Educational Opportunities in Second Life

The other day, a client asked me to speak with them about using Second Life as a training environment. They provide training through seminars and web based training and are considering expanding into Second Life.

We talked about using Second Life as a storefront and as a virtual seminar room. We talked about doing mixed reality conferences where the speakers addressed a real conference, but the video stream was piped into a virtual conference room. We talked about ways of handling interactions between the attendees of the real life conference and attendees of the virtual conference, including how to handle registrations, cancellations and refunds.

We talked about providing video on demand in Second Life, and linking Second Life to the companies website. We even spoke about creating machinima, videos of events in Second Life that could be used for the trainings.

We talked about the education information Second Life provides and about some of the more interesting education programs such as Idaho Bioterrorism Awareness and Preparedness Program's Play2Train.

We talked about an article by Anders Gronstedt in Training and Development magazine about the use of Second Life in the training and development industry.

Yet some of the best training opportunities are real life, or Second Life, and not the ones planned out in a training plan. When I got home, I found an event like that which had just occurred.

Since December, 2004, Ginko Finance has been a banking entity on Second Life. They had ATMs around Second Life, where you could deposit money. They paid a very generous interest rate of over 44% annualized. I put a little bit of the free Linden Dollars I had received into the account. I had even thought about changing some U.S. Dollars into Linden Dollars and depositing it in the account.

However, as the old adage goes, if it looks like it is too good to be true, it probably is. I didn’t see any way that this could be sustainable. They reached deposits in the range of 200,000,000 Linden Dollars. That is worth over half a million U.S. Dollars.

In a statement from Ginko Finance, they said,

As you probably already know, Ginko Financial has experienced some challenges in these last couple of weeks. Following the ban on gambling in Second Life we began experiencing a wave of withdrawals from Ginko Financial. This led the funds we keep in reserve for day to day use to be exhausted, which evolved into a full blown panic depleting even our last line of cash reserves and resulting in the current situation, with about L$50,000,000 queued up for withdrawal.

Most people never experience a run on a bank, or a liquidity crisis. Those who follow the market news may have been hearing about a liquidity crisis in the mortgage securities market, but it probably hasn’t affected them personally.

People in Second Life are unlikely to be investing in junk bonds, but that is exactly what has happened to some of the players.

After considerable thought, we have concluded that the only way forward from this is to convert, compulsorily, all customer deposits into a tradeable debt security called Ginko Perpetual Bonds. These bonds, listed on the World Stock Exchange ( www.wselive.com), will allow Ginko Financial to recover from recent events by removing all pressure from our cash reserves while providing accountholders with a way to cash out on an open market.

Last night, I visited WSE’s chat room where people were rapidly learning about trading. There were discussions about market orders and limit orders, and whether or not one should buy or sell the bonds at this point.

For me, it was fun. I read the research on various offerings. I bought and sold some of the bonds and put in some limit orders. I investigated the interface to see if there were any opportunities to gather and analyze data, or even to do some programmatic trading.

For others, it was much less fun. I met people who had earned over 600,000 Linden Dollars and had seen their savings go from around $2,000 down to $300. This was money they hoped to use to pay for a fun trip. Others had actually taken U.S. Dollars, converted them to Linden Dollars and seen their investments wiped out.

I feel sorry for the people who just received a $1,700 education in banking and investments that they had not been planning on. Yet I do hope that people take advantage of this as a great learning opportunity. When I checked last night, trading in Ginko Perpetual Bonds was making up about 85% of the trading volume. This is over a nine-fold increase in trading at WSE. Will WSE handle the growth in trading smoothly?

We shall see. According to press release on July 28th, they’ve already experienced, survived, and hopefully learned from a former employee that embezzled funds.

Will they add new features that will facilitate programmatic analysis, and perhaps even programmatic trading of securities, or the ability to create derivatives? I hope so.

I expect over the coming months, we shall see more unexpected and highly valuable learning experiences take place in Second Life and I look forward to participating in as many of them as possible.

