Second Life – It’s Not a Game!

Educational Uses of SL

    Second Life – More than a Game!

I heard about Second Life several months ago and, being a former MUSH (Multi-User Shell) role-player during the mid-nineties, I was intrigued. The role-playing environment has graduated big time from text on a page to a 3-dimensional virtual world. Busy as my life is, I was enticed in for a “tour” over the December holiday break.

I must say, what I saw did impress me. While I still fumble around quite a bit when I am in the environment, it offers a dazzling array of features. There is no audio – yet (soon to come and most impressive, apparently), but there is a text chat feature so one may communicate in varying ways (private, just to one individual, etc.).

The potential of Second Life has certainly created a buzz amongst educators. At the Connectivism Conference two weeks ago, the interest in SL was great and a number of tours were arranged during the course of the week. Unfortunately, my own schedule was crazy, and I was unable to attend any of the tours. Jeffrey Keefer posts about SL in his blog as he sees the “connection” between theory and practice of connectivism taking place in SL.

Also, it was interesting to see several sessions about Second Life available at the 2007 Illinois Online Conference last week. I attended one very interesting session about how to create educational objects through scripting code in Second Life. The presenter shared a number of online resources and tutorials for available for free for scripting code in SL.

    Language and Culture Group

A few days ago, I was sent an invitation to attend a group meeting of English Second Language Teachers who were meeting in Second Life to discuss an initiative of Language and Culture Education in SL. I decided to drop in on the meeting to see what it was about.

I fumbled and bumbled my way in and joined the skypecast conversation that was taking place between the members as they were in SL. More than a dozen avatars were present, representing real-life teachers from countries such as Brazil, Sweden, Germany, Spain, the UK, and the US. A few were high school teachers, but most were college teachers or teachers of adult learners. We discussed how we would like to create a database of lesson plans that could be used by educators who wanted to use SL as an environment to augment the teaching of language and culture.

I applaud the educators who are pushing ahead with such an initiative. We need visionaries who take risks and explore new technology tools for the creation of the best learning situations. I hope they will document their successes and failures for those of us who are not ready yet to take the plunge into this kind of online environment.

    Questions Raised

  • Second Life certainly has the environment for these kinds of lessons to take place. In fact, it would be quite exciting to see this take place. My question, though, is are we ready for it?
  • Can we get past the gaming rep that Second Life has?
  • Second Life is still very much the “new frontier” of online environments. Yes, it could be a learning environment – in fact, is being used as such by several colleges and universities even now. No, there is no research to support its efficacy. It is still *too new*. Are there researchers exploring SL’s (or similar life simulation environments) educational potential?
  • Is the tool driving the content? As always, educators must ask themselves what is the best tool to provide learning opportunities. So it is with all the tools we use. If we use SL, we may need to get our students or learners past the first “gee whiz” stage before openness to learning can take place.
  • An educational use of SL would require a teacher that is comfortable with the SL environment and who is technology fluent. Not many in my faculty (not sure even me!) would fit that criteria. The learning curve to become adept in SL may well be too steep for many. Who is willing to offer teacher training for use of SL?
  • Also, SL is still quite open and therefore not entirely safe for our K-12 students. I would need to be convinced that my students would not be exposed to something dangerous or unsavoury. Who will make SL safe and when will that happen?
  • Then there is the question of bandwidth and hardware requirements for the SL program. Only those with access to these requirements would be able to use SL. Obviously, this excludes a lot of people. Can the SL program be made leaner, meaner, and more stable?
    • The Potential of Second Life

    Still, educators – especially those that are “ready” for it – should not ignore the potential of SL.

    Although I obviously have many questions about Second Life (and I am a rank newbie!), I am pleased that many early adopting teachers are exploring educational uses of the SL environment. We will need them to be mentors someday for those of us who may follow in their footsteps.

    Stay tuned to hear lots more about Second Life in the future!

    If you are interested in the Learning and Culture Group in Second Life, you can join the group in SL by selecting groups and then doing a search for “language and culture”. Or you can email me or leave a comment on this post for contact info about the group.

    One thought on “Second Life – It’s Not a Game!

    1. Rebecca Prichard says:

      3-D webbing certainly does sound intriguing, but I agree that it is not quite ready for classrooms.

      I think that we as educators need to put more efforts into using “game-like” activities in our classrooms. The sophistication of these games is phenominal! We need to use these same ideas in education.

      Technology is advancing at the speed of light, but classroom teaching has changed little in the past several decades. How can we prepare students for their futures while we areeducating in the past???

      I am looking forward to the use of 3-D webbing in classrooms.

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