Second Thoughts About Second Life

Second thoughts implies that I've changed my mind, but really I never made up my mind about Second Life. Lots of educators are talking about Second Life. Schools are spending real money creating islands and buildings there. Professors are holding classes there.

Many college professors are turning to Second Life, the popular virtual-reality world, to provide distant students with a colorful, three-dimensional environment for learning. Aaron E. Walsh, an adjunct faculty member at Boston College's Woods College of Advancing Studies, also sees a need for online worlds that are dedicated to education and devoid of sexually-oriented material that many complain is too prevalent in Second Life.

His software project, Immersive Education, is to have more than 250 colleges collaborate to develop standards and best practices for education-only virtual environments.

Walsh also worries that students are becoming addicted to virtual worlds, an affliction he called "immersive illness." At this point, he feels one protection against that spreading is the limitations of our personal computers, but that will change.

If you still need an intro to Second Life, try these online video reports done by ABC News in Australia.

Remember when the Reuters news service put journalists into SL reporting and writing financial and cultural stories within and about Second Life? "In 'Second Life,' we're making Reuters part of a new generation," Reuters Chief Executive Tom Glocer said in a statement. "We're playing an active role in this community by bringing the outside world into 'Second Life' and vice versa."

One mashup that interests me educationally is Sloodle. Heard of it? It's a Second Life interface to the open source course mangaemnet system Moodle. All of the chats done in your class in SL can be automatically ported to a Moodle discussion board.

Or start your exploration with some colleges. Vasser offers a on-demand tour in SL. (If you have SL installed on your computer, you only need to know the Vassar SLURL. ( allows external links through the Second Life World Map to locations in-world).

Princeton has information about its efforts in virtual worlds.

Case Western Reserve has a virtual campus for prospective students that seems to have cost about $30K to build.

Libraries are exploring too, but some have second thoughts. Mark Y. Herring, Dean of Library Services at Winthrop University, wrote in Library Journal:

What are we hoping to accomplish with Second Life? I know that public libraries are trying to reach out to the, uh, otherworldly with ethereal services, and there is something to be said for going where the audience is. A handful of academic libraries are also present on Second Life, busily working away, reaching out to would-be gnomes and out-of-the-closet sprites. But here's a novel idea. Wouldn't all this human—let me phrase it euphemistically—ingenuity be better served if applied to real libraries?

We tried at my library to see what could be done with Second Life. But after our tech guru spent the better part of a week investigating, we were nowhere closer to finding a use for it, without, of course, using real money to pay for a presence in an unreal world. I'm saying so long to Second Life, at least for now, and if our library gets passed by, well, so be it. I believe it was Simonides who counseled that when people are this wise, it's best to be otherwise. For now we'll concentrate on real services to real patrons by offering real information to their real inquiries.

One library that has found a use is Santa Clara University’s new library. It won’t be open until fall 2008 but you can tour it online in Second Life. That's interesting, but hardly "educational." At MIT you can tour your dorm before you select where you want to live, but I'd be more interested in MIT's efforts to teach or learn in SL types of environments.

KarineKarine Joly has been posting about Second Life for a while now. She wrote a piece in University Business on what SL might offer colleges.

She suggested jumping in as the best introduction and I agree.

It's not that difficult to get started and won't cost you real life money. I think it is difficult for most users to move to the next level of building & creating and that will cost you money.

She suggests that you

  1. sign up for a free account on the registration page (free to explore, but it will cost you to build or do anything substantial there - and there is a world for the under-18 student at
  2. download the client & install it on your computer
  3. open the application and start walking (use the arrows on your keyboard) around "Welcome Island"
  4. find interesting places to visit - use the SL client search engine or try some links she has collected
  5. Karine Apogee (her SL name) recommends that you request a free guest membership to the NMC Campus. The New Media Consortium membership will allow you to take part in their public events with the integrated SL voice chat feature.

There has been some discussion at NJIT about building in SL. We have the NJ School of Architecture as part of NJIT, so they would seem to be the natural college to be doing it. But historically, NJSoA has stayed away from even distance learning, so would virtual classes have any appeal or would it be seen as just a way to create virtual environments and buildings (things) rather than a place to do teaching & learning?

One education connection that interests me

The Second Life creators at Linden Labs recognize the interest of educators in their world. You might want to sign up for their education mailing list (you don't get enough email yet, do you?), read the PDF of the proceedings from the last SLCC Educator Workshops or check out the SL Education Wiki.

You can't have second thoughts without having first thoughts, so the only way to really judge Second Life is enter it.

Still a bit apprehensive about going virtual? At least look at some of the many videos on YouTube about SL (many recorded in SL itself) like one that Ohio University did as a promotion, or this interview with Kurt Vonnegut in SL, or how San Jose State is using SL for distance learning.


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