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Communities Online

For October 16, 2007...
Blog post: Add a YackPack plugin to your PBwiki (click on plug-ins) and try it out. Sign-up for ( and explore its features for online chat (see how it was used at Hillcrest High School: Reflect on how you might use or other discussion sites (WebCT/Vista, Moodle, Drupal) or tools (IM’ing, etc.) or virtual/game sites (Second City, etc.) for online discussion.
I gave up trying plug-ins with OS X and Safari, which I think might happen in many educational settings. I just don't have the energy to manually link and setup so many items, even though I have done so with images and other elements in PBwki. As with Google Docs and other "Web 2.0" items not supporting Apple's browser at this time, I generally won't sacrifice my system to another browser. (FireFox is the only major alternative, though Camino is also a Mozilla application.)

As the discussion thread on the Society for Technical Communication's mailing list recently concluded:

"I'd rather have a sharp object inserted into my eye than deal with Second Life or a similar virtual world."

There are several reasons for this:
  • The animation is poor without a very powerful computer, and even then it seems to demand a lot of resources.
  • The movement can cause problems for some users, especially those with seizure disorders or migraines.
  • Most virtual worlds, for whatever reason, end up with the same social issues as "real life," with a bit more flirting and a lot more anger.
  • I hate most live chats, with or without animation, because I read slowly. Unless it is one-on-one, I get lost quickly.
I'm sure many students can and do accomplish a lot while multitasking online, but studies have also revealed that work suffers despite what students (and working adults) imagine they can do. When your attention is divided, even talking while driving, your overall effectiveness declines dramatically. We simply don't like to believe this is the case.

I like threaded discussions and have used them for several years as a teacher. However, interactive chats have ended up dominated by the same students who speak up during a traditional class session. I find asynchronous threads give more students a chance to participate.


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