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Has SL Become Less Tolerant of Noobs and/or Students?


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Hello!

This post is an observation more than a debating point, but I'd be interested to hear responses, most especially from SL educators.

I've been in Second Life myself for nearly 6 years, and been teaching on the platform for 5 of those. Before this year, I had never had a problem with students being banned or ARed. 

I have just completed a 13-week course in Second Life with 19 students. This was a course about virtual worlds. The class itself was taught almost entirely in-world: our home base was my parcel at my university's in-world campus, but we took extensive "field trips" throughout Second Life. It was a completely immersive course, and in preparation for that immersion, I spent substantial time with them highlighting the ToS, Community Standards, our university's Code of Student Conduct, and research ethics guidelines. 

Two incidents occurred that gave me pause for thought. The first, and most dramatic, was the banning from Second Life of my entire class (barring only me) in our second week of classes on the basis of a malicious AR that was obviously filed against everyone enrolled in the class group. The basis of this banning was a putative "theft" of Lindens by, apparently, each and every one of my students. Now, I obviously can't vouch for my students' behavior when they were in-world out of class, but they were certainly up to nothing untoward while with me, nor is it credible that they were all guilty of theft. The fact that only 2 or 3 of my students had ever even possessed Lindens made no difference: when they contacted SL support, they were told that the appeal process would be lengthy and probably unsuccessful.

My students were forced to create new accounts.

The second incident was attenuated over a number of occasions, and was characterized by a systematic banning of my students from a handful of sims, apparently solely on the basis of the age of their avatars. In one instance, I was actually engaged in an apparently friendly conversation with the sim owner (who invited me to join her sim's group) when my students began to disappear around me.

As I have noted, I've never previously had a single student banned from Second Life or (so far as I am aware) from a sim before this year. Is this a new thing? Has a fear of griefers reached the point at which innocuous residents are being targetted merely because of age? And has SL's own AR process become so rigid that there is no point in appealing even the most self-evidently absurd mass abuse report?

I am seriously wondering, on the basis of this year's experience, whether it is worth while continuing to teach in Second Life at all. 

I welcome thoughts and comments!

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Cole Naire wrote:

Two incidents occurred that gave me pause for thought. The first, and most dramatic, was the banning from Second Life of my entire class (barring only me) in our second week of classes on the basis of a malicious AR that was obviously filed against everyone enrolled in the class group. The basis of this banning was a putative "theft" of Lindens by, apparently, each and every one of my students. Now, I obviously can't vouch for my students' behavior when they were in-world out of class, but they were certainly up to nothing untoward while with me, nor is it credible that they were
all
guilty of theft. The fact that only 2 or 3 of my students had ever even possessed Lindens made no difference: when they contacted SL support, they were told that the appeal process would be lengthy and probably unsuccessful.

 

My best guess on this one is that someone managed to compromise all the student accounts and used them for illegal purposes, or possibly that enough of the accounts were compromised to make it a bad risk to have any of the accounts stay up. LL has a pretty tight handle on cash flow and they just don't respond to "SOMEONE STOLE MY MONEYZ! WAU!" AR's unless the evidence is pretty clear.

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Hi Theresa, and thanks for your comment.

A similar thought had occurred to me, but, again, it seems unlikely. Virtually none of my students' accounts had any Linden transaction records of any sort associated with them. And my entire class? All of them? That would require some fairly deft hacking.

This was also only in the second week of the course: they had been in-world for perhaps a total of 5 or 6 hours at that point, and almost all of it on my parcel.

The one mistake I did make, in hindsight, was to take them to a public sandbox. Interestingly, one of my students (whose account was also banned) was absent for that particular class, and had never left the university's sim.

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Some sim owner's ban newbs that are less than 30-60 or even 90 days old because of griefers.  Griefers create throw away alt accounts to do their dirty work.  While some do it as a preventative measure, others do it as a result of  being severely griefed.  Is this fair to all newbs? Probably not.  But sim owners are free to ban anyone for any reason or no reason at all.  In the future, you may want to check out the sims you want to bring your students to and make sure they will not run into this if they have new accounts.

As far as the banning, LL doesn't just take the word of the person that AR's when they consider a ban.  They require proof.  They also have access to records that can trace money and where it goes and how it got there as well as conversation logs.  Knowing this, it is probably the case that one or more of your students did commit a theft and 'shared' the money with the rest of the class.  The rest would then be banned if they knowingly took money that they knew had been stolen. 

