I was reading the post of Gustavo Felisberto today and I thought it was about time to talk about these fears.
At the last conference I went about Virtual Worlds I was talking with another speaker and he was saying that even if all the people non-related with Education left Second Life, this Virtual World would run for at least ten years more.
There are thousands of Universities and Educational Institutions that invested (not so little) real money on Second Life and, most important, they are happy about it. We can say that this is about the hype of the beginning, but I will list several reasons why I believe it is not only about that.
Professors are beginning to understand the unique language of Second Life. At first, Second Life is used as a medium of communication, or like a chat, if you want. Even in this case, educators find it useful. Rebecca Nesson points out that it is easier to create a strong learning community in Second Life than in other systems of distance online learning as LMS’s. She believes that this happen because in Virtual Worlds, the student has a representation of the self (avatar). The Harvard Law School’s teacher even points out advantages of SL regarding face-to face classes: the student who dominates the discussion and the student who never participate disappeared in SL’s classes.
In Second Life, that problem of students not participating in class discussions just totally disappeared. And when I thought about it, these reasons, these challenges of speaking up in a regular class went away in this environment. In Second Life, when you want to contribute something to the class discussion, you just go ahead and start typing it in your chat box, and nobody turns to look at you, even if they do notice that your avatar is doing the typing motions, they are not actually looking at you, it’s just your avatar, and your avatar is not doing anything embarrassing.
On the flip side, we didn’t have any trouble with students who dominate the discussion. There’s always been the phenomenon of the student who ends every sentence with a conjunction in order to not stop their comment, and you can do that as much as you like in Second Life, and it doesn’t stop anybody else from participating in the discussions. What’s nice about that is very frequently people who usually speak a lot in class have a lot of very good things to contribute, and it’s hard as a teacher to shut somebody down in order to make space for other students, especially if you do feel that you want to be encouraging of their interest and enthusiasm. And this just takes away that problem as well.
And she concludes:
So for me the idea that I would actually end up almost preferring to run a class in a text-based environment to a voice-based environment, that was a huge surprise.
But, as I said, Professors are beginning to understand the language of Second Life. This means that they are discovering that they can do things with Second Life that improve their teaching and learning of their students, that they can not do in face-to face classes.
One of the best advantages of SL is simulation. There are many examples, taken from several Universities: Law students practicing in a court room; medicine students practicing with virtual patients; students creating architecture models; etc. And this kind of teaching is impossible without Virtual Worlds like Second Life: it is too expensive to create simulations like these to students to learn in real life.
From my experience in e-Learning, when professors and students discover they can use the technology not because it is a new technology, but because they find it useful they tend to explore it and actively use it until a new technology appears.
I think this is the point of Gustavo’s post, that when other Virtual World or other technology will appear, Second Life will die because everyone will move.
But will they?
Teachers are using SL actively and at the same time they are still using “traditional technologies” like Moodle. And you can easily check that there is a strong development on integration of this two tools with the Sloodle Project.
Universities are in Second Life, they invested time and money there, they created courses there, they have a strong community (I receive about 60 emails every day on the SL Educators List), they have a lot to explore and develop there. I do not believe they will move to another technology easily. Not in the next years.
We have other examples non-related with Education. IBM is using Second Life to promote work collaboration between their staff, for example.
Gustavo concludes that
Second life is an emerging platform for content production and distribution, just like the web was in 95.
Of course it is not. Second Life is about collaboration and simulation. This is one of the mistakes the people new to Second Life make. They think they can put a building there (or other content) and will have people going there. This was the mistake of the author of The Long Tail.
You can have a building on Second Life and at first people will go there, by curiosity, but after that the building will be empty. Why?
Because Second Life it is not about content production, it is about creating communities and collaboration. It has a new language, a new method of being.
It is the Marshall McLuhan concept “the content of new media is old media”. It happened with radio and television and with theater and cinema, until television and cinema discovered their own language.
Second Life is discovering it’s own language now.
Of course Second Life will die. We all and everything will. Eventually… 😀