[tsl/leadership] Workshop on “Gas at $4 a Gallon”

As part of my last week as a Global Kids OLP intern, I was offered the opportunity to run a Fireside workshop in Second Life. I was looking forward to designing and running this workshop for the last few weeks, as it requires creativity, planning, and the chance to work directly with teens. I knew that previous Fireside workshops have focused on topics like homophobia and racial inequality and have sparked meaningful discussion among teens, so I wanted to select a topic that would get them similarly interested and engaged. After considerable thought, I had the idea of running a workshop about rising gas prices and oil dependency, entitled, “Gas at $4 a Gallon: What are the Implications?”

The first step in this process involved thinking about the different issues that are associated with gas prices reaching $4 a gallon. With our country’s gas reaching peak prices, we are beginning to see consumers evaluating their dependency on their vehicles. Although less dependency on gas makes it harder to get around, as people drive shorter distances and to fewer places, the benefits can be great in the long run. As fewer people drive, we are reducing toxic emissions, clearing the roads of traffic, and reducing accidents. A greater number of people are considering walking and bicycling as alternatives to driving. As we look to alternative forms of energy, we also have to consider the effect it has on other industries. The use of corn for ethanol, for example, means that the corn that could have been used as food is being used as fuel, which drives up the prices of corn. It is important to understand the forces of supply and demand at play here, which is something this workshop was designed to address.

Rafi was the co-moderator of this workshop, and Shawna provided assistance during the various activities. Rafi and I communicated via voice headsets to the participants, while they responded to the discussion in the local chat box. This allowed us to “see” the discussion as it was happening and answer questions smoothly. Before it began, teens gathered expressed enthusiasm at the workshop’s title. After going over the GK guidelines, we started the first warm-up activity, in which we had participants provide a definition of supply and demand. The teens had a solid understanding of the concept of supply and demand, so the teens proceeded to brainstorm the pros and cons of gas prices reaching $4 a gallon. These discussions led into the main activity, the “Stakeholder Matrix.”

Fireside Workshop: Oil Dependency
A teen changes his avatar as he participates in a role play where he represents the Nigerian group, MEND

The Stakeholder Matrix was an activity that was previously used at the U.S. in the World: International Law and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations last week. We adapted the Stakeholder Matrix to fit our Teen Second Life model, which was an easy transition. Each group of teens was given a note card with one of four subject headings: Movement for the Emancipation for the Niger Delta (or MEND, which is a Nigerian militia group that opposes the environmental degradation of their homeland caused by the influx of oil companies and multinational corporations.) Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Exxon Mobil, and Oil Dependency in America (American Consumers). The participants gave short presentations on their topic so that all of the groups had an understanding of the perpetuators of and people affected by the oil crisis.

The last activity was a “lightning round” of trivia questions. In response to each hypothetical scenario, students had to say whether the price of oil would increase, decrease, or stay the same. (An example of the questions asked would be: In an effort to counteract the projected losses from the turmoil in the Niger Delta, Exxon Mobil executives decide to distribute 10% less crude oil to major American metropolitan markets. What happens to the price? Answer: The price of oil will increase.)

At the end of the workshop, which ran for an hour and 45 minutes, I asked the students if they enjoyed the activity. All of them said “yes,” and a handful asked when the next GK workshop was being offered. The fact that some first-time students enjoyed the workshop enough to want to come back was very gratifying. Seeing the curriculum we designed being implemented was also rewarding, as I got a good sense of how virtual worlds education takes place, and the types of civic-minded dialogue it fosters.

I would also like to thank the members of the OLP and GK team for helping see this workshop come to fruition, and for all the support they have given me throughout the summer. You have been a wonderful group of people to get to know and learn from!

- Mike Young
GK Watson Fellow