I have no idea how much money is involved here, but they are lucky that whoever the money was stolen from has not as of yet pressed RL charges against them or decided to sue them, you and the school.  Probably because such legal action would cost them more than they lost.

They do have a right to appeal the ban, but not many appeals are successful if LL had proof of the theft.

Finally they are now breaking TOS again by creating new accounts.  If you are banned from SL you are forbidden to do this.  If caught they will be banned again and more than likely be banned not just by their ISP but the computer they use making it impossible to come back on SL without doing it on a new computer with a new ISP address.

We all like to think that people we think we know are good people and not involved with such things.  But as a teacher how well would you really know your students personally?  While I don't paint everyone with the same broad brush, and certainly don't think all kids are the same.  However, it has been my observation that many kids coming into SL today are not the same as they were 7 years ago when I came in.  They think SL is a game and that all is fair.  They are used to playing video games and think nothing of using "cheats" to get around rules and get ahead.  You students may well have thought that stealing the L's were part of the game and a cheat rather than common thievery.  I hope I am wrong about this and they are successful in their appeal.

I think as far as teaching in the future that you should continue.  However you should emphasis to your students prior to their creating accounts that SL is not a video game but a virtual world.  That behavior that is tolerated in video games is not tolerated here and that they can get into serious trouble thinking that way.  There should also be a policy in place that if they do break the TOS that the school itself will take action against them by suspending or expelling them depending on the seriousness of the problem.

 

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Thanks Amethyst. You make some good points.

I can reassure you on some points. My students were extensively prepared for this course by someone (i.e., me) who has spent many thousands of hours in Second Life, and done and seen pretty much everything (short of owning a business) that there is to do and see. They were well aware that this was not a "game": in fact, I gave them from the outset a list of misconceptions and things to avoid saying (such as "SL is a game," or "Who is that player?"). The course began, before they ever stepped in-world, with a lengthy introduction to virtual worlds and the pertinent differences between SL and, say, WoW.

I obviously cannot vouch for each and every one of my students. I can tell you that I examined their accounts, and can confirm with certainty that the vast majority of them had never possessed a Linden. Overall, they are excellent students who have demonstrated in their course work that they "get" Second Life.

I do also understand that many sim owners automatically ban new accounts, and I understand why. Part of what I am suggesting here is that this is a rather poor policy that is going to hurt all of Second Life in the long run. A virtual world that makes virtual life difficult for avatars in their early months merely because they are "new" is one that is going to have a difficult time attracting new residents.

They did not break the ToS when creating new accounts, because they did not receive IP bans. They in fact used the same IP to create the new accounts.

There is a Student Code of Conduct, about which I gave the students a refresher before we started (along with the ToS, the Community Standards, and research ethics rules): were proof to come to light that one or more of the students had violated these, they would, in fact, be discipined, as they well knew.

I do however sincerely appreciate the comments!

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Cole Naire wrote:

Indeed. What is similarly puzzling, if your interpretation is correct, is that I was 
not
banned, despite using that same IP.

Your not being banned is one of the puzzling pieces.

I'm trying to apply Occam's Razor to the situation.

My guess would be that one or more of your Students did something they shouldn't have and somehow succeeded in implicating your whole class.

I'd be examining the Linden Dollar transaction history for each and every one of the Students.

That's the same thing LL looks at when dealing with fraud reports.  They follow the Linden trail.

 

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My assumption was that I was not banned because of the greater age of my account, although one student who has taken a Second Life course before, and had a year-old avatar, was banned.

I did examine most of my students' accounts for precisely that reason. A few students were absent, and so I didn't see these, but the ones I saw were completely blank and clean.

What I think must have happened is that one of the students whose account I did not see accepted tainted Lindens as a gift. I don't think that explains the blanket ban, or how it was applied, but it's the only explanation I can think of.

What makes it particularly puzzling is that, from my experience of friends who have been ARed, the system is generally not quite so draconian as this instance suggests. It makes me wonder if there has been a change in policy.

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Probable situation for the fraud/theft thing: a single person did something bad, or perhaps decided to try to buy cheap (actually stolen) L$ from an outfit like that mmook place. LL sees a bunch of accounts joined SL about the same day from the same address, assumes they are alts waiting in the wings, and bans the lot of them.

