User Generated Content and #VR: A VIRTUAL world experiment in Second Life

User Generated Content and #VR: A VIRTUAL world experiment in Second Life

Converse sneakers in SL - Second Life

User generated content in Second Life houses MANY representations of big brands, such as Converse, created by brand advocates.

In the final chapters of his book, Convergence Culture, Jenkins (2006) outlines the characteristics of a paradigm shift to a ‘participatory culture’. He cites many examples of the tensions that are arising between the old mass media and the new media revolution. The digital tools that have allowed the average consumer to find a voice online and create user-generated content are also being exploited by larger brands, attempting to mimic this grassroots phenomenon.

As I read Jenkins (2006) observations, I was struck by what may have been an unintentional experiment testing this new paradigm. Many of the issues raised in the text, reminded me of events that had transpired years before in a virtual world called Second Life. SL, as it’s referred to by insiders, was started in 2003 and is COMPLETELY crafted from user-generated content. The platform gained popularity briefly but never quite made its way onto the list of mainstream social networking platforms.


SL had several obstacles keeping it from going mainstream, ranging from technical issues and a steep learning curve to adult and x-rated content. The latter, coupled with the old media’s focus on what they deemed as unacceptable content worked to marginalize the entire SL community. Jenkin’s (2006) sums it up this way, “Old media still defines which forms of cultural expression are mainstream through its ability to amplify the impact of some user-generated content while labeling other submissions out of bounds.”  Articles like the recent post, Second Life: what went wrong?, focused on the platforms adult content getting into the hands of children. The author calls SL ‘a disturbing hive of graphic sexual content, extreme rape fantasies, and vendors selling webcam sex…children were inhabiting some of the most hardcore locations’. This may be true but children are accessing porn on the Internet everyday and I don’t hear a call for turning ‘off’ the Internet. Just like the web, SL houses a myriad of communities OTHER than those that are adult-themed.

My friend and old SL resident, Draxtor Despres, has made it his mission to tell the stories that mainstream media has chosen to overlook. An amazing example of user-generated content, his YouTube channel houses dozens of expertly crafted videos telling a very different SL story. There’s the video about an elderly women with Parkinson’s who is finding renewed vigor thanks to her time in SL. The video outlines how mirroring what her avatar does on the screen actually strengthens her neural pathways in real life and allows her better mobility.

Another story outlines the flourishing fashion industry in SL and explores the relationship between avatar and real-life.

Better Way to Learn?

Back in its heyday, SL was seen as a promising alternative for virtual learning. Many institutions created SL islands and universities. Educators worked to provide online students with a more engaging environment. Today many of the university campuses have disappeared and online learning has moved in a different direction.

Educators my have overlooked the fact that learning happens in a very different way in SL. Instead of learning in virtual classrooms, SL residents learn by interacting with the virtual environment. Jenkin’s (2006) references “scaffolding” as a means to help students try out new skills. He describes it this way, “In the classroom scaffolding is provided by the teacher. In a participatory culture, the entire community takes on some responsibility for helping newbies find their way.” This is VERY much a part of SL culture. The older, more experienced SL residents take it as their duty to help ‘newbs’ maneuver the steep-learning curve that is required to truly enjoy SL. The learning happens by attempting to navigate and participate in the community.

Starbucks in Secon LifeBrands in SL?

As SL was becoming more popular and recruiting more die-hard users, brands decided they wanted to market to this extremely desirable demographic. Several corporations, including IBM, coca-cola and KLM, built an in-world presence. In very much the same way consumers have rejected ‘astroturf’ or FAKE grassroots media, SL residents rejected big brands attempting to hijack their virtual community. Corporations attempted to use this new media platform to sing the same old song – buy our products. They built virtual cars, virtual clothes, virtual jewelry, virtual beverages and expected residents to assume some sort of brand affinity. Instead of speaking the language of the residents and giving them the power to assume an active role in their brands, companies attempted to control the message. This was a HUGE failure. IBM, who once held global company meetings in SL has left all but left the space. Companies have pulled the plug on SL but instead of gaining some self-awareness of how they could have better engaged this community, they simply deemed all of SL a huge waste of time.

KLM in Second Life

The branding that survives in SL today are the items that have been built organically by SL residents and NOT corporations. You can still find Converse sneakers and virtual Starbucks coffee shops. Are these brands aware that their brand has been co-opted by virtual avatars? Probably not. Years ago these brands may have tried to shut down this type of content.  What would they do today?

