Helmer (2007, p. 4) describes Second Life (SL) as a sandbox where users create the world and everything in it. SL differs from online games such as World of Warcraft as there are no defined goals or activities for users to carry out. Accurate statistics on current users are difficult to obtain as Linden Labs ceased releasing many usage statistics in 2010, but it is clear from the statistics that are available that usage has been slowly declining since that time (see figure 1; Shepherd, 2013).
I found SL clunky and laggy. I struggled with the interface despite previous experience playing World of Warcraft and Minecraft. Linden Labs claims orientation takes four hours; I agree with Harmer (2007, pp. 23-24) that it takes far longer. For educational projects to succeed, benefit to users needs to be obvious and stretched over a period of time.
The flexibility of SL allows interesting and varied learning experiences. SL allows a wide range of media (presentations, video, interactive whiteboards); a learning environment is limited by the designers technical ability, imagination and time. It is obvious how this could be useful for distance education. Figure 2 shows my SL avatar in the CSU-SIS Learning Centre. The advantages to SL are it’s downfall, the openness of SL makes it vulnerable to hackers and scammers which can lead to loss of service and property in the game.
While in SL I visited the Rockcliffe University Library & Reference Center which provides free online books and links to download media. The Rockcliffe library has an automated library assistant at the entrance to provide information and direction to visitors (see figure 3).
I also visited the California State University, Fullerton campus in SL (see figure 4). Lester and King (2009) published an article analysing teaching a course (subject) in SL, finding that the educational results of face to face and SL teaching were very similar.
SL provides huge potential for educators, and it has attracted many libraries and educational providers over the last decade. Particularly for distance education, language instruction, and providing media rich content. These benefits are not unique to SL, they are present in any online virtual world that allows rich media. Hill and Meister (2013) claim SL has been used as a stepping stone for educators to move into teaching in immersive worlds, and that the cost and technical problems present in SL make “gridhopping” desirable and worthwhile.
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
Hill, V., & Meister, M. (2013). Virtual worlds and libraries: Gridhopping to new worlds. College & Research Libraries News, 74(1), 43-47. Available from http://crlnews.highwire.org/
Lester, P. M., & King, C. M. (2009). Analog vs. digital instruction and learning: Teaching within first and Second Life environments. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 14(3), 457–483. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2009.01449.x
Shepherd, T. (2013). Mean daily concurrency. In Second Life Grid Survey. Retrieved from http://www.gridsurvey.com