanities coursework “correlated” with student success Explicitly demonstrating transfer to another context is crucial No surprise: Need multiple SL-related activities … otherwise, time to learn SL is too high

34 Final thought From naïve gut reaction to transfer of learning in four class periods (~1.5 weeks)

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