I have been thinking about where I stand in relation to Second Life now the virtual birthing unit project has more or less come to an end. If I want to continue to develop the birthing unit and become involved in more SL projects, I need to develop my SL skills. At the same time, I am not sure if the future in education for SL merits the time it will take me to upgrade my skills. And the contradictory opinion about SL of education experts doesn't help me in my decision-making.
The problems with Second Life
Clearly there are barriers to the use of Second Life in education, especially in New Zealand. Lack of Internet access, inadequate computer technology, institutional firewalls and policies can make it difficult for students and teachers to engage with SL. And the time it takes to learn SL skills can be prohibitive. Stephen Blythe is one of my students in the online course Facilitating Online - his story is a typical one.
Dr Alan Cann, a lecturer at the University of Leicester feels very strongly that SL is expensive, cumbersome, poorly designed and time-consuming. He says:
There is, above all else, one thing that Second Life is unsurpassed for. If you need to generate a large amount of cash from a naive grant-awarding body over-eager to jump on the Web 2.0 bandwagon, offer to build, for a preposterous amount of cash, a virtual representation of something that already exists in the real world but that no-one will ever use in SL. Something like, say, Belgium. You'll be quids in. Careers have been built on it.
Second Life and Gen Y
I was talking to Dr Erika Pearson this week about how young people use the Internet. Erika is a media studies lecturer at the University of Otago. She believes Second Life will not become main stream with Gen Y students because they are only interested in communication tools that are cheap, quick and easy to use like Facebook and cell phone text.
The future of education lies in virtual reality
Nevertheless, there are educators who believe the opposite - that students do better learning skills in Second Life than those who do not use SL. John Waugh, of the Second Life Education New Zealand project says it is vital that educators become familiar with Second Life and other virtual worlds and realities - educators who ignore virtual reality do so at their peril and will be left behind in the very near future. Whilst SL may not be the preferred virtual world of the future, skills learned in SL will be transferable.
My love-hate relationship with Second Life
If the interest and enthusiasm by New Zealand educators is anything to go by, I cannot ignore Second Life. So whilst I continue to have a love-hate relationship with SL, it's clear I need to develop my skills so that I can continue research on the virtual birthing unit and evaluate learning outcomes, and become a resource for educators wishing to explore virtual worlds.
Image: jokaydiaunconf-SLENZ_001 kerryj.com