Can we brainstorm for a while on some of the effective practices we have seen and after we have accumulated a list consider what moderation skills (and I am not sure I like that word) facilitation skills these activities required to be successful?
PS: I posed this topic as I personally felt I needed a practical way into this topic ;-)
I am really pleased that you have started this thread. I too am struggling with the designing of 'appropriate' activities in SL. Here are some thoughts/criteria:
(a) activities that exploit the potential of physical presence (in the virtual space); that is, being able to see and work with each other synchronously via avatars. So if the activities which are being performed remotely and involve decision-making or negotiation, it is best to meet in the virtual world, talk about the issues at a scheduled time, and make notes via the 'chat' or IM, and hopefully, reach a decision in this synchronous mode of communication.
(b) socialisation: this is the key for successful collaboration. If the students/participants are able to meet in the virtual world, share backgrounds, expected outcomes from the activity, how they would like to perform / schedule the collaboration, etc. - it might be a more effective means of socialisation at the start of a collaborative activity than aysnchronous e-mail interaction with a group of fellow-students.
The presenters went on to describe a subsequent task that they allocated to students where in teams they we asked to decorate in SL the rooms in a house for a family characters of a particular novel. The students had to embody each character in their respective rooms. By this time my mind was buzzing with how well this lively, rich and immersive media could stimulate learning.
What did the moderators do during the session? Aside from the brilliant task design, their avatars walked animatedly amongst participants and talked with them. They were constantly moving and interacting with people so that we could always tell who and where the moderators were in the space (an important point in SL because you can't always tell who you should be paying attention to - especially when VOIP is used in large groups;-) ). The style was confident, fluid and they clearly envisioned the flow and timing of the tasks and the learning goals. Our avatars were caused to move, speak, interact, listen and reflect in a very lively and satisfying experience that I could not imagine having been carried off so effectively in any other environment.
Another useful aspect that I have found in SL sessions is that most facilitators have the audio pre-recorded and then use the text chat to either take the attendees through the transcript (useful for those who aren't voice-enabled) or use the IM to deal with individual queries or technological problems. Having the backup of text-chat is helpful.
As Bronwyn has said that moderation/facilitation in virtual worlds requires more planning than other environments: the timing, using multiple media, using more than one channel for communication, communicating to individuals and to the group, and keeping up the maximum use of the 'social context' and 'physical presence' through activities, objects, music, and so on.
I have been quietly following along with this seminar trying to "get it" about Second Life, and appreciate your concrete example. I went into Second Life a few times, but could not quite figure out the point to it. From a learning perspective, every time I had an idea, the technical hurdles seemed too great to overcome and PowerPoint, podcasts, and videocasts seemed easier and more "real" for the learning.
I suppose I need to see some of these principles in action so I can see and experience them in order to really "get" how I could use SL for education.