Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Introduction

The world of teaching has changed in the past decade with the creation of the Internet. Both students and teachers have the entire world at their fingertips. One of the latest components in the online teaching arsenal is the “game” Second Life. Second Life is an online world with its own citizenry, businesses and economy. Some people have also used Second Life for educational purposes as well. The classroom is Second Life’s newest and perhaps most fertile environment.

This blog will incorporate several items from Web 2.0. A real-time Twitter feed from a Second Life user/in-world teacher Jokaydia’s website is on the side of the blog. By using BlogSpot, Twitter and YouTube all together, Web 2.0 technology can be used in many different ways.

A recent episode of popular TV show CSI: NY best illustrates not only Second Life’s popularity, but also aspects of avatars, game play and potential usage in education.


Second Life

So, what is Second Life? Second Life is a virtual world completely online. A virtual world is a computer-generated, real-time 3D environment designed by its users. It is accessed through the official Second Life Website, http://secondlife.com/. According to the Second Life Website, “Second Life is a world imagined, built and created by its Residents - people like you…there's always more to see and do.” It’s been described as a video game, but game play can go on indefinitely. It costs nothing to join and create an avatar, but there is a cost to upgrade, buy land or start businesses. According to the Second Life Website, “A single Basic account is FREE. Additional Basic accounts cost a $9.95 one-time fee. Premium accounts (required for getting land) start at $9.95/month and up (http://secondlife.com/whatis/faq.php).” There is Second Life for adults 18 and over, while a Teen Second Life (http://teen.secondlife.com/) exists for younger players. This blog will primarily concentrate on educational game play in the adult version.

Players sign onto the website and through their avatars (to be explained later) can go to any location in that virtual world. What they do there is up to them. Musicians are able to use Second Life as a platform for their real-world careers like Melanie Fudge, AKA Mel Cheeky (http://www.melcheeky.com/). It can be used as another arena for business, where companies like IBM have set up shop, as well as Second Life-created AnsheX (http://www.anshex.com/sl.php). Blogs for Second Life Dance Clubs (http://www.secondclubs.com/) and for artists of all kinds (http://sl-art-news.blogspot.com/) have also popped up online in this computer-only world. A gossip-style newspaper has even surfaced: http://www.secondlifeherald.com/. Visiting these sites certainly gives a fascinating look into a virtual culture.

Players in Second Life use their avatars in order to move around the virtual world and interact with other players. These avatars are important to Second Life, a feature no user can play without. An avatar is their in-player representations, a “virtual them” of sorts that they can control. There are several blogs on the Internet devoted to Second Life clothing and avatars, one of them being http://blog.secondstyle.com/. These avatars can be any shape, race or species and can be clothed or marked anyway their user chooses. These different looks, clothing, and virtual look can be purchased from Second Life developers or from individual game players/entrepreneurs (see the “economy” section below). According to Wikipedia, an avatar “is a computer user's representation of himself/herself or alter ego...it is an ‘object’ representing the embodiment of the user. The term ‘avatar’ can also refer to the personality connected with the screen name, or handle, of an Internet user…essentially the player's physical representation in the game world. In most games, the player's representation is fixed, however increasingly games offer a basic character model, or template, and then allow customization of the physical features as the player sees fit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatar_(computing).” Other players get to know your avatar, many can even become famous: http://secondlife.wikia.com/wiki/People. Avatars/game players can even talk to each other using headsets and in-game software. In order to get from location to location, players can either fly or teleport their avatars anywhere in Second Life. In terms of education, one avatar can teach a group of other avatars in a virtual environment of their choosing. According to a WordPress blog for online educators, “Avatars are excellent for online education. They provide the human interaction that is natural in classrooms and in the traditional learning environment…avatars provide a face to the students and a face to the teacher. They provide the human element to online teaching (http://acohen843.wordpress.com/2007/11/11/avatars-and-education/.”




