The Struggles of writing a research paper on Second Life by one who has been there.

Ryan Bretag's most recent post on his struggles to write an educational research paper in Second Life are full of the ethical and professional dilemmas facing those who work and live on the bleeding edge of technology.

From personal experience, this bleeding edge makes those of us who do it feel like we're not doing enough. I see my own feelings written all over Ryan's introductory sentence:

I am not overly impressed with the research paper I completed on Pedagogical Practices Second Life and thought I’d share some of the struggles I had in writing this piece to assist others considering something similar:

Wow! I believe that best practices on the "bleeding edge" not only consist of doing the research paper or doing something like the Horizon Project but in sharing the process with others, something Ryan does extremely well. This blog post is an example of a best practice of reflection that should become a part of all innovator's professional behavior. (And shouldn't we all be innovators?)

Ryan outlines the research methodology, research standards, literature review, and key names that he cited with research! A few quotes I love:

On the exploratory nature of his paper...

"the very nature of it is exploratory at a time when exploration is the current state for many educators within Second Life but more importantly, it is a time when those not in Second Life are struggling to understand the culture."

Hmmmm.... could this be influenced by perhaps the readership of his paper is done by those who may not be involved in second life? Would Ryan perhaps be the expert? Are things upside down in this equation?

On research...

One of the big issues I faced was the ethics of researching within Second Life. Obviously, avatars are virtual representations of humans meaning the Institutional Review Board (IRB) is a critical step. However, there is little in way of standards currently on researching in Second Life or at least not from a PhD perspective. This left me often in a confused, even frustrated state as I wondered about in-world notecards, observations, presentations, conferences, classes, workshops, and causal conversations.

These are the same issues we ran into with Flat Classroom and Horizon -- lack of standards. Whereas, perhaps a high school student could get away with "inventing" a method, I doubt a PhD student is allowed to "invent" anything.

This is a perfect example, of how doctoral students should be allowed to collaboratively research with other students with a same academic interest.

Should the PhD dissertation evolve into a collaboration?

Imagine the breakthroughs that would occur if Ryan was allowed to have his doctoral dissertation be "A proposal of Research Standards in Second Life" and that he was allowed to do it on a wiki and include others with the common purpose, focus, and same high standards. What a benefit to society, academics, and our future.

I have yet to move into the PhD realm but often talk to those educators frustrated by how the dissertation process removes them from the real world and a real audience to produce a paper that will be read by a handful and benefit few, however the necessity of publication -- and by publication, I mean traditional journal, paper publication (which by many is considered the only REAL form of publication) has limited our progress. Are we trapped in an academic machine that needs to evolve?

Yes, protection of intellectual property is important -- but also harnessing the power of the greatest minds into the civilization of the new frontier -- Web 3D -- is vital. (See my article -- the new frontier of education, Web 3D.)

Kudos to you, Ryan. You are a pioneer by the simple fact that you took the time to reflect and share.

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