What are your thoughts about virtual environments and “life on line?” Do you feel there is a correlation between life on line and academic achievement, for better or worse?
The article “Second Thoughts About ‘Second Life’” (Bugeja, 2007) really struck a chord with me this week. Though I think he does shade into reactionary and overly-dramatic responses at times, he does present some very valid points that faculty, students and parents should consider as more and more students and schools take or allow their students to go online and become a part of these virtual worlds.
A brief anecdote sums up my unease with ‘Second Life,’ though I don’t extrapolate my isolated experience the way Bugeja does: when I was in the military, I had several friends in my shop (fellow enlisted Airmen) who loved World of Warcraft and Second Life. They would play for hours, even on duty (as long as we were on night shift and it didn’t impact their work). They played at home and linked up with each other, forming ‘squads’ or ‘guilds’ and even some of their wives joined in. One industrious friend—perpetually delinquent in his rent—even created and advanced WoW characters to sell on ebay, which he actually received hefty payments for. Another friend, sadly, lost himself in these two particular games a bit and suffered a nasty divorce as a result of his unending playing and even virtual infidelity. Ever since that experience, fair or not, I have been hesitant to become involved in such games—the ones that are so pervasive that people seem to lose themselves in them.
Another area of concern is that, with this new age of ‘digital natives,’ there may be a correlation between life online and academic achievement. In “Facebook and Academic Performance” by Kirshner & Karpinski (2010), the researchers find a negative correlation between GPA’s and Facebook use. Their study is framed around the concept of multi-tasking, and how students and children nowadays involved themselves shallowly in ten different tasks at once, rather than pursuing one topic or train of thought deeply. Though the former (current) method may lend itself well to some careers and fields, the overall effect the researchers found was deleterious. Of the 200 or so respondents, the effect of less study time and lowered GPA’s was found amongst males, females, undergrads and grad students alike. Though I’ll save my problems with their sampling for another day, the study does raise some questions that educators and parents should ask themselves: are we equipping the next generation with skills of discernment, to know when one has had ‘enough’ Facebook, for instance? Is it the job of parents and educators to intervene or are we the ones that need to get with the program and realize that this—for good or ill—is the new way of things?