pictures of miscellaneous avatars

Buying land in Second Life is not a complicated process. “The world of Second Life consists of nearly a half million acres of virtual land, and almost all of it belongs to other users, or Residents. As more new users join Second Life, we keep adding more and more virtual land - so the world actually gets bigger every day…virtual land is like a 3D web site: a blank space where you can make anything happen. (http://secondlife.com/land/faq/).” You can purchase both developed land (“move-in ready”) or undeveloped land (create it any way you wish). Once this land is purchased (see the “economy” section below), the user can then do what they want with it. Players can create buildings, houses or other unique structures. Second Life users must also remember that while the land is virtual, it still exists in its own unique way. “When you have land in Second Life, you're actually renting storage/server space…each piece of land takes up a certain amount of dedicated storage space - the more land, the more space. So, it's like renting a hard drive (http://secondlife.com/land/faq/).” Above all else, new users must realize that you don’t have to buy land in order to play Second Life—you can simply walk around 3D worlds and interact with other players. “Buy a plot on the Mainland of Second Life, and you'll become a part of its vibrant community…create your own neighborhood with your friends, set up a movie theater with personalized screening rooms, or build a business, community center or library (http://secondlife.com/land/learn/)." Buying land and creating structures are a perfect opportunity for educators— there is no school board to create a budget or to deny crucial services. Educators can literally create the space they want, unique to their teaching style, and are able to make it their own.






pictures of Second Life land

How does the economy of Second Life work? How are players able to buy the various outfits and even land in this brave new world? Essentially, players pay money to Linden Labs, the company that created Second Life. The in-game currency is called Linden Dollars. According to the book How to make Real Money in Second Life, Linden Dollars is “fully convertible to U.S. dollars at an exchange rate that, in mid-2007, was about 270 virtual dollars to $1 (Freedman, pg. 14).” Today, the Second Life economy is worth $120 Million, according to figures from the official Second Life Blog (https://blogs.secondlife.com/community/features/blog/2009/04/16/the-second-life-economy--first-quarter-2009-in-detail). As stated previously, these Linden Dollars are traded freely in an open society for clothing, accessories, and anything else one can imagine. They are also used to purchase land and the buildings that go on them. Since the cost is relatively low, educators are not faced with budget issues or running out of money for students or faculty.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

History of Second Life

The world of Second Life was created by Phillip Rosedale, also known by his Second Life avatar, Phillip Linden. According to his biography on the Linden Labs website, he has been creating innovative Internet-based technology since he was 17 (http://lindenlab.com/about/management#rosedale). He founded Linden Labs in San Francisco, CA in 1999. “His initial focus was on the development of hardware that would enable computer users to be fully immersed in a virtual world experience (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Life).” A beta version of Second Life, known as “Lindenworld” was launched and is considered very basic with little bells or whistles. One of the interesting items found on the Linden Labs website is a philosophical mission statement known as the “Tao of Linden:” http://lindenlab.com/about/tao. Second Life itself was launched June 23, 2003 through its website, http://secondlife.com/. The technology improved and it began to form into a more modern version of Second Life. More information on this early version can be found at http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/History_of_Second_Life. Since its inception, both Second Life and Rosedale himself have received numerous accolades from the technology community. Rosedale himself continues to serve Second Life and Linden Labs as the Chairman of the Board. With a little over 300 employees and a game that has thousands of users, Linden Labs has proven itself as an Internet innovator.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Education in Second Life

“Educators worldwide are discovering the limitless academic possibilities of Second Life….Second Life provides a virtual home for some of the world's most prestigious universities and academic institutions. Virtual classrooms at MIT allow for online collaboration, while Notre Dame makes use of Second Life as a cost effective solution to distance learning (http://secondlife.com/whatis/?lang=en-US#Education_&_Enterprise).” As stated before, teachers can go into Second Life and create any environment they want. Their classroom/teaching institute can literally be any size they want. Educators are limited only by their imaginations. It can also be used to host workshops, conferences or just several educators getting together to discuss lesson plans. They can also have students from anywhere in the world, given that the phenomenon of Second Life is global. Many universities, including Harvard University, teach some classes within Second Life.






