Second Life (SL) for those who are already familiar with SL please bear with me.
SL is a 3D virtual environment, it is really not a game (as many people perceive) rather it is an environment left upto its users to “create”, it could be anything, users have the freedom. It has a potential of being tailored into a game (may I say there are some really good games in SL) possible through SL scripting (Linden scripting language). According to SL statistics for March 2008, SL had well over 13 million subscribers, who spent a staggering 28 million hours for the month of January (2008) alone. It is this that got me thinking about SL as a potential educational tool. 28 million hours spent in one month alone, wow, this has to be a very highly engaging platform right?
If you haven’t had a SL experience, I would recommend that you create a login and just visit a few islands to get an idea. You’ll be able to visit a virtual Taj Mahal, a NASA museum of spacecrafts (from the early days), a “Second World” (virtual Earth), you’ll even find Dell’s online shop (Toyota and IBM), refer to these links to view pictures of some interesting places to visit in SL http://www.flickr.com/photos/torley/sets/72157594417463338/ or http://www.uncp.edu/home/acurtis/NewMedia/SecondLife/SecondLifeGreatPlaces.html.
I have always believed in the equation FUN + PLAY = LEARNING, this equation is applicable at so many levels in education. It has a potential to create a good social environment, a good platform to engage with others and to interact and can provide learners an opportunity to explore and create. It is these possibilities present in SL that has me and other educators around the world wrapped around its finger. I attach this video from Youtube to highlight some of the educational potential of SL.
Still early days I would say hence lots of skepticism and questions about SL. SL is a tool which takes a lot to get started, investments cost etc still Harvard amongst other universities are using it already.
The SLENZ (Second Life Education in New Zealand, http://slenz.wordpress.com) project has embarked on a journey to further evaluate the potential of SL in education. It will be interesting to see what the outcomes are. From what we already know, there is a steep learning curve for both teachers and students to begin with. There is a huge upfront investment in developing the learning resources and environment and to do this you need to own/lease a piece of virtual land and money (Linden dollars) to buy stuff and have knowledge of how to operate and create on the system. There are technical issues, issues around reliability and other issues may arise as the virtual world draws closer to replicating the real world and consequently creating real issues in a virtual world (example copyright, ownership, social issues, law and order etc).
Few thoughts to finish with, is something similar to SL the future of the web? There are obvious issues here but if something more open and with almost the same or more features as SL comes along, the web might just take a turn to a 3D approach. Browsing the web will become something like taking a work or ride to a destination with your friends. Further uptake of this technology will unravel more potential and acceptance. The younger generations now accustomed to powerful games and graphics are set to welcome this environment with open arms. Where does this leave us with the future of education?