If the hype is to be believed then Universities are scrabbling to get into Second Life with the aim of attracting students and setting up virtual collaborative environments. Systems such as Second Life and ActiveWorld’s are notable for their potential to both change and enhance not only the teaching environment but also Universities outreach activities. At least that’s what you would be led to believe until you begin speaking to the people on the ground.
We have been using various virtual world systems since the launch of ActiveWorlds in 1995. Teaching students in both
Yet mention Second Life in many academic circles and you will be greeted with cries of derision and a snub for wasting your time looking into such trivial activities. Indeed having just come back from a conference where I dared suggest the use of Second Life for e-science outreach in the UK I was left feeling slightly socially inept for using such environments for research. The reaction by one member of the academic community was indeed towards the side of anger with regards my view that such worlds can be used for distributed teaching and collaboration on papers.
We therefore require a step back – Oxford have recently launched their own Second Life campus but just talking to some of the people asked to use it I have serious doubts on its take up – and this is from an academic community that should be embracing such developments.
Of course Universities shouldn't jump on the Second Life bandwagon for the sake of it but neither should they dismiss it out of hand. For those who dismiss such innovation take a look at the movie by Dr. Tony O'Driscoll on Experiencing the Sensibilities and Imagining the Possibilities of Learning in Three Dimensions:
Just don't mention the research on these pages into Game Engines and real-time interaction..
To be honest its hard enough to get academics to write blogs – even by those in the realms of Internet based research – Second Life it seems is still a step too far for many. As for me? I'll carry on trying to push forward the use of Virtual Worlds for academic use, specifically next for Agent Based Models and Geographic Exploration.