My first introduction to Second Life and its benefits to education are courtesy of a website out of Australia: http://jokay.com.au/, run by Jo Kay (AKA jokay Wollongong). She actually runs a series of websites and applications, ranging from Twitter (her Twitter feed is actually located on the right hand side of this blog) and Delicious to a Wiki. In Second Life, she runs a large virtual island, known in-world as Islands of jokaydia. Her website documents what’s happening currently on her island and the events taking place in the future. For instance, she advertises a special tour (in Second Life, of course) to the University of Western Australia virtual campus and a conference taking place for an educational organization called MobilizeThis ‘09. The Wiki located at http://sleducation.wikispaces.com/ is actually a great resource to use Second Life in education. Jokay is about having fun in Second Life but also promoting the advances that can be made in Second Life Education. According to her Wiki, “Second Life offers a range of opportunities to integrate and enhance existing online education strategies, including mash-ups with Web 2.0 and social networking tools, learning management systems and video conferencing. Additionally the self-paced tutorial and resource sharing tools within Second Life offer many options for sharing information and professional development about educational technology with other educators (http://sleducation.wikispaces.com/educationaluses_page2#edutech).” She details how to get started in Second Life as well as several Second Life Educational projects taking place.

She has also hosted on her Second Life “island” the Virtual Classroom Project (http://jokaydia.wikispaces.com/vcp09). On this Wiki page is the evolution of the project in Second Life from its virtual blueprint to finished virtual classroom. One of the interesting aspects about this “school” is that some class discussions are held in a hot-air balloon! According to the project coordinator, Konrad Glogowski, “The purpose of this project is to start conversations about learning in online communities, virtual worlds, and everyday physical classrooms (http://www.teachandlearn.ca/blog/2008/03/31/the-virtual-classroom-project/).” He wants to document individual educator’s journeys into creating a virtual classroom and broadcast it to the world. Hopefully projects like this will take education in Second Life to another level.

One educational institution that has taken the challenge and is using Second Life as an educational tool is The Harvard University Extension School. Rebecca Neeson is a PhD candidate in computer science at Harvard and has taught several classes in Second Life, including CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion, and Virtual Worlds (http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/~nesson/). The location of these Second Life courses is on Harvard’s Berkman Island named after the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. After dealing with some technology issues (connectivity, not everybody having the same computer equipment), Neeson finds the Second Life educational experience a success. Once again, students can be from anywhere and still participate in these classes in Second Life. There is in-world office hours in order for a student in Korea to speak to an educator located in Cambridge, MA. According to Neeson, teaching in Second Life allowed for a real sense of community and further allowed some students who may not speak up in a regular class to regularly contribute to the “conversation” at hand (http://blogs.computerworld.com/node/5553).
From Harvard’s course description of Virtual Worlds shows it’s unlike a regular course: “Today virtual worlds like Second Life are an exciting new frontier. Second Life has a flourishing economy and millions of users doing everything from teaching and taking Harvard courses to shopping at virtual American Apparel and Nike to running a night club. In the future, virtual environments promise to become a substantial part of our online existence. This course is your chance to get on the inside track. We will use Second Life as our classroom and laboratory...The course will meet in a non-traditional way. We will have bi-weekly lectures that may be attended live in Cambridge, viewed via live webcast to Berkman Island in Second Life, or viewed on recorded video after the lecture completes. Interleaved with the bi-weekly lectures we will have synchronous class meetings in our virtual classroom on Berkman Island in Second Life. These synchronous meetings are required class meetings, so you must be available to attend them in order to enroll in this class (http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/~nesson/e4/).” And to show education in Second Life isn’t like your typical classroom experience (or even online classroom experience), the second-to-last entry in the Harvard class syllabus calls for a “virtual dance party in Second Life. Dance moves and virtual drinks will be provided. You'll be amazed at the great moves you'll have and also that you'll be able to carry on a serious discussion at the same time!”


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Conclusion and Citations

Conclusion:

Since the inception of the Internet and Web 2.0, developers continue to come up with new applications and products, all designed to fulfill a purpose. Educators as well as average citizens hope to use this technology to better their lives and learn more information. Second Life, the virtual community within the Internet, is part of that technology. The ability to create an environment conducive to learning yet fun is a trait that all other Internet technologies should aspire to. Within Second Life, players can create their own businesses or start a music career. Education within Second Life is also full of promise, just beginning to be part of the mainstream.

