Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Trial of Socrates in Second Life

This past week, my Intro to Philosophy classes spent their time together conducting modern day trials of Socrates, bringing him up on more contemporary charges like treason and seditious conspiracy rather than impiety and corrupting the youth. Each time we do such a trial, my classes—even those that seem weak during the rest of the semester—really shine. Students who are playing the witnesses seem to have really internalized their characters—their lives and their interactions with both Socrates and Athenian society as whole. The lawyers have clearly combed the Platonic dialogues (which we use in place of depositions) and other literature and events of the day (as well as later scholarship) to prepare their arguments. The students who choose to be jurors are harder to engage, though the individual jury opinions they write up work better in doing this than the group jury opinion I used to have them do.

This year, for the first time, my online Intro class also did a trial of Socrates together by creating avatars and conducting the trial in Second Life. I’d been lucky enough to have a classroom space and trial furniture donated to me by another college—Buena Vista University—that had an island (such generosity on their part). The students learned—to various degrees of competency- to get around in Second Life. Lawyers and many of their witnesses met “in world” several times before the day of the trial for trial preparation.

And then we did the trial. It was slower than when we do it F2F. Because most of the students don’t have mics, we had to do the “speaking” by typing rather than voice and most of the lawyers didn’t seem comfortable doing “cut and paste” typing for the questions they’d previously prepared, but typed things out all over again. And about 45 minutes into it, because of glitches in its new update, Second Life decided to do a “rolling reboot”, which meant that all of us had to either sign off for a few minutes or move to another island and then teleport back to our trial room. But despite that, the trial went well and gave the class a chance to interact in new creative ways. Several members of the class actually created their avatars to look like the witnesses they were going to be during the trial (a Second Life bonus that we’ve never successfully pulled off well in F2F classes). And students also had a chance to argue their case in front of more than just other Mercy College students, since several of the Buena Vista students and faculty participated as jurors, and faculty from institutions as far away as University of North Dakota who belong to ISTE (the International Society for Technology in Education) and came to observe the way in which we did the trial.

Here are a few pictures from various parts of the trial:

The trial setup

Prosecution's opening remarks

Defense Attorney examining Crito

Anytus on the witness stand

Defense attorney examining I.F. Stone

Socrates on the witness stand

The jury

I'll be asking students to fill out a more detailed report of the pluses and minuses of doing a trial this way in an online class but from the comments I've received already they seem to have both enjoyed and learned from it.

1 comment:

Dan said...

I think it should be a requirement that all students have mics next time. I imagine it would go a lot smoother without all the typing.