Virtual worlds here to stay

Whether you're keen on Second Life (SL) or not, virtual worlds (VWs) are coming, and not just for entertainment or education. Elearnmag has an article on Another Life: Virtual Worlds as Tools for Learning which is well worth a read.

Reading stuff on SL generally requires you to sort out the sensible from the hype. This article is no exception, but it does have a number of sensible things to say:

We encourage you to examine this technology with fresh eyes and begin by asking what sensibilities it can bring to the learner that aren't found in traditional learning technology. So instead of asking "How do I build a virtual classroom?" we might ask, "What can this technology do that will enhance the learner's experience that my current learning technology portfolio cannot?"

In other worlds, if we were going to use SL for language learning (and I've got some serious doubts), we shouldn't just be seeking to replicate what we do in our face-to-face classrooms.

The article continues:

Major corporations are creating a lot of buzz around VWs but most of it is promotional. It's hip, and compared to alternatives, it's cheap. But it holds few answers to our questions about how to improve learning with VWs.

As with any other form of technology you might use in your classroom, if it helps your learners to learn more, and better, let's use it. If not, let's not.

Second Life: where to get started

Yikes! A tree! Hang-gliding in Second Life… Perhaps I should have stayed on Orientation Island longer?

Assumption #1
You haven't been lost in the jungle for the last three years
You've heard of Second Life (aka SL), right? If not, the SL home page gives you a good overview of SL and what it's all about.

Assumption #2
Your PC is up to spec
Assuming that your computer is up to the technical specifications for Second Life, you've downloaded it, entered it, wondered who the hell wrote all the hype about Second Life but are still curious… then the following are decent places to begin:

Getting started guides

Tips I wish someone had given me

  • Spend sufficiently long on "Orientation Island" in order to be able to find your way around, and do things: you particularly want to be able to move and view comfortably
  • Start by attending an event people actually turn up for, or else arrange to go "inworld" with friends — otherwise you'll probably find most islands are totally deserted, and playing Robinson Crusoe is very boring. The NWN blog has regular posts of upcoming events in SL
  • Learn the keyboard shortcuts for things like moving, and flying and viewing (this cheatsheet of SL keyboad shortcuts is very handy)
  • Learn how to make gestures (control+G)… they were the first thing I found fun

Videos of Second Life
And if you're one of the millions who can't get into to SL because your computer isn't up to spec, you could resort to YouTube, where you'll find lots of videos of Second Life which will show what you are (not?) missing… Like this one, of the NMC Campus.

Alternative sources of SL videos include:

I hate Second Life

Second Life: 4.6m+ "residents", supposed to be exciting… But frankly, it's not

Second Life
(or SL), a 3D Virtual Reality platform, is being touted as the next big thing for learning, and just about anything else you care to think about, for that matter.

Here's the Future Technologies Advisory Group (who describe themselves as "a consulting and media group") raving about it:

In other words, 3D is a much better user interface. This is not surprising: while we have been working with documents for only a few hundreds of years, we have evolved fast responses to the real 3D universe, like running from predators and hunting prey, for hundreds of thousands of years. Now that technology permits doing so, 3D VR will become the preferred online interface for users with powerful PCs and enough bandwidth. Nothing exceptional though: your home PC and DSL are probably more than good enough to run Second Life.

First of all, it would be interesting to have some stats on what percentage of the population are currently "users with powerful PCs and enough bandwidth" and what percentage could fix things if their home PC doesn't prove to be "good enough to run Second Life"… Like, you've got the wrong kind of videocard. Duh! What do I do now…?

Beware of, be skeptical of any and all claims that are made for any and all technology, I say. To say that "3D [and hence Second Life] is a much better user interface" strikes me as being utter nonsense. To suggest that we've been "running from predators and hunting prey, for hundreds of thousands of years" and will thus take to SL like ducks to water is, frankly, utter crap.

What percentage of the population… :

  • have ever run from predators or hunted prey in the real world?
  • actually like First Person Shooter (FPS) video games?
  • actually like any video games?
  • actively hate video games?

I mention FPS video games [definition] because that's essentially what SL is. You "see" yourself in a virtual world, and wander round doing things (er, what things, if we're supposed to be teaching/learning languages…?).

But there is one important exception: SL is not exciting (unless you happen to be into cybersex, that is) — you don't run away from anyone, shoot anything, get excited or feel scared (etc).

According to Wikipedia: "[Although] Second Life is sometimes referred to as a game, it does not have [my emphasis] points, scores, winners or losers, levels, an end-strategy." Er, the point of "playing" it…?

What percentage of FPS video games players like SL…?

More about Second Life
Second Life | Wikipedia entry | Second Life Education Research