“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!”