Update 1/22: Read about Second Life on CNN Money.
Okay, it’s true, I have an avatar in Second Life. No, I can’t tell you what my SL name is because I don’t want any RL (that’s Real Life) weirdos stalking me in SL or RL. I’m 6’5″ and look a lot better since I got some skin and a pair of glasses. I’m still learning how not to walk into trees and walls, but I have learned how to earn Linden dollars (SL currency) by doing such things as relaxing in a chair for a required period. I think I have $17 currently. As you may have read, SL is a lot about commerce; there are real stores where you can buy just about anything. But my favorite places are the coffee houses where the espresso and donuts are free, and the clubs where you can dance.
So what? you may ask. Well, there are educators and educational spaces in SL, too, which can be privately set up for a class–only one semester for free. Or if your institution has some extra cash lying about, you can buy your own island for around $1000 (RL currency) and $150/month maintenance fees. But then you need someone who can script a 3D world for you to create the campus. Much research goes on in SL, such as the interesting new group of drama educators (DEISL) doing work on role-playing, or the ecological research space.
Short of being at an institution with digital-world designers and researchers, though, what could be the value of such an in-world experience? For that, you really have to try it out to see how you feel walking around in a computer world with your name above your head, talking to whomever you meet there, and interacting with the environment. I can tell you that it doesn’t take long to have a sense of presence in Second Life, to feel that you are there, that your avatar is you–or at least another you.
I think it would be great to conduct office hours or a required discussion there. Imagine having a group of your students and you sitting in some sunny park or coffee house talking about a course project or subject. Much better than the faceless Virtual Classroom on Blackboard! Wouldn’t such an environment be the right place to talk about social or psychological or political issues in a group? Or even to conduct a social experiment? Here I am on the SL Campus of Ohio University waiting for students to arrive. Join me?
Oh, and did I mention that you can fly or teleport in SL? Finally some of the Jetsons‘ vision is coming true.