Second Life is another world, a virtual environment involving multiple users (Dede, 2009), participating in experiences that would not be possible in the real world. It is a playground where avatars can fly, teleport to other lands and interact anonymously with other avatars around the world. There is no limit to the possibilities and no fear of failure (Helmer, 2007) as the virtual world of Second Life is revealed. It is therefore the ultimate place for learning.
Poppydom (the avatar I created), was initially extremely hesitant to leave the safety of the CSU Learning Centre but gradually she took her few steps, her first flight and eventually managed to acquire a new T shirt. Getting lost in Second Life wilderness produced some anxiety but being able to set the CSU SLURL to home was a welcome safety net. Since her early tentative steps, Poppydom has visited Macquarie University, Stanford Library with its fascinating garden of rare books, Hong Kong Polytech Library and Healthinfo Island with a wealth of support groups for every conceivable medical problem. Future journeys will bring more encounters and more learning opportunities for Poppydom.
It is naïve to think that the unsavoury elements of Second Life do not exist (Helmer, 2007) and recent public outcry relating to possible addictive use of Second Life (Sunrise Morning Show, 2012) brings fresh criticism but studies into the educational benefits of immersion in a virtual world tell a different story. Students are able to view situations from different perspectives and subsequently grasp new and challenging concepts while immersing themselves in situations that imitate real environments (Bell, Lindbloom, Peters & Pope, 2008). The virtual world of ‘River City’ involves students acting as scientists as they identify, observe and test theories in order to solve problems in this computer-generated world (Dede, 2009). The simulation requires collaboration with fellow students and engages users in an exciting learning situation not possible in science laboratories or traditional classrooms.
Second Life libraries are gaining popularity globally with users able to visit Stanford, Harvard, Princeton and the James Joyce Library,an initiative of University College Dublin, to name just a few virtual libraries (Baity, Chappell, Rachlin,Vinson & Zamarripa, 2009). The aim of these libraries is to showcase digital exhibitions, display rare books, attract new users as well as provide access to resources from around the world. Virtual Libraries can also serve as a meeting place or conference centre for librarians and educators to discuss the educational and informational possibilities of virtual worlds (Bell et al, 2008).
If a mature adult can get such a sense of achievement from navigating a virtual environment, then imagine the enormous learning possibilities for students of all ages.
Baity, C., Chappell, P., Rachlin, D., Vinson, C., Zamarripa, M. (2009). When real and virtual worlds Collide: A second Life Library. Desktop Computing. Retrieved from http://www.desktop-computing.com/capstone/Documents/WhenVirtualWorldsCollideFinal.pdf
Bell, L., Lindbloom, M., Peters, T., Pope, K. (2008). “Virtual Libraries and Education in Virtual Worlds: Twenty-first century library services”. Policy Futures in Education 6 (1) 49-58pages 49-58. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.2304/pfie.2008.6.1.49
Dede, C. (2009). Immersive interfaces for engagement and learning,
Science, 323(5910), 66-69. Retrieved from http://www.sciencemag.org.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/cgi/reprint/sci;323/5910/66.pdf
Helmer, J., & Learning Light (2007). Second Life and virtual worlds Available from http://www.norfolkelearningforum.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/virtual-worlds_ll_oct_2007.pdf
Sunrise Morning Show (2012, January 20). Second Life Controversy: Is the online community ruining our reality? [Television Broadcast]. Sydney: Channel Seven. Retrieved from http://au.tv.yahoo.com/sunrise/video/-/watch/27931677/second-life-controversy/