Wednesday, January 21, 2009

First and Second Life Technology Stumbles

In my first life, I am a person who uses and loves technology - and I still find myself stumbling around at times as if I am a brand new user. When you think about it, given the explosive rate of change in digital media and the many new systems, tools and devices coming on the market each week, that is the stark reality - we are all newbies at something to do with digital technology. A few stories about how tricky technology can be for even the most comfortable of users.

My second life avatar is Michele Helgerud. I regularly meet "in-world" with my doctoral student, who is creating an augmented reality game about climate change in Second Life, in the same virtual world. SL is a 3-D virtual world created by its residents that has grown explosively since its creation in 2003. Today, Second Life is inhabited by millions of Residents from around the globe.

I am only slightly embarrassed to admit that I forgot my SL password and could only use Second Life on my office computer. The reason? I used an automatic "remember my" password feature for the past year. When I cleaned up my cookies, I seemed to lose my password - there is a lesson here. After failing the email and web-based approach, I retrieved my Second Life password using the telephone. A very helpful young woman with a dutch accent walked me through the web-based process to login to change my password. I found this interaction ironic -- I ended up having to use the phone to contact a teenager to get my password to this amazing 3D world that I had been flying around in during the last year.

Over the Christmas - New Year break, my sister and I, fellow techno-pedagogical bibliophiles, went to a popular movie based on the first book in a popular series. I normally gravitate away from vampire stuff, but a colleague told me that Twilight was a good movie. Inspired by this cheeky love story, my sister and I drove to Chapters to buy the books after the show. We tracked down 3 of the 4 books, and I approached the computer to look up whether the last book was in stock. After typing in a query, I couldn't figure out what to do next. No Mouse. My sister, who hasn't spent the last 15 years of her life researching and teaching educational technology, but uses a computer all day every day in her two careers, just reached over my shoulder and said, "Duh, it's a touch screen silly". Of course...

My son, who is an avid gamer, taught me better ways to navigate my iPod. True, I did spend an hour trying to figure it out by logging into iTunes, downloading a few free podcasts, and dropping some music files on board. However, what caught my interest, in a way similar to observing children in any K-12 classroom that has technology readily available, was the intuitive and playful nature in which my child interacted with this digital device -- my son played around with the iPod and got it to play music in about 30 seconds. What had taken me a full hour in my office, took a 4 year old pre-schooler less than a minute.

I have several reasons for sharing these stories: (i) people who regularly use advanced digital technologies still find themselves stumbling around at times as if they are a brand new user, (ii) the number of digital systems, tools and devices increases weekly at an exponential rate, and we cannot keep up, (iii) individuals are all newbies at something to do with digital technology, and therefore we need to draw upon each other's diverse experiences with technology, and (iv) children who grow up with technology have an intuitive sense of interaction with these systems, tools and devices, and we can learn a great deal from them if we cheerfully, enthusiastically and openly accept that they know more than us.

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