This week, Nic and I have had the opportunity to teach with the model and begin to evaluate student responses. On Monday 15 February, my usual third year Pompeii class migrated from the Arts Faculty to the computer facility in the Education Support Unit for the afternoon. We put the students in pairs and gave each pair an avatar account to log in – the theme of the class was domestic space in Pompeii and modern reconstructions. Nic started with some basic orienteering (none of the students had used SL before but picked it up very quickly), then I introduced the material to the students via a ppt display I ran via Gwendoline in our presentation area on the island. After that, I asked the students to explore the house in order to come up with questions or ideas about how ancient domestic space worked. Then we met up back at the presentation area to work through their ideas, which we explored in the RL space of the computer suite.

After a break, we moved on to thinking about modern reconstructions of ancient Pompeian houses, showcasing particularly (again via the ppt in SL) the Court in the Crystal Palace, the Maison Pompeienne (the Court’s Parisian contemporary) and the J.P. Getty Villa in Malibu. We sent the students back into the house, this time to gather ideas on the effect of inhabiting reconstruction and the pros and cons of reconstructing. They had been set some reading on these issues prior to the class (extracts from Lowenthal’s The Past is a Foreign Country) and the resulting RL discussion was very rich. There was no doubt that actually inhabiting a reconstruction helped students engage with the theoretical discussions of the urge to reconstruct and to appreciate the spatial effects of the historical reconstructions we had discussed. The students all enjoyed the experience and their feedback reflected the engagement with concepts made possible by the inhabitation of the model.

As Nic has reported on this blog, the class definitely worked because we had both RL and SL contact with the students. RL presence allowed me to assert more authority (limited at the best of times!) over them when I needed to move the class on whilst the SL environment afforded them the freedom to think and communicate with each other in an environment outside the classroom.

Although our aims in teaching this class was primarily to see how the material could be delivered in an enhanced way through SL, we also learned some interesting lessons about the avatar characters. It was very interesting to observe students’ reactions to the random avatar characters we had assigned them and although we didn’t teach them, they quickly began to edit their appearance and (un)dress them.

Straight after, we all watched Westworld to remind ourselves of the danger and hubris in attempting to reconstruct the past. Of our characters, I can imagine Acheron is the one most likely to go on a vengeful, Yul Brynneresque rampage…. One of my undergraduates subsequently went online and found out that there’s a remake planned. The irony!!!


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