SPP - Ethics and Philosophy
|Staff-led sessions on Ethics and Philosophy in Phase 1 proved very popular. When the formal sessions ended on 20 April 2007, Sparkers Schomers (ie students ) expressed an interest in continuing to organise similar in-world meetings. Many suggested topics for discussion. These ranged from the general to the specific, and included: What is the universe? What makes some ethics better than others? How do we judge evil? Is there such a thing as a just war? Can you judge someone by their avatar’s appearance? How will Schome work as a replacement school in the future? These suggestions led to informal ethical and philosophical discussions taking place in the forums. These were often inspired by issues of concern to individual Sparkers students and included a considered debate about suicide in which both students Sparkers and staff disclosed personal feelings and experience. As a result of this discussion, links to Childline and similar organizations on the wiki were linked to more clearly.
Despite enthusiastic engagement in forum debate, scheduled sessions did not take place in Second Life during Phase 2 until a staff member took responsibility for organising these, which resulted in ethics and philosophy discussions in August, September, November, December and February.
Benefits and Impacts
In staff-led sessions, students Sparkers were able to display specific knowledge-age skills: communication, confidence, creativity and problem solving. However, staff-led sessions provided little opportunity for them to display or develop leadership, motivation or teamwork.
Forum discussions in Phases 2 and 3 involved several Sparkers students developing these skills: trying to motivate others by organising sessions, asking for input, suggesting topics and putting forward controversial views to provoke discussion.
The table below compares the staff-led in-world discussions with the most popular forum threads relating to ethics and philosophy – all of which were initiated by Sparkersstudents. It shows that these debates were popular with both staff and students. Ten staff and 30 Sparkers students were involved, included Sparkers students from the UK, the Falkland Islands and the West and East Coasts of the US. These figures suggest that the forum discussions were more considered and more open than those in Second Life. The in-world discussions were more fast moving and spontaneous with more shorter contributions. They included more participants, students took the lead, the debate was more extended and was viewed thousands of times. These debates included many references to personal opinions and beliefs, but also provided links and cited sources, including the Oxford English Dictionary, wikipedia, and the ‘New Scientist’. In addition, many famous philosophers were quoted or name-checked – including Nietzsche, Camus and Kierkegaard.
Both in world and forum discussion often wandered off topic. In world it was the session leader who worked to keep the group focused – in the forums Sparkers students invoked the authority of staff, or a fictional ‘nagbot’, to move the conversation back on topic.
Because in world discussion only involved a few participants, and because it sometimes became confusing, the final in-world discussion was summarised in the wiki.
Key lesson learnt
Community discussion does not need to take place in world – sustained debates can take place through forum discussions. Discussion in world and in the forums involved similar sets of people – only one student (Crypto ) made more than two contributions in world without engaging in the forum discussions. However, Second Life was important to the ethics and philosophy strand in Phases 2 and 3 because the most popular forum topics all involved planning in-world events – and involved a community of individuals who were used to interacting in Second Life. Indeed, it is noticable that the most active students were those who had been part of Phase 1 (marked in italics in the table below).
NB. Contrary to what the history might indicate, the original version of this was written by Fox. PeterT just cut and pasted it in here from the original wordprocessed version.