Gaines Fellow Juried Project – page 4

Second Life
Second Life is a 3D multi-user virtual world. It is much more serious than a game; it has a thriving capitalist economy with over six million “residents” or users. This includes many residents whose real life counterparts make a living creating and selling virtual objects and services. A journal article by Angela Adrian in the International Review of Law, Computers, & Technology stated that, “the lives of the people in Second Life and the institutions they make are a type of civil society. There are professional associations and business organizations as well as social movements and advocacy groups. Virtual worlds need to be taken seriously.”[1]

A great deal of research went into this project in terms of discovering the viability of Second Life as a learning tool. Developing a project here as opposed to on the flat web forced me to ask what the merits were of communicating in this environment versus using skype, conference calling, or other social networking and communication technologies.

I visited many learning-oriented “SIMs” or simulations before I began building my project. Several of these stand out to me as particularly successful environments. First, there was a strikingly beautiful and realistic mountain top removal SIM, which educated its audience about the environmental effects of coal production. Secondly, I visited a “disaster SIM” which was used for training respondents in a variety of situations from terrorist attacks to hurricanes. Finally, I visited an ethics garden, which focused more on stimulating philosophical dialogue and discussion. These spaces were each successful learning tools in different ways, and served as motivations for my vision of what a 3D interactive learning environment could look like.

There is a vast body of research on learning initiatives in Second Life. For example, in 2006, the University of Plymouth (UK) conducted a study of public health education in Second Life through the creation of a sexual health SIM.[2] Other studies looked at its success as a space for online coursework and business conferencing. These articles were extremely systematic in the way they cataloged the drawbacks and advantages of Second Life.

The biggest strength of Second Life lies in its ability to facilitate distance learning. This is the strength I hope to tap into, beginning by connecting to peace-oriented groups that already have a presence on Second Life. These are numerous. Everything from religious groups to women’s advocacy groups to Amnesty International is just a click away. Some small countries even have diplomatic embassies in Second Life!

An example of the potential of distance learning arose with the Muslim pilgrimage known as the Hajj. In November, millions of devoted Muslims took this journey in real life, but thousands also took a simulated journey in Second Life. In Second Life, non-Muslims were also welcomed to learn about the significance of the Hajj to the faith of Islam.[3] In this way, Second Life often mirrors real life, but in a slightly different manner, with different purposes and goals.

The biggest drawback of using Second Life is the steep learning curve for new users. This is something I have personally experienced. I had no prior interaction with Second Life before I started my project, and consequently I was forced to quickly learn the basics at the same time that I participated in extremely advanced building activities with avatars that had been active for years. I had a few major bloopers while in Second Life. Most notably, I once accidentally removed all of my avatar’s hair and clothing. The time it takes to get comfortable using Second Life could be a deterrent for new users.


     [1] Adrian, Angela. “Civil Society in Second Life.” International Review of Law, Computers, & Technology. Vol. 23, No. 3, November 2009, 231-235.
     [2] Boulos and Toth-Cohent, Maged and Susan. “The University of Plymouth Sexual Health SIM experience in Second Life: evaluation and reflections after 1 year.” Health Information and Libraries Journal. 2009, No. 26, pp. 279-288.
     [3] “Second Life Visit to Mecca for the Hajj.” December, 2010. <www.news.sky.com>.

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