Second Life

So everybody’s heard something about Second Life by now. Second Life is an online world that you can visit as an “avatar” – a 3D creature that you can design and control. Teen Second Life offers a similar experience for teens 13-17 years old. People purchase virtual land, build virtual homes, sell each other virtual clothes and services, companies have set up virtual shop (CNN – Real Cars Drive into Second Life), and probably every real transaction translated to the virtual world.

Virtual cars

So what’s the connection to K-12 education?

Educators are allowed in Teen Second Life under very limited conditions, so talking about the use of Second Life in K-12 education fall into two categories.

1. A meeting space for educators in the adult Second Life. ISTE and other educational groups have set up spaces to hold meetings, offer places for virtual collaboration, and experimentation. I’ve been invited to join a group called the Center for Advanced Virtual Education (CAVE) and am looking forward to the experience. Will Richardson, David Warlick, Kathy Schrock and others have been invited. I’m sharing an office with Andy Carvin, and hope to learn a lot. CAVE is a research project of Walden University researcher, Kevin Jarrett.

2. Islands in Teen Second Life created specifically for virtual educational experiences. The 3D building tools and interactive capabilities offer the ability to offer things like role playing exercises, building environments, scripting objects, virtual field trips and more. Suffern Middle School has done some interesting things.

I have to say I’m starting out from a position of skepticism for some of the benefits that people are talking about. I’m not here saying that I don’t see any value or that I don’t want to give it a shot. The truth is that I’ve been in all kinds of virtual worlds from Tapped In, to MUDs and MOOs, and a couple of the original 3D worlds, so long ago I can’t even remember their names. I remember hearing the same “this will change everything” talk back then too.

Things I get:

  • a collaboration space
  • meeting people you wouldn’t otherwise meet in real life
  • some fun building experiences
  • designing your own avatar and experimenting with the concept of self
  • student role playing, meeting spaces, programming, scripting, constructing and economic simulations

Things I’m suspicious about:

  • Unexamined optimism about the educational implications of Second Life. I’ve heard people say, “wouldn’t this be a great place to set up physics simulations.” I don’t see that yet. Besides –the history of educational technology is filled with great physics simulation applications that aren’t used. Why do we think they will be used in a virtual world? Just because you can let the kids have blue hair while they play with the simulations?
  • Yes, you can build things, but how easy is to create physical attributes like mass or density? You can set sizes of things, but can you measure them? Can you make a spring? How much math is possible? The scripting language is event-driven, meaning it’s best at reacting to user contact. Will this just mean that we move further away from the “computing” part of computers? I don’t know, that’s why I want to try things myself.
  • I fear our tendency to create canned educational experiences so that no one really has to learn the tools. What’s interesting is the ability for kids to make stuff. 3D click-and-explores are not.
  • People rushing to find reasons to use this technology in education just because it’s new.
  • Precious time wasted avoiding the hard work of teaching and learning in the real world.

I was just logged in and ran into Doug Johnson (Blue Skunk Blog) – he and I had a blog exchange the other day about “tinker toy” software, meaning tools that offer a “low floor and high ceiling”. Does Second Life meet this criteria? Not sure yet.

PS My “in world” name is Kay Idziak – say hi if you see me.

9 Replies to “Second Life”

  1. I share your concerns about SL but I’m not ready to write it off just yet. It is a creative space and that gives possibilities for students to learn by creating.

    “The computer is a medium of human expression and if it has not yet had its Shakespeares, its Michelangelos or its Einsteins, it will. …. We have scarcely begun to grasp its human and social implications.” Computer Criticism vs. Technocentric Thinking By Seymour Papert

  2. HI Sylvia,

    Nice chatting with you as well.

    One thing about Second Life that has struck me lately (beside the tinkertoy possibilities) is that this just may be the new interface to the Internet. I keep thinking about the virtual reality simulation in that horrible Michael Douglas movie Disclosure. Are we in the same place with 3-D interfaces to information that we were with webbrowsers in the Mosaic days?

    Still not something I would be willing to wager on, but good to pay attention to if one wants to stay on the bleeding edge, I guess.

    All the best,


  3. Syliva! Can’t wait to get you on board. Hope to see you this week so we can get you moved in. Thanks for posting this! It is the embodiment of the mission of our group – to foster enlightened discussion about the educational uses of SL – pro AND con.

    I’m lifting the following text from a comment I made on Victoria’s blog, because it fits here too:

    Mechelle DeCrane, in this tring of comments (unlrelated to SL) on David Warlick’s blog:

    Quotes Dewey, thusly: “Skepticism is the mark and even the pose of the educated mind.”

    We need as many educated minds – and skeptics – in SL as we possibly can get. We’ve got the virtual market cornered on enthusiastic supporters. We need balance.

    My specific responses to your concerns:

    Unexamined optimism … is the root, in my view at least, of determined exploration and informed reflection. Many of us are smitten with SL, we admit it. Does this color our judgement? Perhaps. Does it give us the energy and motivation we need to explore its every possible nuance for education? You betcha.

    Physics … LL is keenly aware of the limitations of its physics model. As a HUGE fan of the Need for Speed series, I can tell you that driving ANYTHING in SL is … not worth the effort. In my opinion, until the physics model improves dramatically, along with the graphics, driving won’t be a big draw for SL users.

    Canned educational experiences … I’ve not seen any, though I’ve only been in-world since March. What I have seen is the Ramapo Islands project, where I saw kids creatively coming together in a variety of curriculum-aligned settings, doing things and communicating in ways they never would in real life. I know I’m not looking for any cans – I’m looking for a way to unleash my students in an environment of total creative freedom, give them good direction in terms of the desired end result, and then TURNING THEM LOOSE to see what happens.

