Technology Is No Substitute for Real-World Experience

Ann All

There was plenty of Google Kool-Aid in Google CEO Eric Schmidt's recent addresses to graduates of Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pennsylvania, as evidenced by excerpts on TechCrunch. For instance, Schmidt urged students to "do things in a group," as "Groups are stronger, groups are faster. None of us is as smart as all of us."


In a statement that will no doubt inspire eye rolls among the cynics who knock Google for its sometimes unfocused approach to business, Schmidt said:

You cannot plan innovation. You cannot plan invention. All you can do is try very hard to be at the right place and be ready.

Schmidt threw in a chaser of the real world when he suggested grads should turn off their phones and computers to "discover all that is human around us." This aside may seem a bit unexpected coming from the leader of a company whose properties include YouTube, which has encouraged many youngsters to conclude life is somehow most relevant when lived online in front of millions of strangers. But coming from Schmidt, maybe it'll get some tech-obsessed acolytes to listen.


I hope his statements make their way to Julie Shannan, a Texas State Technical College student who, reports, earned a virtual digital media design certficate after taking a course in Second Life. Shannan's avatar served as her commencement speaker during a virtual ceremony attended by some other avatars, a portion of which can be seen in a YouTube clip accompanying the SFGate item. The clip touts Shannan's coursework as "an entire college program offering delivered entirely within a virtual world" and notes it "represents the validity of virtual world education as a real method for educational delivery." Though not seen in this clip, the article quotes Shannan as saying:

In my second life, I have explored the inside of computers and servers, collaborated with people across the world, traveled to world class art museums, built 3D products for my logo designs, explored a tsunami from the ocean floor, and many more experiences I could never do in my real world.

Except, uh, talking to real people, a skill that I expect Shannan will need even in a tech-focused career like digital media design. It's pretty hard to hone your interpersonal communication skills when no actual people are involved. I do hope she will try to duplicate some of her online experiences in the real world. With air fares dropping practically by the day, I'd like to think maybe she could visit a physical art museum or two, for instance.


While I don't expect virtual life to supercede real life in education any time soon (if ever), SFGate does note that Bryant & Stratton College will host a virtual graduation ceremony next month.

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May 22, 2009 9:42 AM Julie Shannan Julie Shannan  says:

As the first graduate in a virtual world I would like to comment. (yes, your statements made their way to me thanks to "google alerts"). In addition to pursuing a virtual education program in new media and design, I have a bachelor degree in biology from UT Austin. I have been to many museums all around the world, but I have never visited several all over the world in less then 1 hour, which is possible in Second Life.

As a director of Girlstart, a nonprofit that educates and inspires girls in math, science and technology, I am looking for new technology avenues that we can use and embrace to bring science and technology to life. And Second Life has the ability to supplement and expand 2D learning experiences into a 3D experience for students.

TSTC is using Second Life as an AVENUE that is convenient and accessible for students, while adding a virtual world interaction with other students and instructions. It is not a substitute for my real life. I DO know how to talk to people in the real life, I run a nonprofit and speak several times a year at local and national conferences. I also participated as a panelist for TechCrunch last year (and I was the only female on a panel of 20 CEOs and Technology founders and directors), further showing the need to inspire girls more to pursue these subjects AND that I know how to hold my own and communicate to others.

I hope instead of being afraid that virtual worlds will "supersede real life in education", you will embrace the educational opportunities it brings for students, teachers, and life long learners like myself.

May 22, 2009 12:54 PM Ann All Ann All  says: in response to Julie Shannan

Thanks for your non-knee jerk response, Julie. In no way did I mean to assail you personally. Rather my post was meant to point out the dangers of focusing so strongly on technology that broader business (and personal) needs are neglected. It's a running theme of this blog. Obviously, an equally problematic approach is to cling to the old ways, because "that's how it's always been done."

May 19, 2010 12:35 PM ep ep  says: in response to Ann All

It's funny how you say that you were not assailing her personally when you said that she needs to learn how to talk to people in real life...

I don't think that getting an online certificate is going to hinder interpersonal communication development. It is actually better than taking an online course because you still get some level of interaction.

May 19, 2010 12:36 PM ep ep  says: in response to ep

by online certificate, I mean a certificate in Second Life


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