On the getting banned from individual places, it's become really, really common for busy clubs and shops to boot out avatars that are fewer than X days old, X can range anywhere from about 3 to 90 days. They are working on the assumption that an account that can last X days is probably not a throwaway grief account, and will let them in after that point. It seems kind of pointless to me, given rampant phishing, and that repeat troublemakers already know to make extra accounts in advance and let them age; but there you go.

 
 
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Thanks Cerise. I suspect that something like what you describe is the case, although I'm going to retain my faith that no student did anything knowingly wrong. Again, I'm thinking that accepting a gift of Lindens is the most probable trigger.

Your theory about the extent of the bans is, like Perrie's, problematic only because one of my students had a year old account that was also banned.

As for your point about clubs, etc., and noobs: agreed. And again, I maintain that this is not merely a pointless exercise, but actually a self-destructive one. Luring new residents in Second Life with the promise of live music, socializing, and dancing, only to see them kicked out of the clubs to which they go is helping no one.

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Cole Naire wrote:

Thanks Amethyst. You make some good points.

I can reassure you on some points. My students were extensively prepared for this course by someone (i.e., me) who has spent many thousands of hours in Second Life, and done and seen pretty much everything (short of owning a business) that there is to do and see. They were well aware that this was not a "game": in fact, I gave them from the outset a list of misconceptions and things to avoid saying (such as "SL is a game," or "Who is that player?"). The course began, before they ever stepped in-world, with a lengthy introduction to virtual worlds and the pertinent differences between SL and, say, WoW.

I obviously cannot vouch for each and every one of my students. I can tell you that I examined their accounts, and can confirm with certainty that the vast majority of them had never possessed a Linden. Overall, they are excellent students who have demonstrated in their course work that they "get" Second Life.

I do also understand that many sim owners automatically ban new accounts, and I understand why. Part of what I am suggesting here is that this is a rather poor policy that is going to hurt all of Second Life in the long run. A virtual world that makes virtual life difficult for avatars in their early months merely because they are "new" is one that is going to have a difficult time attracting new residents.

They did not break the ToS when creating new accounts, because they did not receive IP bans. They in fact used the same IP to create the new accounts.

There is a Student Code of Conduct, about which I gave the students a refresher before we started (along with the ToS, the Community Standards, and research ethics rules): were proof to come to light that one or more of the students had violated these, they would, in fact, be discipined, as they well knew.

 

I do however sincerely appreciate the comments!

4 years in SL, a fairly blank profile 3 teaching groups, one teaching pick and no profile picture. But you have "done and seen pretty much everything (short of owning a business) that there is to do and see."

What school has a class where you explore virtual worlds? How much is this class and who in the hell would think it is a worthy college class? "Hey dad, I got an A in SecondLife!" "That's my boy!" 

And people wonder why humans are getting dumber.

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Perrie Juran wrote:


Cole Naire wrote:

Indeed. What is similarly puzzling, if your interpretation is correct, is that I was 
not
banned, despite using that same IP.

Your not being banned is one of the puzzling pieces.

I'm trying to apply Occam's Razor to the situation.

My guess would be that one or more of your Students did something they shouldn't have and somehow succeeded in implicating your whole class.

I'd be examining the Linden Dollar transaction history for each and every one of the Students.

That's the same thing LL looks at when dealing with fraud reports.  They follow the Linden trail.

 

I would bet that Cole's IP address when they created their av was a home one, not the school. that could be the reason.

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RudolphFarquhar wrote:

Do you have any association with Romania? LL has a history of shooting first and asking questions later if there is any connection with that delightful country.

**********Rudi**********

None that I am aware of.  I was born and bred in Brooklyn.

You do remind me of the words of the great Russian Prophet, Yakoff Smirnoff.  When asked what he thought was the biggest difference between Russia and America his response was, "The warning shot."

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Hi Drake. I'm sorry that you see no merit in teaching about new technologies and digital environments to students who, I might note, are already spending a great deal of their time in them. I'm not sure that you have a very clear notion of the course, however, or how SL is of use to scholars such as myself.

The course on virtual worlds that I teach is part of a program in "digital humanities," a field that explores the uses of digital technologies in the traditional fields of the arts and humanities. For this reason, the course examined, at both a theoretical level and through field trips, such things as the use of virtual environments for music, art, historical reconstruction and recreation, and virtual archaeology. It also touched, of course, upon the subject of online identities and self-representation, as well as community. I taught my students to build because digital humanities is very much about creating digital tools for humanities research. I was personally quite blown away by their inventiveness and creativity.

