People really are talking about Second Life, all of a sudden. Worse for me (and I’m going to go out on a limb and say “and students everywhere”), Further Education seems to have got hold of the idea of using it to educate.
Now, this wouldn’t be so much of a problem, except FE is an arena that is chock-full of buzzword-hungry wannabe-executives and eager-to-please almost-educators who wouldn’t be able to sort a practical application from a cloud of hype and hyperbole if you directed them at it with a series of those signs that Wil E Coyote buys from Acme to direct the Road Runner to a plate of dangerously situated grain.
(Don’t get me wrong… there are some bloody good, and bloody smart, people working in the ILT field, who strive hard to identify the learning opportunities in amongst the fast changing world of computing, the Web, and “Web 2.0″… it’s just that many of them aren’t actually working in college management at this moment in time, because they aren’t good enough at blagging to get into it)
Quite aside from the issues inherent in using Second Life to teach, like the fact that it is very difficult to keep it secure, that you wouldn’t want vulnerable students in the adult areas, but at the same time adult educators probably shouldn’t be allowed in the youth areas; there’s the question of installing the Second Life software on a college network, where most technicians are making constant efforts to block such software and usage. Further to that (and this goes to my confusion at the constantly growing enthusiasm of the world at large for the Second Life phenomenon) I’ve found that my PC, which can run resource intensive software and recent games with ease, and it’s broadband connection, has totally (and I mean almost utterly!) seized up every time I’ve tried to run Second Life. It struggles to open the program, it shuts out all other use, and then after shutting Second Life down, I often have to reboot the whole thing before it’ll let me do anything more complicated then open Notepad. I have no idea how that isn’t happening for almost everyone else on there, bearing in mind the lower spec of so many machines out there. How that isn’t going to shaft a closed network like you’d find in an average college, I don’t know.
(None of which is any reason why a virtual world can’t be used in education, but they are damn good reasons why I think most academic establishments will struggle with it after the first flush of seminar-earned enthusiasm runs dry)
All that said, and I apologise for sounding so cynical, this is what I really wanted to do: I wanted to direct you to these two interesting articles, the former pointed out by Warren Ellis, the latter by Terra Nova, both beautiful sources of web wisdom in their own right.
These articles end up dealing with the average usage of Second Life. The first attempts the inspired feat of working out how much electricity an avatar in Second Life consumes (and discovers that a virtual person uses up as much electricity as the average Brazilian): Nicholas Carr on Second Life power consumption. The second is an attempt by Clay Shirky to get to the bottom of the actual amount of users on Second Life, and the recent media excitement over the virtual world: Clay Shirky on Second Life: What Are The Real Numbers?
For myself, I think these guys are much smarter than I am, but I also think there’s lots more exploration to be done in the field, not just with Second Life, but with the concept of the online world full-stop. The fact is that the web has always had the potential to be used as a powerful tool for teaching and learning, but any transition or practical usage isn’t going to happen easily while in the hands of people who’ve never even used a discussion board. This is why media and managers really ought to leave development of ideas in the hands of those with the imagination and experience to interpret and develop online advances.
(Note to self: Educational applications of Eve Online (business/mathematics/accountancy)/Second Life (Geography/Statistics/Art)/All Virtual Worlds (Physics/Geography))