Your institution will have its own codes of conduct for normal behaviour, internet use etc. Second Life™ also has its own community standards and terms of service which affect behaviour. You and your students will, of course, have to adhere to these. It should be noted that breaking the Second Life standards can result in being suspended or even banned from Second Life and this may have serious consequences for your students. This page is going to mainly ask you questions about things that you may wish to add to both of these that are specific to teaching in Second Life - although it will illustrate them with reasons why they are being asked. I am going to suggest you consider ground rules for behaviour in Second Life™ regarding:

  1. Dress
  2. Behaviour
  3. Communication rules and standards
  4. Technical Issues

You may find other things you wish to add to this list.

Dress code

You wouldn't expect your students to arrive to class in a state of undress, although in good weather many of them may arrive in shorts and T-shirts or similar and showing more skin than cloth. In Second Life, depending on your location and habits you may find states of undress are more usual than clothes, and you will certainly find that there will be people who look very different in Second Life to Real Life. One American school working with under-16s on the Teen Grid instituted a rule that if they were in a human form, they had to adhere to the school uniform rules. Students routinely turn up as Snoopy and other decidedly non-human avatars to circumvent this. A medical school with a presence in Second Life for training students to take histories from patients insists all the students are either in suits or similar formal wear, or in scrubs, because this is what they are required to wear for these activities in Real Life.

You should stop and consider what you will accept as reasonable limits of behaviour - I suspect you will insist your students are dressed, but will turning up in a bikini or speedos be acceptable except for a swimming class? Will you ask for shirts and long skirts or trousers? Something in between? Will you allow dragons, Snoopy, centaurs or other similar non-human avatars in class?

You may also wish to enforce a dress code over your whole island. Of course if your island is rated as PG, no nudity is allowed, but on a mature island or area you may still expect your staff and students to be dressed to a higher standard than minimal coverings which is the functional definition of PG appearance in Second Life.

If you expect your students to log in at other times, will you choose to limit their dress then? If you have chosen an indicative class surname you may consider that they are representing your institution at all times and so insist on this. If they have free choice of names, should they be allowed to wear their group tag elsewhere, particularly if indulging in mature behaviour? Should you require them to get an alt (a second name and appearance in Second Life) if they wish to indulge in adult activities within Second Life?

There are no right or wrong answers, but it is worth considering them and explaining them before class starts.

Behaviour

Your institution almost certainly has a code of conduct for language and attitudes. For example, it is probably a punishable offence to use racist or sexist language or insult people on the grounds of disability, sexuality or similar. Those rules should come over into Second Life directly.

However, there are additional things within Second Life that may cause problems. These are loosely grouped by the Second Life residents as griefing. This may include gestures or objects that spam* chat channels, massive particle poofers, heavily scripted objects, particularly those undertaking certain activities such as rezzing objects, pushing, use of guns etc. Finding strict definitions of what is allowed and not allowed may prove problematic, as may finding suitable punishments to fit the crime, but indicating that there are anti-social behaviours in Second Life and if anyone indulges there are sanctions available may well help nip this problem in the bud.

* Spamming a chat channel is derivative from spam email. It is when unwanted and/or irrelevant material floods the chat channel so everyone is forced to read it, particularly to try and find the useful material that may be in the middle. An obvious example might be ASCII art generating gestures or even gestures that simply repeat “Yay! Yay! Yay!” dozens of times.

Modes of communication

Will you expect classes to operate mainly in voice, in text or in a mixture of these modes? Text has benefits in that the students can easily get a transcript of the class. It also has lower bandwidth requirements which may be an issue for larger classes. Voice may seem more natural and faster however. Second Life also allows a second channel of communication: Instant Messaging, either to a group or an individual. Banning individual IMs is frankly impossible, but you may with to restrict chatter in the group IM channel during a class, or all the time. You may also wish to encourage or discourage people from IMing you during and outside class. You will need to decide - but it can become intrusive, particularly if you are teaching another class and people keep instant messaging you.

Time keeping and technical issues

Logging in to Second Life can be a nuisance. Your institutions may or may not find that the computers available in a lab don't cope well with Second Life when a whole class is logging in. Will you allow students to log in from home? They may well find they get much better performance and learn better by this route.

Late arrival may not be the fault of the student either. Of course if you have the whole class in one room and someone arrives late to the class it is easy to notice that they are late for reasons other than Second Life, but it is possible that logins may be slow, or down, and this will prevent students getting to class on time. You might want to build some time for this in to your plans.

Second Life is not an entirely stable platform. You may never need it, but just like any class that relies on technology, you should have a contingency plan for what happens if the technology falls over and you should definitely decide what to do about attendance requirements if they are part of your normal code of conduct and you are allowing remote log-ins to classes in Second Life.


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