Citations:

Alphaville Herald. (2009). Powered by TypePad. Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://www.secondlifeherald.com/.

Anshex Beta Website. (2009). Anshex.com / Metaverse Services Limited. Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://www.anshex.com/sl.php.

Avatars. (2009 November 27). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatar_(computing.

Cohen, K. (August 17, 2006). Right-click to learn: Second Life offers students a virtually real education. Retrieved December 4, 2009 from http://thephoenix.com/Boston/Life/20561-Right-click-to-learn/.

Classrooms without Walls. (2007, November 11). Avatars and Education. (Weblog Message). Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://acohen843.wordpress.com/2007/11/11/avatars-and-education/.

Conférence de presse de l'équipe Cofidis dans Second Life, Eric Boyer, (Île Neutrino - imarginal.com). (Online Image). Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://www.flickr.com/photos/natachaqs/649423990/.

E-4: Virtual Worlds, Rebecca Neeson, Instructor. (2007). Harvard University/Extension School. Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/~nesson/e4/.

Freedman, R. (2008). How to make real money in Second Life. New York: McGraw Hill.

Fudge. M. (2004-2007). Mel Cheeky: Singer/Songwriter/Musician—Second Life. Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://www.melcheeky.com/.

Gemtherobot. (2008, November 15). Tools for teaching in Second Life. (Video File). Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDRupT0ates.

Glogowski, K. (2008, March 31). Blog of proximal development. The Virtual Classroom Project. (Weblog Message). Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://www.teachandlearn.ca/blog/2008/03/31/the-virtual-classroom-project/.

Hartshon, E., et. al. (2009). Second Life Club Reviews Blog. Blogspot.com. Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://www.secondclubs.com/

Holiday, S., et. al. (2009). Second Life Art News. Blogspot.com. Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://sl-art-news.blogspot.com/.

@jokay. Twitter feed. Retrieved December 6, 2009 from http://twitter.com/jokay.

Kay, J. (2009). Jokay.com.au. Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://jokay.com.au/.

Kay, J. (2007). From the Second Life in Education Wiki. Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://sleducation.wikispaces.com/.

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Linden Labs Website. (2009). Linden Research, Inc. Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://lindenlab.com/about/management#rosedale.

Linden, T. (2009, April 16). The Second Life Economy - First Quarter 2009 in Detail. Second Life Blogs. Linden Labs/Jive Software. Retrieved December 5, 2009 from https://blogs.secondlife.com/community/features/blog/2009/04/16/the-second-life-economy--first-quarter-2009-in-detail.

LumpofCole. (2007, October 25). Battle: Second Life, CSI: NY. (Video File). Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbxwtEKpEL4.

Millennium Point in Second Life. (Online Image). Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://www.flickr.com/photos/birminghamcityuniversity/2346748029/.

My Second Life Avatar. (Online Image). Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ltripp/1432452541/.

Neeson, R. (2009). Rebecca Neeson’s Homepage/Information page. Harvard University/Extension School. Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/~nesson/.

People. (2009, June 30). From the Second Life Wikia. Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://secondlife.wikia.com/wiki/People.

Second Life Avatar of Klaus Schwab. (Online Image). Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://www.flickr.com/photos/worldeconomicforum/366235440/.

Second Life Avatar/Mikie’s Avatar. (Online Image). Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://www.flickr.com/photos/gordyt/378277724/.

SECOND LIFE AVATARS. (Online Image). Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://www.flickr.com/photos/raftwetjewell/3316982590/.

Second Life Website. Linden Labs. Retrieved December 4, 2009 from http://secondlife.com/.

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Teen Second Life Website. Linden Labs. Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://teen.secondlife.com/.

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Virtual Classroom Project. (2009). From the Islands of jokaydia Wiki. Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://jokaydia.wikispaces.com/vcp09.

xxArete2xx. (2007, May 29). Education in Second Life: explore the possibilities. (Video File). Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMGR9q43dag.