Saturday, October 31, 2009

The future of Second Life and education

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


Kate said...

yes, I frightened myself by identifying what I didn't know ( but have since decided that at least knowing what you don't know helps work out what you're going to do to rectify it :)
looking forward to collaborating!

Sarah Stewart said...

Thanks Kate...thats my next work out what I need to know above and beyond the basic use of SL. Any suggestions? For example, I've been told to get an animation override so I have a decent walk, not a default one.

M-H said...

I do get tired of the evangelists who feel that a particular technology is the best way for students to learn. As with all other things in life, some people will learn well in Second Life; others will never feel comfortable there and that will limit their learning.

Sarah, have you read the results of the big project on Educating the Net Generation that has just finished here in Aus? You can read about it at

Among lots of really good data is the overwhelming response from the thousands of undergrads who were interviewed and answered surveys was that they couldn't understand why anyone would bother with Second Life. It isn't something that young people are connecting with.

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi M-H, thanks for the link...I'll have a read. From what you say, the report confirms Ericka's views on young people and Sl.

It may well be that young people do not use SL for their everyday networking ( I know I don't...but then again...I'm not a 'young person') but at the same time it can be a very effctive teaching/learning tool in specific instances.

Like you, I fear we get seduced by the technology and forget the pedagogy behind how we use the tools. At the same time, I think it is worth it for me to investgate SL more thoroughly because it appears to have great applications in health education.