into the weird

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.


Categories: technology

3 replies

  1. Barb,

    After reading your entry on Second Life, I was so intrigued with the educational possibilities that I signed up and gave it a try. I didn’t last long though. As soon as I started walking into the world, somehow I ended up as a disembodied fox-head floating around. I must have done something wrong. Anyway, I eventually disappeared for good, and I couldn’t figure out how to reconstruct an avatar image. I’m sure I would be fine if I devoted more time, but it did seem complex. So I decided to cancel my membership and give it a try later when I have more time.

    It is amazing to think about the educational possibilities for various courses.


  2. Ha, ha. I have seen fox characters, but they all have bodies. It took me a while to figure out that if you right-click on yourself, you get a menu with an appearance item in it. If I had any SL money, and 3-D scripting ability, I would set up a body shop for floating heads.


  3. Barb,

    I have done much reading and research about Second Life this week, since your post. I have to confess that I am completely taken by it, even without having experienced it myself. (I will soon.) Check out this link: impressive mathematical sculptures
    This is someone from Stanford I guess who creates mathematical sculptures in-world.

    If I could learn some scripting, and I know that I could, I could actually accomplish some things for my classes that I always thought would be life-long dreams. For instance, instead of drawing 3D surfaces on the board, or using a piece of software to draw better-than-blackboard depictions of them for the students to look at, I could create surfaces under which the students could walk, over which they could fly, and through which they could explore. Calculus would never be the same. Nor would statistics. I can imagine all sorts of statistical projects that could be done that would be much more genuine and more “real world” than what we currently have students do.

    So, I guess I was wondering what you thought about Mercyhurst actually trying this. I know that some colleges and universities already have their own islands and do serious classroom work in this world. But still, it is not many. We could be an institution that is out front on this. We would just need a cadre of some dedicated faculty, interested in giving it a serious try. When you first hear about the cost, it seems prohibitive. But, honestly, the cost of maintaining an island is less than the cost of paying one person to teach one class section (less than $2000, right?) In the grand scheme of things, if good work is being done with it, that is nothing.

    Why couldn’t we get a handful of faculty that would first try it out on their own with the goal of acquiring some skills? Then, each would try out the free educational thing for a semester. After that, if Mercyhurst is impressed with what was accomplished, we get our island. We could of course meet with each other periodically to see how things are going and to help one another. I can think of one or two faculty members who would be game. I would for sure.

    I’m going to be sad, now, if this doesn’t happen. It has to! I’m convinced it’s the future.



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