Second Life in higher education
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While he's not certain if Second Life will ulitmately be the the program of choice for educators, Carlson said he believes that some form of virtual world will be an important part of higher education in the near future.

"There are a lot things you could do that you can't necessarily do in real space," he said.

Carlson points out that the virtual envrionment offers opportunities to simulate events and build prototypes that might be too expensive or too difficult to accomplish in real life.

Gary Ritzenthaler, a Ph.D. student and new media instructor at the University of Florida, said there are a lot of people trying new things in Second Life. Some of these ideas will work and some won't, he said, but there is reason to believe it will be successful in education. For one, immersing students in the virtual world can improve distance education, Ritzenthaler said.

While students may be able to obtain the same course information from e-learning systems like Blackboard, the experience of interacting with other students in a virtual environment "makes a big difference in the person's ability to conceive of themselves in a classroom," he said.

Along the same lines, Ritzenthaler said the immersive environment of Second Life allows students to better understand spatial relationships.

"If I'm taking a class on astronomy and I go in and go, 'oh man, Jupiter is big'... I get it," he said.

Amelia Harnish, 20, is a junior in Ritzenthaler's lab class. While she prefers the real-world class environment, she said having study groups with other students in Second Life, or being able to go to instructors' office hours in the virtual world could be helpful. Young people, she said, can often express themselves better through typing.

"Going to office hours is really intimidating, especially for younger student," Harnish said. "But maybe that would make it easier for them."

Ritzenthaler points out that, ultimately, the future of Second Life, or a similar virtual world, will not be determined by what educators think about it. Virtual worlds will succeed, fail, or change based on how well it meets various personal needs.

"People need to create the use for it that they want," Ritzenthaler said. "And it takes a certain amount of time."

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References

Andrea Foster. Professor avatar. Chronicle of Higher Education, September 21, 2007, pp. A24-A26.

Chris Johnson. Drawing a roadmap: Barriers and challenges to designing the ideal virtual world for higher education. EDUCAUSE Review, September/October, 2008, pp. 64-74.

Paul Lester and Cynthia King. Analog vs. digital instruction and learning: Teaching within first and Second Life environments. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Chicago. 2007.

News

11.28.08 - Second Life has everything... including colleges (Allentown Morning Call)

11.24.08 - University uses Second Life for nurses training (The University Daily Kansan)

11.18.08 - Column: Get a (second) life (The Brown and White)

Is there a Second LIfe for teaching? (guardian.co.uk)