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Howdy forum. I am writing to get your thoughts on using second life for teaching purposes. I understand more than 100 universities have created a virtual presence in SL. We have a few professors who would like to introduce SL into our curriculum and I was asked to put together a presentation on the pros and cons.

I would love to hear what different schools are doing and what those experiences have been. Please provide any insight you have!

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I'm really interested to find out more about your presentation and what you recommend after your research.

I have been personally exploring its uses for the past 5 months. There is a blog that I follow at http://muveforward.blogspot.com/ where the author has a lot of insights.

Issues that I have with Second Life are the learning curve and the slowness of the platform, even with a fast connection.

I think 3d environments will be very powerful in the future for education. The potential for collaboration and social presence is exciting.

I am not sure that Second Life in its current version is viable for our students and professors at this time.
This is an article about Second Life that ran recently in Wired magazine:

http://www.wired.com/techbiz/media/magazine/15-08/ff_sheep

If anything, the article is a warning against using SL for marketing/advertising purposes, and it may or may not be more viable to use it for some kind of online teaching.

As far as popularity of Second Life goes, it looks like it peaked at the beginning of last year and is on a bit of a downward slide:

http://www.google.com/trends?q=%22second+life%22
http://www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details/secondlife.com (you'll have to expand the date range)

To be fair, I don't have any experience with Second Life besides playing around with it for an evening, but I thought I would pass along a bit of the research I had done.
Kevin Lowey posted the following on the uwebd listserv which Gives an excellent overview of using SL in higher ed:


Hi,

The University of Saskatchewan has a presence in Second Life (on the New
Media Consortium island called "Teaching 6"). We lease a corner of their
island so it was relatively cheap to get started. You can visit it at
http://slurl.com/secondlife/Teaching%206/227/38/23

We started by putting together a U of S Second Life User Group (SLUG).
This brought together interested parties to discuss how we want to use
the land. Some of the more active members include our University
Learning Center (assists faculty and students), our Media Technology
department (interested in design and media integration), our College of
Education and especially the Educational Communications department
(focuses on teaching new teachers how to use technology in the
classroom), our Snelgrove Art Gallery curator (interested in putting on
art shows in a virtual version of the art gallery), our Computer Science
department, and myself from the IT department, interested in integration
with campus learning systems, scripting, etc.

We are still in the experimental stage. One of my complaints is we
haven't gotten together to work out a cohesive plan for the overall
space. Instead, we have three basically independent spaces on our land.
One for the art gallery (where he's put on a few art shows), one for the
College of Education ECMM department (where they have done a few
seminars and meetings), and one which is basically my sandbox to
experiment with various building and scripting techniques. There is a
danger of this getting "out of control" and becoming a huge hodge-podge
of unrelated things. (I'm probably the worst offender :)

Last year was the 100th anniversary of our University, and the 50th
anniversary of the use of computers on campus. I was involved in a few
Second Life demonstrations related to those topics. For example, we had
a big party to celebrate the 50th anniversary of computers on campus.
The president of the University was there along with some of the
computing pioneers. They wanted me to demo Second Life to show where we
may be heading in the next 50 years. I built a replica of our College
building (the first building built on campus, and also where we were
having the party). I also built a PDP 11/20 and PDP-8 computer that
simulated the front panel (but didn't emulate the op codes). These were
both a great hit with our President and the faculty who used these
computers in the 70s.

Some other things you will find is a skating rink where a snowman gives
you skates. When you wear the skates, your "walk" animation changes to a
"skate" animation. This let me experiment with tools to "give" things to
other people (like give students assignments), and gained familiarity
with animation overrides. There's also a Christmas Tree which generates
snow when you click on it (gave experience with the particle generator
in second life), and a horse circling this tree that you can sit on
(experience in controlling how to make avatars sit in specific places,
rotation and movement of objects, etc.).

To bring this back to the topic of web design, I was quite impressed
with the ability for Second Life to integrate with external applications
in its scripts.

