... or...

... how participation in an online virtual community has impacted one teacher's understanding of history, and how that has been reflected in actual classroom instruction.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

16 January 2013: Arriving at Teleportplatz

So to begin at the beginning...

A year ago in "real life" (or RL), I was recovering from Achilles tendon surgery and was stuck in bed.  I was now able to start really exploring in Second Life (SL) and took full advantage of the opportunity.  I had heard about the 1920s Berlin Project in an education group, and thought I would go there.  I had been to historical role play sims like Versailles in SL and to Romanov Russia, but for various reasons, they did not work for me.  So, I traveled to Berlin to see what it was like there.  What I found was a living community that has changed how I look at and teach history.  Berlin is (to paraphrase my hometown's slogan) "a city that works!"

VSTE tour group arrives at the Berlin Teleportplatz
(VSTE is the Virginia Society for Technology in Education)
The rules that make Berlin work are relatively simple:
  1. You must wear clothing appropriate for the era.
  2. You need to make sure your avatar is realistic.
  3. You must behave in a natural manner.
  4. It is a "PG" sim, so there are certain things not permitted.
Following the clothing rule is easy!  If you don't have clothes from the 1920s or 1930s in your SL inventory, there are "freebies" at the Teleportplatz when you land there. 
SL has its own economy, and uses the Linden (L$) as the currency.  But it is possible to navigate without any RL expense.  Recently, there was an addition to the sim, right behind where the tour group has gathered in the picture above, and has a collection of vintage stores where you can buy clothing or accessories if you would prefer. 

Remember that in Second Life, avatars can take on just about any shape or size.  But to be able to move comfortably in Berlin, your avi needs to be set to normal human settings.  Otherwise, you will not fit on chairs, in hallways, on the tram, and the like. 

VSTE meeting where we made
Halloween broomsticks and flew.
This never happens in Berlin.
 Behaving in a natural manner is not hard either.  SL has the ability to let your avi fly, appear and disappear, make objects appear (this is called "rezzing"), have "tags" (words or even phrases) float above your head, and much more.  This is not permitted because in RL, you wouldn't be able to do any of these things!  One thing that people normally do, which is to communicate with voice, is disabled by the sim, as this can really complicate things.  So the residents and visitors will generally use open text chat and communicate in English.  You don't need to speak German to get the most out of this sim, and you'll probably pick up a decent vocabulary if you stay!

Because of its "PG" sim rating, there are restrictions when it comes to abusive profanity, nudity (well... one exception here we'll discuss another time), random violence, and anti-social behavior.  An important point to remember is that if it wasn't socially acceptible in the RL Berlin of the 1920s, it's not going to be accepted in the SL version either.  This includes followers of National Socialism.  Our sim is an occasional target of Nazi "griefers" who come to harrass and cause general mayhem.  While the NSDAP was in existence in 1929, it didn't have a significant presence in Berlin, which was the largest city but not the capital of Weimar Germany.  Hitler did not get power until January 1933, and was still located mostly in Munich.  So the Berlin police force will enforce the rules; the Wachmeisters have been known to track down really aggressive griefers (many are RL police detectives) and bring them to the SL version of justice.  
Visitors can stroll along Unter den Linden, with a statue
of Fredrick the Great at one end and the
famous Brandenburg Gate at the other.

The wonderful thing about the 1920s Berlin Project is that the creator has really worked hard to provide as realistic an atmosphere as possible.  There are recreations of important cultural landmarks that identify the sim as being Berlin as well as various neighborhoods, from rich to poor.  The residents enjoy a Second "Lifestyle" that echoes the lives led by Berliners of the past, so we can immerse ourselves as often as we want to through the magic of technology, virtual environments, skilled builders, and actual personalities that give the place life.

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask!  I would love the opportunity to direct my posts in response to your questions!

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