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Higher Education

The Bridging the Gaps home in Second Life


This is the first site in our guide to academic locations in Second Life, so let’s begin with the University of Exeter’s presence and the Bridging the Gaps home building. For our first foray into a virtual world, we decided that a basic lecture theatre structure would meet our needs; as you can see it is not very big, we only take up a quarter of a standard land parcel and the building itself is even smaller. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in character. We have two web browser screens that allow you to connect to web pages and IP addresses. We have seating and ‘prim count’ (capacity) for a dozen avatars of varying complexity. We hope to showcase the true communication and collaborative potential of Second Life at our 11th October event.

University of Exeter, Politics Department


The second University of Exeter Structure, the Centre for European Governance, was created and is managed by Alison Harcourt in Politics. This is a much larger and more established installation, with two seminar rooms, an office for smaller group meetings and a reception area that provides prospectus information for new students.

The two seminar rooms are each equipped with a virtual PowerPoint display (although you need permissions to change the current page) and sufficient seating for a dozen or so avatars. There are some nice touches, with the virtual bookcases and the realistic decorations of the rooms.

The virtual office offers a more private and informal discussion area and also provides identification of the staff members. This is something that is rarely seen in Second Life, where many inhabitants are very guarded about their real life identities. However, first and foremost this is a communication hub for the exchange of ideas. One of the benefits of conducting seminars in Second Life is the ability to record class discussions; manuscripts can then be forwarded to students after the class as reminder of the topics and points of discussion.

Entering the virtual world…

Sam Fowler explains his involvement in Bridging the Gaps and how Second life is much more than a game.

When I was first asked to participate in the Bridging the Gaps project as part of my Graduate business placement at the university, I thought “Fantastic I am going to get to play a video game for work! I will be the envy of my fellow gamers everywhere!” Of course, what I learned was that virtual worlds have as much to do with video games as primary schools do with higher education!

The first lesson I learned is the problem with the word “game”, as defined by that infamous knowledgebase:

“…A game is a structured activity usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes used as an educational tool…components of games are goals, rules, challenges and interaction”

The idea of a virtual world is not one based on challenges and goals, but rather on exploring the possibilities without the same rules and limitation as real life. What we are endeavouring to create is an environment that academics, students and support staff can use for initiating and developing innovative cross-disciplinary research projects; far more important than a game!

One of our chosen platforms to trial is ‘Second Life’. Although known more for its social uses, Second Life, boasts a significant education and research community and is used by, academic across the world for a variety of purposes; from teaching students in virtual classrooms, to providing simulations of impractical environments that have educational value.

Here are just a few links to have look at if you have a moment spare.

If you have a free hour, I would recommend this video on the subject.

Perhaps most importantly, many use it to exchange knowledge and expand their professional network.

As with other new software, the learning curve is steep but not insurmountable. Second Life offers an immersive 3D environment complete with its own economy based on a complex virtual market, where the limit really does seem to be the human imagination. It does take some time to grow accustomed to the oddities of this world, but this investment of time is repaid by the opportunities to work collaboratively across disciplines and institutions.

So at the University of Exeter it is not the challenge of playing a “game” or learning about new software that is of interest, but rather asking ourselves “what can we do with a virtual world?” So in the coming months I will discuss issues regarding the role of virtual worlds in cross disciplinary education, research and provide regular updates on the Bridging the gaps project.

Also here’s a spreadsheet with a few places of educational interest in Second Life! I will be adding more to it when I have some time!

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