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Monday, 28 December

120. Virtual Worlds and Pedagogy

8:30–9:45 a.m., Liberty Ballroom Salon C, Philadelphia Marriott

Program arranged by the MLA Committee on Information Technology

Presiding: Gloria B. Clark, Penn State Univ., Harrisburg

1. “Rhetorical Peaks,” Matt King, Univ. of Texas, Austin

Speaker's Annotation:
A Video Game for Rhetoric and Writing Instruction
Find out more here:

2. “Virtual Theater History: Teaching with Theatron,” Mark Childs, Warwick Univ.; Katherine A. Rowe, Bryn Mawr Coll.

Speaker's Annotation:
Presentations 2. and 3 pair two experiences with teaching and research in virtual theater spaces in Second Life, a platform for user-generated environments. If all goes well, Mark Childs will be participating via avatar, in the Theatron Globe Theater, running off an MLA workstation.

3. “Realms of Possibility: Understanding the Role of Multiuser Virtual Environments in Foreign Language Curricula,” Julie M. Sykes, Univ. of New Mexico

4. “Information versus Content: Second Life in the Literature Classroom,” Bola C. King, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara

5. “Literature Alive,” Beth Ritter-Guth, Hotchkiss School

Speaker's Annotation:
We will explore the use of Second Life as a teaching tool for composition and literature. Please visit the wiki at

6. “Virtual World Building as Collaborative Knowledge Production: The Online Crystal Palace,” Victoria E. Szabo, Duke Univ.

Speaker's Annotation:
As part of an interdisciplinary four-course Freshman Focus Cluster around the theme of Virtual Realities, students in 'Authoring Digital Media: The Online Crystal Place' explored the Great Exhibition of 1851 as an example of world-building and cultural exhibition whose lessons pertain to 21st century virtual world building in complex and sometimes surprising ways. Their interventions consisted primarily of web-site and virtual world development in Second Life, combining critical analysis and historical research with work with primary source materials.

Rather than attempt to develop a purely referential virtual space, which would have been far beyond the scope of the class both technically and thematically, students used Second Life as a place to explore ideas of non-linear narrative space, proximity, circulation, social mixing, and cultural control through imaginative re-interpretations of specific exhibit areas and themes shown at the time period. Students worked with digitized original catalogs, image archives, secondary essays, and their own creative energies to create exhibits that conveyed a flavor of what the original exhibits accomplished, while at the same time speculating about how virtual exhibition practices might both draw, and depart, from historical precedents through the use of foundational hypermedia authorship tools and concepts.

The goals of the class were both to establish a starting point for future virtual explorations of the historical Exhibition in Second Life and other virtual reality tools, and to consider how digital media authorship itself can become a means of scholarly knowledge-production. Because this was a frosh class, the emphasis was on core ideas and themes more than advanced production practices; however, this is just a starting point for an emerging research area and pedagogical practice. I anticipate continuing the project in an advanced course on 'Constructing the Metaverse' and combining it with some multimedia-mapping work I am doing in another context in order to tease out further how digital media authorship can contribute to collaborative knowledge-production in the humanities.

Together with the other courses in the cluster, we are moving towards ongoing digital media projects into which individuals and groups can dip at various points and with various objects. For example, our course also partnered with the 3D modeling course in our cluster to create Crystal Palace models to put in the immersive Cave environment at Duke, and with the team developing the OpenCobalt peer-to-peer virtual world development environment to port our content into a more experimental authoring space. These efforts are part of the larger Visual Studies Initiative at Duke, where we are facilitating methodological interdisciplinarity through visual and digital media theory and practices. For literary and historical authors and audiences focused on textual practices, these complementary modalities provide a way to deepen understanding of cultural and critical contexts, and to model structures of thought that tie back into the literary and critical milieux we explore.

7. “Teaching in Virtual Worlds: Re-Creating The House of Seven Gables in Second Life,” Mary McAleer Balkun, Seton Hall Univ.

8. “3-D Interactive Multimodal Literacy and Avatar Chat in a College Writing Class,” Jerome Bump, Univ. of Texas, Austin

Speaker's Annotation:
Three experiments in 3-D interactive visual-verbal rhetoric.

I. Writing inside a Virtual World

+ Writing assignments done in the virtual world itself make better use of the appeal of massive, multimedia, multiplayer, interactive, 3-D social virtual worlds to engage both sides of the brain in the teaching of multimodal composition.

II. “Architextural” Writing
+ MMOGs can facilitate a version of active learning and virtual place-based education that results in the invention of new “architextural” hybrid genres of reading and writing
+ .

III. 3-D Interactive Avatars Writing:

Flow, Coherence, Sympathetic Imagination, The Cognitive Immersion of Literature, Telepresence, Copresence, Resurrection of the Dead

+ [a] 3-D avatar chat fully engaged students in the “flow” and made it easier for some to write coherent essays.
+ [b] Choosing an avatar other than their own, such as a role model, and then engaging in various group chats, also helped students exercise their sympathetic imagination, their ability to see others from the inside.
+ [c] The cognitive immersion of group avatar chat can be compared with reading literature. By offering the interactivity they expect, the online generation was able to experience the internal life of other human beings somewhat like that of reading a novel.
+ [d] This assignment makes it easier to study positive effects specific to virtual worlds, such as telepresence and copresence, the unique feeling of social presence caused by immersion in a virtual environment. (For example, one student was so moved by the way this assignment seemed to bridge the gap between the living and the dead that she kept revisiting her avatar even though she hated computers.)

For movies, images, and details see

about the professor
Jerome Bump, Professor of English, University of Texas at Austin. First director of the Computer Writing and Research Lab (1985-1989). Author of C.A.I. in Writing at the University: Some Recommendations," Computers and Education 11.2 (1987), 121-133; "Radical Changes in Class Discussion Using Networked Computers," Computers and the Humanities 24 (1990):49-65; "Teaching English in Second Life," Currents (2007); "Left vs. Right Side of the Brain: Hypermedia and the new Puritanism" Currents (1997); “Collaborative Learning in the Postmodern Classroom” in Situating College English: Lessons from an American University (1996); papers on computers and English at the Universities of Paris, Pittsburgh, Indiana, and NCTE, CCCC, CCTE, and the Fifth and Sixth Computers and Writing Conferences, the IBM AEP conference; and recipient of grants for writing in virtual worlds, computerized invention heuristics, and multimedia autobiographies.

For abstracts and possibly video clips, visit

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