At home, thinking

Tuesday morning, the ballroom slowly fills up as attendees to the National Conference of State Legislatures annual meeting find their seats. Patriotic images are projected on the screen behind the podium. Over the sound system, “She’s a grand old flag” gives was to “Coming to America” Every time that flag’s unfurled, they’re coming to America

The preliminary speakers make their comments and finally the keynote speaker comes on the stage. David McCullough speaks slowly and thoughtfully. There is a measured dignity to his words that you just don’t hear from politicians or news broadcasters anymore, the sound of a wise old patrician, with all the positive connotations. Walter Cronkite is probably the closest I’ve heard to a similar voice in my generation.

Why don’t our politicians speak that way anymore? Why don’t we hear this sort of thoughtfulness in the voices of the media. I should learn to speak more slowly and thoughtfully.

McCullough starts of by saying that there is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. The recognition that we have all gotten to where we are because of the work of others that have gone before is one that I wish we had more people acknowledge. Yet McCullough brings a new twist to this great old thought.

“Everything I have achieved in my life, is to an indescribable extent, due to my partner, my wife Rosalie.”

It is a touching tribute. He asks his wife to stand and she is greeted with applause. Yet it is also a glimpse of the speech to come. Too many of us do not appreciate those whose shoulders we stand upon because we do not know our history. It is this lack of knowledge of our history that is the key point.

McCullough talks about times when he has spoken at college campuses and been astounded by the lack of knowledge of history these students possess. “The lessons of history are going right by our young Americans…For the past twenty-five years, we have been raising a generation of youth that are for all practical purposes, historically illiterate.”

He talks about students who do know now who George C. Marshall was and uses it to bring in a quote. George C. Marshall went to Virginia Military Institute, but said he didn’t have a great education there because they taught him no history. McCullough expands on that with a quote, “The only new thing in the world is the history you don’t know.” He continues by saying that history should be the most interesting of all subjects because it is about people.

I like that. It makes me think of Walt Whitman’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, where the poet talking about those who are to come being more in his thoughts than you might imagine. I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships. It is our relationships that matter, and McCullough and Whitman are right to place our relationships into a historical context.

McCullough expands on this. “There is no such thing as the past.,” he says. “Nothing ever happened in the past. It always happens in the present, just other people’s present… Washington or Adams never said isn’t it interesting living in the past, with these quaint outfits…”

Yet McCullough also talks about the sense of posterity that the great leaders of the past had. He talks about Washington writing about his travails and trying to find the best thing to do lest history judge him too harshly. He talks about the old halls of Congress where a statue of Cleo, the Goddess of History looks down on the Representatives, reminding them of their place in history.

He talks about schools where the history of athletes adorn the walls and inspires new athletes. My mind wanders to the wonderful scene in Dead Poets’ Society where Robin Williams, as a teacher who had attended the school, shows his students such a wall, and talks about the message those who have gone before are saying. Carpe Diem, seize the moment.

When I think of Dead Poets’ Society, I think of Robin Williams as an English teacher. He is trying to imbue his students with a love of poetry. Yet looking at it from the eyes of McCullough, what makes the poetry so vibrant is the history that Williams is teaching with it.

McCullough mixes all of this with some wonderful thoughts about pedagogy. He suggests that all that really matters is the teacher, the book and the midnight oil. He contrasts this to all the great building programs and other efforts to reform education that don’t focus first on the relationship between the teacher and the student. He talks about how what matters most is the attitude of the teacher. Attitudes aren’t taught, they are caught.

You can see that in the teaching of history. To McCullough, history is vibrant, crucial, compelling and essential. It is much different than the history so many of us resentfully waded through. He talks about a good history textbook being one that people want to read.

“If there is a problem with education today, the fault lies with us, with all of us. We need to encourage them to read what we like to read, what we liked to read when we were their age.” He suggests “We should not require students to read something we wouldn’t want to read.”