Looking at these virtual content creators through the lens of today’s marketers, we see a group of brand advocates replicating items they love in SL. These are the consumers of marketers dreams, referred to as the ‘loyals’ in Jenkins (2006) writings. Marketing luminaries, such as AdAge editor, Scott Donaton, realized years ago that attempting to control the narrative would have negative effects on the brand. Second Life has proven this to be true.


Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Cook, J. (2013). Second Life: What Went Wrong?. Retrieved from

Lectures May Be Dead But Do We Still Need Teachers?

Lectures May Be Dead But Do We Still Need Teachers?


Technology has DISRUPTED education, to use a popular phrase from the valley. Most traditional institutions are clinging to their linen cardstock degree certificates fearful that a shift to online learning will render them worthless. The paradigm shift underway due to the marriage between technology and education has many innovative thinkers questioning the need for schools at all. Some are arguing that perhaps computers can do a better job of teaching than actual teachers. I tend to agree with a quote from the famous science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke: “A teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be.”

Below I outline three perspectives on the future of education and how the role of ‘teacher’ is either shifting or disappearing all together. (more…)

eLearing: How instructors can help provide students with a safe and positive online learning experience

eLearing: How instructors can help provide students with a safe and positive online learning experience


In his 2009 Ted talk, Alain de Botton, discusses our propensity for career anxiety and blames exceedingly high cultural expectations and the perception of equality as the cause. He encourages everyone to define their OWN definition of success and not believe the false credo that ‘we CAN do it all’. This anxiety that many of us feel surrounding our achievements can play a role in our decisions about education.

When examining how to create a safe online learning environment, it is valuable to consider WHY students are choosing online programs. According to a study by Europe’s leading provider of IT skills, SkillsTrain, the top reasons why students prefer to study at home include:


1) They want to improve job and career prospects.

2) They cannot afford to give up work.

3) They want to earn more.

4) They have family commitments.

5) They need the education to qualify for promotion. (more…)

Online Learning Strategist, Kate Pinner, 'Educators are curators of content'

Online Learning Strategist, Kate Pinner, 'Educators are curators of content'


“The attainment of knowledge is readily available by almost anyone with an internet connection. Educators are curators of content, providing access and opportunities for discovery of content, rather than the people who just structure and deliver it.”

– Kate Pinner, Learning and Content Strategist

Kate Pinner, Learning and Content StrategistLearning and Content Strategist, Kate Pinner, stumbled across my website while looking for guidance on social media strategy. Little did she know that after our chat, I would be ASKING her to share her thoughts on online education. I was THRILLED to connect with someone who had over 15 years of experience designing blended learning programs and developing learning strategies for diverse global audiences.

As an instructor who teachers both online and offline courses, I have a keen interest in how to best use technology to help engage students and provide value to my students. Kate’s experience provides valuable insights into how to best reach adult learners and the future of education. (more…)

Harvard Tries Teaching the Language of Business with Technology

Harvard Tries Teaching the Language of Business with Technology

In his recent article on, branding guru, Marty Neumeier lays out how Harvard is attempting to handle the threat of online disruption. He plainly asks “what’s keeping new distance-learning companies such as Coursera and edX from repositioning Harvard as an overpriced dinosaur (Neumeier, M., 2014)?” This is a question that needs to be asked by EVERY overpriced college program in the country.

Neumeier highlights two opposing strategies to solve this problem and then defines a third option that would help to promote true innovation and not be limited by the past. Harvard appears to be moving forward with a program called HBX, an online course to prepare students to speak ‘the language of business’. The guiding principles formulated by the dean include the following items:

  • HBX should be economically self-sustaining
  • It should not substitute for the MBA program
  • It should replicate the school’s discussion-based learning model (more…)
Learning and Technology: It’s time to change course

Learning and Technology: It’s time to change course

Technology is changing how we learn and we need to change how we teach. There have been several studies that have confirmed predictions that students who have grown up with digital media will learn differently and demand a more engaging form of education (Rudestam, K.E., & Schoenholtz-Read, J., 2010).

