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Deep Down / Tuesday, 09 November 2010 10:59

Using Deep Down and the Virtual Mine to teach

town2_300x169Deep Down, an educational documentary that explores complex issues around the environment, natural resource extraction, and socioeconomics in a small Appalachian town, is an excellent tool for teaching. The Virtual Mine, a companion transmedia project, is a multi-chapter game in Second Life. In thinking about your instructional goals, consider that experiencing this media and facilitating discussions present many opportunities for teachable moments and interactive experiences:

Identity, representation, and empathy

In Second Life, students have the opportunity to choose a character to identify themselves, and then to modify the character.  This offers opportunities for talking about how we represent ourselves online, why we make certain character choices, and why we identify with certain characters. It can also be an opportunity to discuss stereotypes. 


  1. Why did you choose the character you chose?  What changes did you make to that character, and why?
  2. What is a stereotype or preconception?  What stereotypes are there of Appalachian people?  Were the people in the documentary Deep Down stereotypical?
  3. How do we represent ourselves on the Internet?  Are you more likely to make negative comments on a web site if they are anonymous?

Problem solving and collaboration

"Some of the most successful experiments have involved peer-to-peer learning, with students encouraged to work with each other to solve a problem or present an issue in a compelling manner."
[PDF] Best Practices for Nonprofits in Second Life, Rik Panganiban, Global Kids, 2007

Exploration and environmental discovery

bulldozer_300x169The Virtual Mine and Second Life in general is a great space to explore.  The Virtual Mine contains mountain topography and natural features, a coal mine site, an old cemetery, a small town., and plenty of hidden goodies such as videos, information signs, animals, and spaces to explore.  You may want to give players some time to explore and preview the Virtual Mine on their own, and "bring back" a discovery they made to the group.  This also gets new players a chance to learn Second Life controls and navigation at their own speed before beginning game play.

In-depth discussion guide for Deep Down

This discussion guide, prepared by ITVS Community Cinema, provides a brief history of mining in the Appalachian mountains, several facts and information sources, discussion questions, and resources for more information.
[PDF] Deep Down Discussion guide from ITVS Community Cinema

The Virtual Mine game

power_plant_300x169Getting started

The Virtual Mine game can be played in groups or by individuals.  The goal of the game is to advance through the first three levels sequentially to achieve "mini-game" outcomes at each level.  Every level contains a video prompt leading players to begin the next phase of this energy story.

Choosing an avatar

Each player chooses an Avatar to begin.  (If you like, players can also be given a few minutes to customize their avatars.)  If playing as a group, the team leader or instructor chooses the forman avatar. When jumping into the game via its SLURL, each player will be offered a yellow hard hat and Deep Down HUD; each player should "accept" both objects and then drag and drop them onto their avatar. A foreman hard hat and HUD can be obtained by clicking the information graphic located on the hillside next to the cabin.

The mining hats give the players game controls.  The player wearing the red forman hat has the ability to stop and start game play and advance game levels as well as monitor the actions of other users.  This is the hard hat that should be worn by the teacher or group leader; individual players who are playing the game alone should also choose the red foreman hat so the player can advance through the game levels.

controls_foreman controls_teamplayer

Getting oriented

Where are we?  The Virtual Mine is a special place in Second Life, created by documentary filmmakers who made a film called Deep Down.  The story and place you are about to experience is modeled after Maytown, Kentucky, the first-life town where Deep Down takes place.  In the game, you are invited to participate in a story as it develops.  You can take actions to solve the power crisis in Maytown.

The story unfolds in three chapters.  If you are successful in solving all three problems, each player will receive a ticket to the Community Jam -- a very exclusive old time music and square dance party.

Before each chapter, a video news report will set the stage for your task.  Let's begin.

When each player is wearing a mining hat and standing near the starting point, you are ready to begin Level 1: Mining for Power.


CHAPTER 1: Mining for Power


Location: Top of the mountain next to the cabin starting point. Gather near the information graphics.
News prompt: Power crisis in Maytown! Rolling blackouts expected.
Goal: to mine enough coal to meet the power demands of Maytown.


  • Ride the bulldozers and use them to knock down trees.  
  • Prepare the explosives by clicking each of the warning flags to place an explosive, and then clear the area.
  • Detonate the explosives to reveal seams of coal by clicking the red trigger near the information graphics.
  • Load coal onto the conveyer belt using a drag line.  Arrow keys move the drag line and page up/page down raises/drops the bucket.
  • Drive the dump trucks up the hill, stopping underneath the tipple to load the truck with coal, then move coal from the tipple down the hill, stopping at the train loading conveyor to dump the coal there.
  • When the train is full, it will automatically move on to its destination: the coal fired power plant.
  • Learning: Process of mountaintop removal coal mining, its association with the production of electricity, and its environmental effects.

