the current state of Second Life®

Right now at the beginning of 2008, of what use to higher education is Second Life? I have a few ideas about the current direction that educational experiences should take, but I admit that I haven’t taught in Second Life, and I will probably miss something.

Second Life® has some characteristics that should guide our thinking about education:

Second Life® is. . . .

  1. Social.
    1. The social aspect of SL would lend itself very well to any assignment requiring interviewing, surveying, or role playing. I’ve posted before on an often-taught course on field research which is made valuable by the large numbers of SL residents and their willingness to talk to strangers. The varied purposes for which people go to SL would offer interesting responses to surveys. Such interviewing/surveying could be the subject of a writing assignment, rather than a statistical assignment.
    2. Role playing, whether for understanding a practice in Education or Psychology or Social work, takes advantage of the social presence of the avatar, as well as the sense that one is already playing a role, even if it’s as an extension of oneself.
  2. Creative.
    1. Building is one of the main activities for users in SL, in fact that’s how SL has flourished, by users creating the environment. Everyone should try his or her hand with the building tools at some level. Any discipline that involves creativity/creation is ripe for work in SL–art, drama, interior and fashion design, film making. But even in other fields, being able to build/create can be useful. Having students build larger-than-life replicas of scientific organisms can be one use in the sciences. In business, a student -built store and product can inspire a case study in marketing.
  3. Immersive.
    1. SL would be a good place for long-term projects that require spending a lot of time in the environment doing research. The immersive quality–that ability to lose oneself in the work or environment–might be better directed to graduate work that can occur over longer periods of time than undergraduates have in a term. But it might also attract faculty research.
  4. Global.
    1. Because avatars can visit areas literally around the world in SL, any subject that is looking for a global learning experience might find a useful version of it in SL. Students learning a world language might be able to find places where they can practice speaking and writing to native speakers. Although a lot like tourism, one can build up quite a broad list of real life places that have been replicated in SL.

I don’t really want to prescribe what can be done in SL; I’d rather leave that up to your imagination. There are limitations to what can be usefully done–there is no reason to recreate real life or to meet one’s class there just for the sake of being there. I would rather that fewer, but more innovative experiences take place in our space.

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