One study concludes that Generation Y students are visual learners and that only a very small percentage of the general population prefers to learn by reading (Weiler. A., 2005). A study by Oblinger and Oblinger, quoted in the ‘Handbook of Online Learning’, defines the learning characteristics of those born since 1982 as:

  • > Multitasking rather than single task focused
  • > Preference to learn from pictures, sound and video rather than text
  • > Preference for interactive and networked activities


Hypertext Minds

The handbook describes the minds of millennials as “hypertext minds, craving interactivity, easily reading visual images, possessing good visual-spacial skills, and having the ability to parallel process (Rudestam, K.E., & Schoenholtz-Read, J., 2010, Chap.4).” The author of Grown up digital: How the net generation is changing your world, Don Tapscott, outlines ‘eight norms’ based upon his research that he says unify the net generation. They include (Tapscott, D., 2008):

  1. Freedom – They want choice in ALL areas of their lives.
  2. Customization – Can’t accept mass-produced products and regularly customize their purchases and their jobs.
  3. Scrutiny – Instinctively scrutinize any information they encounter, exposing hoaxes and false pretenses.
  4. Integrity – They expect companies to display honesty.
  5. Collaboration – Grew up collaborating, it is natural for them.
  6. Entertainment – Expect to take regular breaks from work to relax and don’t see clear lines between work and play.
  7. Speed – Expect everything to happen quickly.
  8. Innovation – They expect change and want the best and latest toys.

Change is Needed

There are several who argue that a shift in pedagogy is required to keep up with changing minds. Tapscott contends that traditional education with its mass-produced information no longer works. He cites high drop-out rates as an indicator that education’s methods are outdated and that education must evolve to help students thrive in an information-based economy (Tapscott, D., 2008).

The Handbook of Online Learning authors agree and cite a report from Futurelab, Rudd, Sutch and Facer (2006) that highlights the importance of networks and describes them as the fundamental underpinnings of social organization. The ability to understand how to join, build, regulate, communicate and navigate these networks therefore, becomes increasingly important skills (Rudestam, K.E., & Schoenholtz-Read, J., 2010). We are required to ask “whether our current education system, premised not upon networks but upon individualized acquisition of content and skills, is likely to support the development of the competencies needed to flourish in such environments (Rudd, T., Sutch, D., & Facer, K., 2006, p.4).”

Another advocate of changing traditional pedagogy from ‘I teach, you learn’ or ‘sage on the stage’ to a more interactive approach is John Seely Brown. His lecture on Learning in the Digital Age stresses the social view of learning. He describes this as moving away from the credo ‘We think, therefore we are.’ to ‘We participate therefore we ARE’. The chart he developed below, characterizes the shifting role of professors, learning activities and student behaviors that is demanded in a Web 3.0 world.

eLearning and online learning 3.0 from John Seely Brown


He claims that professors have moved from being a ‘source of knowledge’ to an ‘orchestrator of collaborative knowledge creation.’ Student behaviors have shifted from being ‘largely passive’ to more of a ‘co-creation of resources’ including a strong sense of ownership.

Help or Hindrance?

Some have questioned whether technology can help facilitate the changes required to teach in a new way.  And others have suggested that the answer is to limit or ban students from using social networks and technological devices in the classroom. The short answer to whether or not technology is a help or hindrance to learning is ‘it’s complicated’.

Handbook authors Rudestam and Schoenholtz-Read argue that this is the wrong question and contend that students are already conditioned to use digital media and so educators need to adjust. Dana Boyd would agree as she has this to say in her research publication, ‘Why Youth Heart Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life’ (Boyd, D., 2007, p.21):

“As a society, we need to figure out how to educate teens to navigate social structures that are quite unfamiliar to us because they will be faced with these publics as adults, even if we try to limit their access now. Social network sites have complicated our lives because they have made this rapid shift in public life very visible. Perhaps instead of trying to stop them or regulate usage, we should learn from what teens are experiencing. They are learning to navigate networked publics; it is in our better interest to figure out how to help them.”

My goal as a teacher and media psychologist is to help navigate the rough waters ahead. I’m an advocate for change and choose to have an extremely optimistic view of the role of technology in our lives and more specifically how we learn.  Obstacles lay ahead but I hope to be part of finding innovative solutions, our future depends on it.


Boyd, D. (2007). Why youth (heart) social network sites: The role of networked publics in teenage social life. MacArthur foundation series on digital learning–Youth, identity, and digital media volume, 119-142.

Brown, J. S. (2009). Lecture on Learning in the Digital Age. YouTube:

Oblinger, D., Oblinger, J. L., & Lippincott, J. K. (2005). Educating the net generation.   Boulder, Colo.: EDUCAUSE, c2005.1 v. (various pagings): illustrations.

Rudd, T., Sutch, D., & Facer, K. (2006) Opening education: Towards new learning networks. Futurelab. (

Rudestam, K. E., & Schoenholtz-Read, J. (Eds.). (2010). Handbook of online learning. Sage.

Tapscott, D. (2008). Grown up digital: How the net generation is changing your world HC. McGraw-Hill.

Weiler, A. (2005). Information-seeking behavior in Generation Y students: Motivation, critical thinking, and learning theory. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 31(1), 46-53.