Chapter 1 activities



  • Why do we mine coal in this way?
  • What were the steps involved in mountaintop removal coal mining?
  • What might be some of the negative impacts of this form of mining?  (On the land and environment?  On the people who live nearby?)


foreman_bulldozersMoving around the mine site, what are some things you notice?  What has changed, if anything, about the environment?  How have the sounds, land, air, and water changed?  (Prompts: noise, dust, water color, air and water pollution.)



[web] U.S. Energy Information Administration: FAQs about electricity and Annual Energy Review and data
[web] U.S. Office of Surface Mining
[web] iLoveMountains


  • How are units of electricity measured?
  • How much do consumers of electricity pay?
  • Where does your electricity at home come from?
  • Have the number of coal mining jobs increased or decreased over the past few decades, and why might this be?

Short videos to watch and discuss

[web] Article and discussion questions for "A birds-eye view: SouthWings Pilot"

CHAPTER 2: Reducing demand


News prompt: Crisis takes new form: health effects
Goal: To turn off as many electrically-powered items as possible, reducing demand for electricity in Maytown.
Actions: Touch/Click objects to turn off anything in town that is consuming electricity.
Learning: Awareness of consumption of electricity; connection of electricity to mountaintop removal coal mining; what we can do to reduce our consumption.

Chapter 2 activities

Short videos to watch and discuss

[video] Down River: Coal-fired power plants in Southeastern Ohio

[web] Deep Down's faith-based discussion guide (also available as PDF download)

  • How might mountaintop removal mining and coal fired power production affect people's health?
  • What are some things we can do at home to reduce those impacts?
  • What are other ways of generating electricity?

[web] Estimating Appliance and Home Electronic Energy Use - note sample consumption amounts at bottom of page.
[web] Power usage calculator form

[web] NRDC: How to Reduce Your Energy Consumption

CHAPTER 3: Alternative energies


Build sustainable power generation for Maytown

[video: near barns on outskirts of town] News prompt: System error: Farmer takes over our news report!
Goal: Build solar and wind power terminals by solving each puzzle.
Puzzle 1: Solar power. Click to "pick up" and click again to "place" solar panels on the rooftops so they fill the roofs to maximize solar energy.
Puzzle 2: Wind power. Click pieces in the proper order to build wind turbines.
Puzzle 3: Hydro-electric power. Click to "pick up" and click again to "place" pipes to avoid geologic barriers so water flows from the source through the turbines.
Learning: The use of solar, wind, and hydroelectric power as sources of renewable energy with low environmental and human impacts.

Upon successful completion of chapter 3, each player will receive a "ticket" to the Community Jam.

Chapter 3 activities


Short video to watch and discuss

[video] Berea College: Alternatives & actions


  • What does "sustainable" or "renewable" mean in reference to electricity?
  • What are some of the "alternatives" discussed at Berea College?
  • How might the food we consume contribute directly or indirectly to global warming?  
  • Do you know where your food was made and the journey your food takes to reach you?  What are potential environmental effects at each stage of the food chain, and how does this compare to the electricity chain?
  • Besides mountaintop removal mining, what are other ways to produce electricity?  Why does some types of electricity cost less than others?

CHAPTER 4: Community jam


Celebrate Appalachian culture, and learn what you can do

Location and actions: Go back to the town square, and click on a dance ball to dance along as musicians from Deep Down play some old-time tunes at the local square dance.  While you're at it, find out where your own power comes from, what you can do to save the mountains, and how you can save your family money in the process.

Learning: Awareness and appreciation for the culture and music of Appalachia, and actions we can take to prevent environmental impacts from mountaintop removal coal mining.

[RSS] Take Action
[RSS] News about mountaintop removal mining
[web] Find out where your power comes from
[web] Watch the documentary film Deep Down and see other resources on the Deep Down site

Additional Second Life resources for educators

Watch Draxtor Despres' machinema on Global Kids

Global kids use Second Life for education. Rik Panganiban from Global Kids, who advised the creators of the Virtual Mine during the BAVC Producers Institute, is featured in Drax's reportage:

Latest News from Deep Down

Reel Power Grassroots Mini-Grant Recipients Announced

This month, the screenings of "Deep Down" and other Reel Power films begin across the nation.  Check out the "supertrailer" for this collection of powerful environmental films that together, tell a much bigger picture about energy and our relationship to it.