    Fools rush in … there are always some of those in every early adopter crowd, but I am a big fan of ‘natural selection’ running its course. Establishing an SL presence is a non-trivial activity; I think people will find that poorly concieved models and initiatives will die a fast digital death, creating problems for others who are doing good work in this medium. It comes with the territory.

    Time wasted avoiding the hard work of teaching … ouch, I have to admit, this one hits home. Could my time be better spent elsewhere? I’ve paid a heavy personal price since immersing myself in this project, I have to be honest. But I’m being paid to research SL and I’m doing my level best to give Walden their money’s worth. Moreover, I suspect that answer is personal for everyone. I wouldn’t for a minute think criticize what others are doing … I would simply ask: are they getting RESULTS, in their classrooms with traditional tools, and/or in other spaces? RESULTS matter, buzz does not, and as much fun as SL may be, I can say that the people I know and work with are focused on the very serious implications of leveraging this technology in meaningful ways.

    It’s going to take time. It’s going to take a lot of technology. And it’s going to take a lot of really, really smart people exploring, questioning, experimenting, making mistakes, exploring some more … for quite a while … before this is all sorted out.

    I, for one, welcome everyone, including the skeptics, and look forward to our conversations and what we can learn from each other.

    See you soon,

    Kevin Jarrett
    Walden University

  4. Thanks for the comments!
    Doug – As long as it’s a 3D world displayed on a 2D interface with a very limited control mechanism (mouse) it won’t be much of an advance. It’s also very likely that some other company will come along and learn from all Linden’s mistakes and the “next” Second Life will be bigger, better, etc.

    Tony – Seymour is right (of course). It’s too bad that Second Life segragates youth and adults, and provides nothing for the younger set. I understand that they are a business and there are liabilities, etc. But that shouldn’t limit educational objectives. It’s a place to try things out, but there are obvious limits to a community of practice that keeps adults and youth separated.

    Kevin – Obviously I can’t say everything I want in a couple of bullet points. I would love ot talk more about what kids are doing and what examples are out there that go beyond communication related experiences. Looking forward to finding out more about Second Life. I’m all for enthusiasm!

  5. I’ve been spending my time in SL exploring how the environment can be used to enhance math education for the younger set (grades 4 -8). I have many of the same concerns that you have expressed. I do agree that the best educational experiences in SL will be the ones where students are actively building and creating. Simulations have their place, though, and exploring a simulation in 3D space with others can be beneficial. So often in math we are asked why it is important to learn seemingly useless concepts. Simulations built in SL can effectively answer that question by engaging students in projects that require an understanding of the concepts. The most obvious math application would be some sort of geometry project. I’m hoping by immersing myself in SL, I will be able to see all the possibilities. I’m building, scripting, and collaborating but moving ahead with caution rather than wide-eyed optimism. I’m constantly asking myself if what I’m doing in SL is adding value to math education or if it’s just repeating what’s already been done quite well in RL.

    I’m Kristy Flanagan in SL and I can be found working at Math Playground on EduIsland II.

  6. This is an oddly interesting subject. I’ve written up a small paper on the idea of a virtual classroom and centering it with Second Life.

    I am a student in Capital High School under Mr. Scott Le Duc. There is currently a project around working towards getting a virtual classroom built and used for our chapter of GenerationTECH.

    This is my space on our school here at Capital, it is undergoing a massive re-do and I have only a skeleton present in some places. I’m also making a plan using a tool called FreeMind so chances are won’t be getting it up to date very soon, because I have a lot to go through.

    My current thoughts can easily relate to some of yours, I am a part of this project but more or less a coordinator due to the fact I tend to do a lot of general things and need to spend my time elsewhere as a higher priority.

    I agree mostly with not hastening the use of technology for a classroom. Especially since proper usage and procedure are going to be difficult to implement at this point of time, especially for my area since this is a completely student run project, and as a result goes extremely slowly.

    There are several reasons for this, from slow networking issues to lack of motivation and the naturality of human nature to wish to not have to do work. As well as the usual content that is published by the end users of Linden Labs causing issues with whether parents would allow their children onto the program or not. That however is remedied by a simple contract to send home with students, I just recently written up one.

    There are many opportunities here in Second Life, the bigger question is how to exploit then and why? I personally have wish to go into a field teaching concepts in the realm of IT at the high school level, much like GenTECH after I get out of college. It’s one of the main reasons I have found interest in this article, and gave my two cents.

    The world simple won’t be ready for this till small community of diverse, motivated, and passionate individuals put in enough effort into this for it to work out. When that day comes around, no one truly knows.

  7. Hey Sylvia,

    I have placed a link for your Blog Generation YES on the Education page of our new website for educators to enjoy. Please let me know if you prefer not! I personnally enjoyed your blog – and it wasn’t too long!

    Cheers for now,
    Joan Kamaru
    AKA Wispy Broome
    Sly Grog Club

  8. Question: I am an educator. I don’t know much about second life. Would second life inable my students to see what is in La Louvre, The Smithsonian, and The Guggenheim without even leaving Texas. For my kiddos, I’d like to be able to show them a world they’ve never seen before-a world they may never see. It would be a necessity to get a virtual tour and educational presentation, then be able to go back to the “real classroom” and have a facilitated discussion on what they took part in.

    What about the Grand Canyon or a mock up of a historical event of the days leading up to the death of Abraham Lincoln or any important event in history? If they were in the virtual world, then it would be like going back in time. That would be beneficial learning! Can anyone elaborate…

  9. Hi Myrta,
    There are a couple of people doing great work in Second Life in regards to education. Check out Kathy Schrock’s blog post and what ISTE is doing.

    Also, Kevin Jarrett and I created a VoiceThread for the K-12 Online conference about this:

    Finally, here’s a list from the Second Life wiki:

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