At the risk of sounding like a total noob (yes, I have been a SL “resident” since 2008), it kind of hit me yesterday how not user friendly SL is. As I’ve said on this blog before, I don’t really have a separate identity in SL; my avatar basically looks like me and I use SL mostly to teach, see awesome art, do research, and hang out with friends. Long story short, I recently cut my hair in a pixie in RL and pondered getting a new do in SL as well. Vaneeesa was kind enough to send me a demo of Amacci’s new Celine crop, and decided to make the plunge. I’ve been sporting the same long hair in SL for quite a while now, so trying on, buying, and fitting my new “wig” was an adventure to say the least. While I have written articles about usability in SL and argued my lungs out at conferences that the steep learning curve of SL could be overcome with the right pedagogical approach, obtaining my new do was nothing short of a struggle.
First off, nothing in SL is intuitive. To make up for this deficiency, I think many vendors have tried to compensate by designing merchandise and set ups following what I call “structured imagination” (aka – applying RL conventions to SL). Stores designed in that fashion are hard to navigate and, in my opinion, counter-intuitive. If it takes 5 minutes for the merchandise to rez, I’m not sticking around to see what I’m missing. Also, I’m not going to stand around reading a font 5 bulletin board that explains what I need to do to get my merchandise. I want to click on it and wear it. Second case and point, do you know how many noobs I saw walking around wearing boxes?!?! Too many to count. Fortunately, I just made out wearing my hair on my chin. Oh! And there was the “wig garden” incident.
So in the big scheme of things, it wasn’t THAT hard to get my new hair, but it wasn’t a piece of pie either. And remember that Vaneeesa had given me the heads up – I knew what I was getting. I can’t even begin to think what I would have done had I needed to browse through the Hair Fair. On second thought, I do need to get a striped Breton shirt to complete my Jean Seberg look – maybe I’ll document that experience in another post. My hair does look great, though.
All of this did make me think about how realistic it is to teach entirely in SL with students that do not have prior experience with the media. It is one thing to be teaching “digital natives” who are used to posting on Facebook and twitting, and quite another to be fully functioning SL residents. I remember hearing a few years ago that the University of Texas was moving their distance learning program to SL. I wonder if they were able to overcome the “steep learning curve” I’ve been hearing about since I started this project, or if the program went down the drain, like so many others. Does anyone know? What do you all think about SL usability or lack thereof? Does it truly impede learning or can it be feasibly overcome using media appropriate pedagogical methods and strategies? Or does the steep learning curve just keep people that shouldn’t be in SL out of it? If that’s the case, formal education should be staying out of the medium altogether and concentrating their efforts (like I am) on informal learning. Thoughts?