I myself use Second Life (as part of a much wider research program) for the 3D modeling of historical social and literary spaces. I have built a full-scale reconstruction from primary source evidence of a Restoration-era theatre (Drury Lane, ca. 1674). Visualizing stage and audience space through 3D renderings can tell one a great deal about how these spaces were used, and how they impacted upon the literary texts created within them, including such things as how a particular play may have been blocked out on a theatre stage. (Restoration stages were quite a bit different from modern ones.) I have also built a fully animated printing press from the hand-press era which is housed in an interactive museum on hand-press era printing, and which is a very useful tool for the teaching of 17th-century printing technologies.

This is the kind of thing that this course was about.

As for my own experience in Second Life, I don't feel it really necessary to provide you with a full CV, but will merely note that Cole is my "teaching" alt. I discovered some years ago that it was inconvenient being IMed by friends and colleagues while teaching.

I know you will be pleased to hear that my main, which is the avatar through which I do most of my building and research, has a much more interesting life.

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Cole Naire wrote:

Thanks Cerise. I suspect that something like what you describe is the case, although I'm going to retain my faith that no student did anything knowingly wrong. Again, I'm thinking that accepting a gift of Lindens is the most probable trigger.

Your theory about the extent of the bans is, like Perrie's, problematic only because one of my students had a year old account that was also banned.

As for your point about clubs, etc., and noobs: agreed. And again, I maintain that this is not merely a pointless exercise, but actually a self-destructive one. Luring new residents in Second Life with the promise of live music, socializing, and dancing, only to see them kicked out of the clubs to which they go is helping no one.

Some of the Clubs in SL have faced huge difficulties with not only Griefers but wanna be extortionists.  JunkYard Blues was attacked repeatedly and is now only open to group members.  It's easy to become a member, basically all you need to do is ask.  But they allow no accounts under one week old, no exceptions to that rule.

Last week was the first time in a while at another place I frequent we had to deal with an idiot.  Over a period of half an hour he showed up with 8 different accounts netting him with 8 Estate bans and several AR'S for racial intolerance.  The crap he was spewing was that bad.

I think any club owner might feel a little on edge if out of the blue a group of new Ava's showed up.

It's an unfortunate situation.

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It is unfortunate, and I wish I had a solution to offer (other than something invasive and itself extortionist such as Redzone).

It was rather odd, in the one instance, to be actually conversing with the owner, whom I apprised as to the nature of the group, while she banned my students one-by-one. it seemed, in that instance at least, an unnecessary precaution.

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Back in 2006-2007 when the New Media Consortium was praising Second Life education, my college (I did not attend at the time) was the University of West Florida. They had and still do have a very large Anthropology department. However, The parcel ($1500/yr) that the university used was for the computer engineering program. UWF canceled their contract after a year, the professors all said that there was no point in using the virtual space. Even the Archaeologists said that there are many other programs that allow for digital reproduction and are free to use. 

As for filling out your profile, non of the UWF profesors ever filled theirs out. Much of the NMC sims are still in Second Life, sort of a Time Capsul as they all seem to have their advertisements in-world stuck in 2006.

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Cole Naire wrote:

It was rather odd, in the one instance, to be actually conversing with the owner, whom I apprised as to the nature of the group, while she banned my students one-by-one. it seemed, in that instance at least, an unnecessary precaution.

 I'm very curious to know how that conversation went after you realized your students were getting tossed during it. You've only given us half the drama here. :)

 


Finneli Felwitch wrote:

UWF canceled their contract after a year, the professors all said that there was no point in using the virtual space. Even the Archaeologists said that there are many other programs that allow for digital reproduction and are free to use. 

I'd disagree for the kind of course Cole has described. If you want to study virtual cultures... you kind of need a space with people in it.

But I'm also not sure SL is the ideal choice. I'd put them in WoW - larger active population.

Also no need to console them on not saying things like "SL is a game" when this is something there is no agreement over - it is a hot topic, but one that people have multiple positions over. The better advice is "suggesting SL is or is not a game is going to land you in a debate."

 

I haven't seen this whole newbie paranoia. I must be in very different circles from some here (well that much I already know).

It is very strange that a whole class got zapped. But also strange that, if I read you right, no student has ever been zapped before.

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