Saturday, September 12, 2009

Second Life

For those of you who do not have a presence in Second Life, it probably seems to be some sort of virtual game and possibly a waste of time for those who are firmly rooted in reality. However, I have been exploring SL as a potential place for virtual classrooms, and can say that it is a surprisingly rich and complex place, with tremendous potential! One school I know in Australia, with an excellent reputation and very strong academic programs, has an entire presence in SL. Many universities use SL for virtual classes, and its use is beginning to spread among high schools.

This isn't a game...its a place where you can create simulations (such as college interviews with real college admissions officers), where a school with deficient resources can create a chem lab (where there is no danger of spilling chemicals or causing an explosion) or support a flying club with a flying simulator, where teachers can take their classes to visit the Sistine Chapel or Paris in 1900 or have an immersive and multimedia experience at the US Holocaust Museum. There are hundreds and hundreds of 'sims' (simulations) that people have built there, and it could take years to explore everything SL has to offer. And skilled users can build their own sims to suit their classroom needs.

Last week, ISTE (the International Society for Technology in Education), which is about as upstanding and legitimate a tech organization as you can imagine, held a conference in SL. Almost 200 teachers from all over the world attended, listening and watching presenters from all over the world talk about the ISTE Tech Standards and the immersive opportunities SL offers. My virtual friend Louise, who has a full-time job at ISTE working with their SL presence, sent me this link which shows a recording of the conference. You can capture some of the experience of attending a virtual conference by watching it...imagine how much money schools saved by allowing teachers and administrators to attend in virtual space.

There is still room for growth in SL; there are occasional technology glitches that have to be managed, users need to have developed the 'gaming skills' to know how to work their avatar, and yes, there are distracting things there, too. Much of what exists in real life also exists in Second Life...but there is a large and growing cadre of professionals who are making use of SL as a learning and collaboration environment, and there is plenty of reason to develop a professional presence there. And for the kids...there is a completely secure and isolated 'grid' (what SL calls their world) where access is only granted to students and teachers, and it is closely monitored and managed so that it is a safe and educational place. You even need to go through a real-life security screening to have access there as an adult...they take this stuff very seriously.

There is tons more...SL is a complex and fascinating place, and a lot has been and is being written about it. I suggest that the potential is much larger than most non-users can realize; try it out and see.

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