Second Life Promises Enhanced Interactive Learning

Article by Sally Hritz
Originally published in a different format

Second Life Avatar building an object

Another world. Ever wanted the freedom to fly through space like Superman, maneuver underwater as though it were your natural habitat, or create without the limitations of the physical world? Even better, while teleporting around this environment that somewhat resembles Earth, do you want to be emboldened to imagine, visualize, gain insights, and learn in ways that will excite your neurons and blaze new synapses? If so, the virtual world of Second Life (SL) may be for you.

Faculty, students, and staff are clamoring for this new kind of learning experience, and many educators are excited about Second Life’s interactive learning possibilities. Technology Enhanced Learning and Research has responded over the past year by exploring the academic and pedagogical potential of SL through Digital Union-sponsored workshops and campus conversations.

Island Life. Recently TELR acquired an island within Second Life, dubbed TELRport, as the basis for a pilot program. Ohio State is one of hundreds of colleges and universities with SL space, and part of an educational area that includes Ohio University and the universities of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Bowling Green State. Some OSU faculty members are already using SL for courses, and some own islands.

What is it? According to its web site, Second Life is an online, 3D virtual world imagined, created, and owned by its residents, of which there are now millions worldwide. Linden Lab invites basic free membership in the online environment that it created. Once you download the software, you can enter Second Life by creating an “avatar” which is your virtual representative, and begin interacting with the other residents, much as you would in real life. You can also buy and sell objects and land in Second Life.

Second Life public area

Floating Classrooms and More. Second Life holds appeal for academia because its focus on creativity and unlimited freedom sets it apart from typical role playing games. “There are no real-life limitations like gravity or physical resources, so you have to change your way of thinking about how to use it for education,” says Rob Griffiths, a TELR eLearning consultant and the coordinator of the Second Life pilot program. “For example, you don’t need seats or desks lined in a row for a class, you can sit on disks floating in the air that rearrange to form randomly created groups almost instantaneously with the push of a button. It’s more about interacting with others and the environment, as well as experiencing, engaging, and manipulating objects rather than reading or writing about them.”

The emphasis is on out-of-the-ordinary teaching and unusual learning spaces. You might attend a class while floating on a bubble over Mirror Lake or join a breakout session in a meeting space beneath the surface of the water surrounding the island. You can also play in a “sandbox” area dedicated to community creativity or exhibit your art works, music, or podcasts in a gallery floating near a mountaintop.

Ohio State landmarks. Griffiths says the island is a way to think about an area of virtual learning space open to unrestricted imagination. Still in its early stages, TELRport will feature some identifiable campus landmarks, such as Orton Hall’s bell tower. Soon, you will be able to stop by a kiosk welcome center to pick up a map or a T-shirt, or search out the Buckeye leaves that designate different discussion areas and provide another sense of identification for Ohio State.

TELR and the Digital Union are setting up 80 percent of TELRport as a learning commons. The pilot participants, who are mostly faculty, can use the other 20 percent to delve into creating for their teaching and research and construct what they need.

Unlimited Learning Potential. “You don’t need to limit yourself,” Griffiths reminds us. “The real appeal, in longer terms, is to give students active learning potential. Instead of writing a paper, they can use Second Life skills to demonstrate their grasp of a concept.”

Explore with Purpose. He says it’s best to keep in mind that Second Life is not a game and there’s no end goal. Its noneducational intent is for social interaction and mingling with others who share the same interests. Users have to create a reason for being there.

“If you come in without a sense of purpose and don’t know how to move around, Second Life can be frustrating,” he notes. “That’s why the Digital Union is holding orientation workshops and why there’s been a high demand for them. Participants in the pilot program receive basic tutorials and development space, but they are expected to start out with a basic understanding and familiarity.”

Visitors Welcome. Anyone can visit TELRport island, even if not participating in the pilot program. All you need is a Second Life account and access to a computer running SL. Then go to: slurl.com/secondlife/TELRport/128/128/28

More information: TELRport

Questions or comments: Rob Griffiths at secondlife@osu.edu

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