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Research

Academic Destination Guide: Introduction

You will need to be set up in Second Life (SL) before you can visit any sites. If you are new to SL, you are strongly advised to read Darren Davis’s excellent introduction to Second Life.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of sites, divided into an alphabetical list of disciplines, which have some educational or research interest. However, you can also search for specific areas; the SL home page provides a destination guide with a list of categories, including an education and non-profit sections.

A number of screen captures are included to help with orientation, along with the brief description and review of each environment. These are sites that I have found interesting and informative, with demonstrations of effective layout and the potential for innovation beyond what is possible in real life.

One of the barriers to more widespread use of SL by academics is the significant time and expense that needs to be invested in constructing your own virtual environment, but those created by others can be explored for free.

To visit a location, copy the SLURL code into the viewer search bar (in the same way that you would copy a web address when using the Internet) and click “teleport”. The location will load – this could take some time because some of these environments are very resource intensive on your computer’s processing ability and your internet connection.

The Bridging the Gaps home in Second Life

SLURL: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/European%20University%20II/218/119/37

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.

A Practical Guide to Second Life (Part XIII)

Recommendations

While it could be seen as a disadvantage that we are sharing an island with other Universities, I think it would be important to keep a presence there, however there is very limited potential at this location. An island owned and branded as the University of Exeter would enable the freedom to create an Exeter virtual learning environment! A single large building representing each campus would act as an easy to understand metaphor for virtual campuses, one for Streatham (perhaps the forum?), one for St Lukes and one representing the Cornwall campus. A central building tying them all together could complete the main environment.

Second Life does not have to mirror the real world exactly. In fact it is sometimes a mistake to try to recreate the real world inside the virtual world. Instead, it is often best to take advantage of things that are possible in the virtual world that would be impossible in the real world when thinking about designing a virtual space.

I recommend a feasibility study should be set up to identify land purchase and describe facilities required for staff and students to use in a virtual learning environment, presenting a proposal for a branded University of Exeter virtual learning environment in Second Life. It is possible to move content already developed (from the European island) to the new location, if required.

Promoting the virtual meeting spaces that already exist amongst staff will enable them to ‘get used to’ interacting in virtual spaces as these become more widespread. This will enable inexpensive inter-University and cross-University collaboration opportunities. A team should be tasked with producing promotional material to engage both staff and students to explore virtual meeting spaces, and virtual learning, making use of our existing Second Life presence.

There is huge potential here to tie together geo-location services in the real world with locations in the virtual world. Interaction between the geoweb, the web, virtual worlds, and social networks will simply become ‘normal’ and ‘expected’ in future. It is important to create the foundations for others to create!

Content is important, without it, there will be nothing to show people in either the real or virtual world. Fostering content repositories that can contain information in many forms, that can be re-used in many other forms, will allow content creators to be more efficient.

“Many firms and educators were starting to use Second Life as an online collaboration space that helps them work together like they do in the real world but to which is added the malleability of a wholly digital space” – BBC, a very real future for virtual worlds

The question is, can we make use of virtual worlds such as Second Life at Exeter University? I believe the answer is yes. We should certainly explore the possibilities of virtual worlds using Second Life. Second Life brings many benefits to the table (such as, social interaction, and the pervasiveness and richness of the platform).

It may be possible to use a blend of virtual worlds allowing live links between one virtual world and another. For instance a location in Second Life that enables you to enter a location in another virtual world’s 3D space. Seeing Second Life as the solution to everything is wrong, but blending the best of many services would be the key to success in the virtual space.

Virtual worlds are at the stage the web was 10 years ago. Second Life itself is likely to evolve to bring higher sophistication to virtual worlds, enabling what may not yet be possible. From a business perspective, some may be put off Second Life, however we invite collaboration and exploration from the public and other Universities. Using the most popular virtual world allows us to present our content to any person using any platform, anywhere. A level of power and opportunity that should not be missed as virtual worlds become more mainstream.

A closed system could be used once a student has joined the university, but not easily for potential students. Second Life would allow potential students to visit and interact with the virtual university, and upon joining would be granted permission to enter restricted areas giving the most flexibility.

We should seek to make use of Second Life as a learning environment, and to conduct business at a distance. Tools exist within Second Life to make individual rooms as open or as closed as needed, allowing private meeting spaces to be created.

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