Friday, June 20, 2008

Middle School | Second Life

Virtual worlds like Second Life have grown a lot in recent years and educators are participating in larger and larger numbers. Andrew Trotter reports in Education Week that though many of the current educational users are at the university level, more and more K-12 educators are tuning into to Second Life and its safer portal for teens, Teen Second Life or "Teen Grid."

Education is important to Linden Research, Inc., the company that owns Second Life. Educators are offered a discounted price. Linden Research has also started a listserv for Second Life in Education where educators can share ideas and methods.

Second Life is not an easy thing to start, though. There is a steep learning curve. Fortunately, there are places to get help inside and outside Second Life. Kevin Jarrett, who teaches in the K-4 computer lab at Northfield Community School, in Northfield, NJ, took a six-month sabbatical to explore the potential of Second Life for educators and now volunteers his time at an "island" in Second Life to help newbies. Other obstacles for many K-12 educators include the inability to transfer anything from another virtual world into Second Life and the technology required. Second Life also needs a lot of video processing capabilities that some school networks or computers simply do not have.

But there is a lot of potential in Second Life for educators, for classroom use and professional development. Some educators are using islands in Second Life to give lectures and seminars and more informal gatherings like coffeehouse chats and balls. K-12 schools are using the more restricted Teen Second Life to create "walled-in private 'estates'" for exclusive use by their school's staff and students. Some of the things being done with Teen Second Life:
  • Creating virtual structures that mimic real-life spaces and buildings
  • Conducting virtual science experiments
  • Making short videos, called "machinima," in which students write scripts and shoot at virtual locations
  • Talking to peers in other countries
  • Constructing working volcanoes and avalanches
  • Purchasing virtual land or other items to learn "market math"
  • Service projects, like raising money for humanitarian aid in Sudan
Aaron E. Walsh, director of the Immersive Education Initiative of the Grid Institute, a Boston-based company that focuses on virtual worlds, believes that schools will only use virtual worlds extensively when they can host them on their own servers to increase safety and performance. There's also the problem of the expense, a tough thing for many schools right now. Another potential problem is using Second Life at random, as if anything will be better if it is done virtually. The advice for educators is to proceed slowly and thoughtfully to use the best of what virtual worlds can offer.

SOURCE: "Educators Get a ‘Second Life’ " 06/18/08
photo courtesy of HVX Silverstar, used under this Creative Commons license

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