I was unable to attend the organised Second Life Activity however I have used Second Life before.
I first got involved back in 2006. I wasn’t sure initially how to use Second Life for education but I could see how useful it could be to meet up with people from different parts of NZ or even the world. What I do like about the virtual environment is the ability to ‘see’ the person you are ‘talking to’ (everything was done by chat windows). The disadvantage back then was that those who could type fasts tended to have the opportunity to say the most. Another disadvantage was the lag and the inability to have too many people going through the same IP address.
Then came a chance to link in with a couple of other course participants on Thursday evening (NZ time). I hadn’t been into Second Life for quite some time. I had been in a week or so before and downloaded the new Second Life Viewer but that had been it. I decided to log on early and have a play. I was having difficultly remembering how to move. fortunately I knew of some student work from last semester on how to move in Second Life and that worked really well.
- Arwenna, Bowler and Sanwai 3 Nov 2011 (NZ time)
Second Life had moved on since 2006. Now there is voice for chatting. But there are some issues. For a start, getting the 3 of us hearing and speaking to each other especially as 2 of us were using a different viewer from the third (and expert) user. Then there was my problem of hearing background music. After turning off all of the music and sound options I could think of, the music was still there. The problem turned out to be sound from a different window I had open (ok I also had Gardens of Time open in another tab but I have my headphones plugged in all the time and hadn’t realised that was the sound it made). With only the 3 of us involved it was certainly time consuming to get everything working. From a practical point of view, it would probably be best if participants used the same viewer initially and have successfully logged in and created an avatar well before the first meeting for a formal session. I think it would also be important to have a number of seasoned users to help new users around. This could make for an interesting group community orientation to develop the idea of community for a course. Another issue is how big should a group be. The more people, the harder it is to coordinate chat either via text or voice.
I see an advantage of virtual worlds for education where students can see or use something in 3D. For example, a few years ago a fellow student created a subnetting tutorial in Second Life for his third year project (it’s no longer there). Not only did he have to work out how to calculate subnet masks but he also had to work out how to program it to work (and he disliked both subnetting and programming!!). This type of activity can be used by anyone at any time ie when the user wants to use it rather than when the tutor requires them to use it. It is also useful for revision activities as students can access it 24/7.
Like everything in education, it takes time to prepare these types of activities as well as the skills. If you have experience in programming and 3D modelling it wont be as difficult to build but other than that there is a steep learning curve. I imaging there are lots of resources available but then it is difficult to find things in the same way as on the Internet in general.
I final thought on virtual world education is the cost. It surprised me that the couple of hours I was in Second Life along with some voice used nearly 2Gb of my allowance. I don’t know about the rest of the world, be here in NZ I pay a flat monthly rate for the connection and then a usage charge for every Gb I use. It may not be a lot, but it certainly adds up if you are on a low or no income as many students are. One option to avoid this cost is to use the education environment’s infrastructure but then, how long will they allow that, how many others are using it, and how many people can use the same IP address.