Second Life in higher education
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Paul Lester, a professor at California State University, Fullerton, uses Second Life to teach an undergraduate visual communications course. The virtual world offers new opportunities for students to explore the issues of visual communication, Lester said in an interview conducted in Second Life. As an incentive for students to produce quality projects, he created a gallery on Fullerton Island where he recently displayed the best student work.

"It was competetive, so they kind of saw it as an honor," Lester said. "A line on their resumes."

Lester has also used Second Life to explore issues of media ethics in another undergraduate course. There are a number of online newspapers in the virtual world - some Paul Lester teaches a class on Fullerton Islandfactual, some gossipy - which provide an opportunity for students to explore various ethical issues, he said.

Like any classroom, however, you want some rules, Lester said. While students are in class, Lester does not allow them to fly. He also usually conducts his lectures from the front of the virtual class, just like he would in a real world classroom. For extra credibility , he also wears a tie in the Second Life class, something he never does in the analog world, he said.

David Carlson, a professor of journalism and director of the Interactive Media Lab at the University of Florida, said he has mixed feelings about Second Life. He said he thinks it has very interesting educational possibilities, but it also seems, in a large part, to be a vast, empty place where there isn't really much to do. Some of the possibilities he sees for journalism students include teaching video-shooting skills and creating virtual news events for students to cover. Second Life also offers the opportunity for students to experience diverse cultures wihout having to travel, he said.

However, he said there are significant drawbacks to using Second Life as well. Linden Lab's building and scripting languages, which are not used outside of Second Life, can be difficult to use. Even if you don't want to build anything, there is a steep learning curve even to become a competent user of Second Life, Carlson said. Maintaining a virtual presence can also be pretty expensive, he said.

"You got to rent real estate and it's not as cheap as you would think it would be considering that it's virtual," Carlson said.

Photo credit: Paul Lester and Cynthia King, used with permission

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