He invokes Barbara Tuchman and says there is no problem teaching history, just tell stories.

He then brings it back to our personal experiences. He says we have to bring back the dinner conversation. We need to bring back dinner. I applaud this line and the applause spreads through the hall. McCullough pushes this. We must take our children to historic sites ourselves. We should not wait for the school trips. We must show our children places where something interesting has happened, where something of great consequence has happened. Our children must see our interest in this.

Ever the historian, McCullough illustrates this point by talking about John Quincy Adams, who went back to Congress after being President, who died on the floor of the House as he continued to battle slavery. John Quincy Adams was brought up with this sense of duty from his dinner time conversations.

McCullough asks how people will know that the responsibilities of citizenship are so much more than just voting, unless someone teaches them.

McCullough brought in two anecdotes that particularly resonated with me. We commented that at times John Adams would write in his journal that he was “at home, thinking”. McCullough asked how often do we spend time thinking. He uses this to talk about what we really need is to teach people to think for themselves.

He ties it all together whit a great anecdote of when the aging John Adams met the young Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson notes Adams saying “I would that there be more ambition, that is ambition of the laudable type, ambition to excel”

Perhaps this ties into some of what I dislike about standardized testing. We can learn facts about George C. Marshall, Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Adams, but are we learning to think for ourselves or to love history? Are we developing an ambition to excel? Are we finding our place in the history books?

How do we address all of this? I’m not sure, but maybe some of it is that more of us need to be “at home, thinking”

Random Things

For everyone that contributed to Beth Kanter’s trip to Cambodia. She raised the money she needs. Thank you to all of you. Now I’ve gotten an email from an old friend, Don Berks. Don is participating in the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Bike Tour. Please visit his fundraising page.

Tim Brennan, who is running for Town Council in West Hartford has his campaign website up. It is a very clean and simple website. Please stop by and see what he’s up to.

Andy Thibault has more information about the Avery Doninger case. In his latest entry on Cool Justice, her reports that Doninger won by write in vote.

With Liberty and Justice for All

Tuesday, I was at the National Conference of State Legislatures listening to panelists talk about education and results based accountability. I’ve wondered about the unintended results in education. I touched on this briefly in a post about the Freedom of Information complaint filed against the Lewis S. Mills School in Burlington, CT.

Andy Thibault has been following this closely at Cool Justice and pointed me to Chris Powell’s wonderful column Inadvertently, school teaches about liberty.

Doninger and her friends also were forbidden to wear to school T-shirts with inscriptions supporting freedom of speech.

It all will be a nice counterpoint to the next recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag at Mills High School, what with its proclamation of "liberty and justice for all."

Powell’s article captures very nicely the truly teachable moment taking place at Lewis S. Mills School. Yet for teachable moments to take place, people must know about them and Thibault and Doninger are providing an important service in bringing attention to this teachable moment. I hope it spreads.

Being the instigator that I am, I hope the students and teachers at Lewis S. Mills school all return to school wearing T-shirts that simply say “Liberty and Justice for All”. Will the school, in the middle of this lawsuit send students home for wearing a quote from the Pledge of Allegiance? How will the administration treat teachers that try to use a teachable moment to encourage students to think seriously about what the Pledge of Allegiance means?

Beyond that, I do hope that the administration comes to its senses soon and settles out of court. Wise educators know not only when to take advantage of a teachable moment, but they also know when it is time to move on with the lesson plan. I hope such a settlement includes a way to bring closure to the teachable moment.

To me, the best closure would include a school assembly with Thibault, Powell and others on a panel talking about the importance of vigilantly protecting liberty and justice for all, followed by the musical event that precipitated the whole morass. I also hope college admission officers around the country take note and fight hard to recruit Avery Doninger.

I remain the optimist. I do believe in liberty and justice and all, and I salute Doninger, Thibault, Powell and everyone who is standing up it.

Wordless Wednesday



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