* You can specify a "streaming audio" URL for a parcel of land that
allows people to hear pre-recorded or live streaming audio while
on that land. I have seen this used with, for example, live DJs
playing at Second Life raves. Could also be used for instruction
and conferences.
* Can specify a url to external media that gets displayed on the
side of objects. Until recently, this could only be quicktime
movies. However, the latest candidate release is supposed to let
it be any URL. So, for example, you could display an image from a
web site, or even a web page, on the side of an object.
* Every object in second life has its own email address, and the
scripting language can also send email to external addresses. So,
for example, every time my snowman gives someone some skates, it
emails me to tell me who it gave skates to. I could set up an
object so I could email it instructions in an email message, and
the object would act on those instructions (for example, change
shape or colour), I have seen complete email clients written to
run on laptops running virtually in second life.
* Objects can interact with web-based forms and web sites. For
example, I have seen translation programs that hook into the chat
system. You specify what language another person is speaking. The
script then sends whatever that person is saying to a web-based
translation program, then takes the translated results and
displays it in the chat. I have also seen AI Chatbots that do the
same thing by communicating with external "A.L.I.C.E" chat engines.
* External applications can send SOAP-style XML remote procedure
calls to objects within Second Life. So, for example, I could
build a "Magic 8-ball" object in second life. You shake it, then
it does some animations and randomly displays the fortune. I could
also build this so that a person could visit an external web page
to get the fortune. The page would contact the 8-ball in second
life, and get the response.

This opens a lot of opportunities for integration with learning
management systems. If you use Moodle, you may be interested in
"SLOODLE" which adds integration with second life to Moodle. For
example, people in second life could click on a "chat" object which asks
permission to share their chat with a moodle class. If they agree, then
whatever they say int eh chat in second life also appears in the chat in
the external moodle class and what is typed in the moodle class also
appears in the chat in second life. They also have cool widgets, like
doors to buildings that only open if the person is listed in the class
list for a specific Moodle course.

Overall, I think that systems like Second Life have a lot of potential for:

* Distance education - pulling people together from large distances
for "face to face" interaction.
* Simulations. Things like my PDP computers, or simulations of being
inside a cell in the body, help to show concepts that are hard to
visualize from a book. Second Life could be used as a 'poor man's
virtual reality cave" where the environment can be built without
having to build a special room.
* Virtual conferences / meetings. The New Media Consortium has
developed a lot of tools that assist in presentations and
management of large groups within second life. I have been to a
few conferences which were quite successful.


On the negative side:

* You need a relatively high end computer with a good graphics card
and a good network connection. No dialups on ten year old computers.
* There is a bit of a learning curve to get started. Especially if
you are not used to the online virtual world environments.
* Politically, you have to educate people that Second Life is not a
game. A lot of people see the interface, and thing SL is just like
World of Warcraft or other multi user online games. The main
difference is that in World of Warcraft, the world and tasks are
pretty much laid out for you by the game designers. In Second
Life, there are no game designers. Or to be more accurate,
EVERYONE is a game designer. We can all build objects, write
scripts, and tailor the environment we are building.
* There are some issues with security and confidentiality of
information. For example, the SL computers are hosted in the
United States and subject to the Patriot Act laws, which may mean
there are severe restrictions for Universities outside the USA on
what kind of personal information can be stored.


- Kevin Lowey
I've experimented in SL myself and wrote an article about how urban planning and land use concepts are being applied in Second Life.

As part of the research for that article, I took four different classes through SL University to learn how to use sims, build simple gadgets (like a trampoline that would propel you 500 feet into the air), and understand the basics of LSL (Linden Scripting Language). The classes were very effective, and I felt that simple instructional courses like this were extremely effective, particularly when the participants are widely distributed. (Attached is an image of what the course looked like.) The quality of the instructors who taught these courses varied widely.

Unrelated to my own learning experience, I also happened to stumble across a fun promotion video from the University of Ohio on how they're using SL:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFuNFRie8wA
From this morning's University Business:

"Sizing Up Second Life"
University Business, 3/28/2008

"This feature article in the March 2008 issue of University Business has generated nearly 10,000 page views to the archived version of the article on UB's website. The piece, written by UB Editor Tim Goral, is about how higher ed institutions are learning how to live in a virtual world. A link can be found on UniversityBusiness.com's new Technology Channel."

Full text:
http://universitybusiness.com/viewarticle.aspx?articleid=1023

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