(Final post in a series on current uses of Virtual Worlds in Education)
This week I will wrap up the series of posts I published throughout June, focused on Internet based Virtual World technologies as they are being used in Education today. As I researched current VW tech options for education, it became apparent to me that Second Life remains the most widely known and used VW app. SL is also readily accessible by users worldwide (unlike some other VW technologies which are more proprietary in nature). Today's post concludes this series by providing examples of Second Life worlds that could potentially be useful to educators.
The following listing of Second Life islands is intended to provide some insight into resources within SL that have potential usefulness as an engaging part of an instructor's lecture, a student project, or a more extended classroom effort. The arts and sciences include many disciplines that can go hand in hand with SL's ability to display images and provide ‘virtual tour' functionality, and these types of sites dominate the list. SL's ability to echo many real world interactions opens the door to emulate many kinds of constructs and processes, such as conducting business, or doing architectural design, but these types of activities require a much larger investment of time and effort than simply taking virtual tours. Below I have focused on experiences that require little more than a “walk around and check things out” level of activity engagement in order to be somewhat engaging.
For some of these sites, I have included a Second Life URL, for some I have included a link to an associated web site, and for others I have included a simple search phrase for locating the site in SL's Search window [note that accessing an SL URL requires that you have a SL account]. I also should mention that all SL sites also have 3 digit mapping coordinates, but that's rather advanced for lay users such as myself, and I will not indicate them here.
Art Galleries of SL (web site): This site lists over 600 SL based art galleries, and provides SL URLs for most of them, plus links to associated web sites when available. Many of the galleries are ranked (on a scale of 1 to 5 stars). I checked out a few of the 5 star sites, and there were many nice paintings and sculptures displayed (there may also be erotic works in these sites, so keep that in mind before sending students there). Many of the pieces in museums are for sale (they can be bought with ‘Linden Dollars‘ and hung up in your own SL property if you acquire some).
Star Trek Museum of Science: This was one of the easiest sites I came across to get easy ‘response' from – that is, many of the wall hangings and objects have some sort of easily accessible functionality (mostly ‘notecards' with information), that just walking around and checking things out was rather enjoyable. Moreover, the site goes somewhat beyond Start Trek and “promotes the study of the scientific and engineering technologies found in Star Trek” to “encourage interest in the real-life physics, astronomy, information technology and other sciences that are the foundation of those technologies”.
International Spaceflight Museum (web site): Features virtual models of various spacecraft, and links to wiki pages that provide an overview of the crafts and their missions, in a multitude of languages.
Music: Blue Fusion Jazz Club (web site): This site features live performances, and it seemed like it should be a pretty cool island, but I was unable to get much interaction out of it. Even though I saw people dancing in one area, I couldn't get the system to play any music for me. There was also supposed to be a YouTube video available on a screen here, but it wouldn't play either. Not sure what I was doing wrong, but I am guessing that these limitations were operator error and not necessarily functions that didn't work.
The Museum of Robots (web site): As per the notecard that is offered to you as soon as you transport to this island, “The Museum of Robots is dedicated to the appreciation of robots. Its mission is to promote understanding of the place of robots in popular culture, art, and science. We realize this mission through permanent and special exhibits, entertainment, and events.” Have a look around if robots interest you!
The Museum of Philosophy (SL URL): Explore ideas through their Philosophers. A beautiful garden and some of SL's best fine art and sculptures. Some very nice artwork, including a number of cool shimmering and vibrant sculptures, but I didn't come across much content about philosophy in my initial walk through parts of the site.
The Newggenheim Museum (search for ‘newggenheim' in SL): A fully interactive re-working of the original Guggenheim Museum.
Mental Health (SL URL): The virtual hallucinations project seeks to educate people about the mental illness schizophrenia. This clinic building site is based on the hallucinations of two specific people with schizophrenia, who were interviewed in detail and gave feedback on early designs for the hallucinations. While the hallucinations are not glamorous, they fairly accurately reproduce these patients' experiences. You can get a sense of just how intrusive the voices of schizophrenia really are by visiting this site.
Genome Island (search for ‘genome' in SL): This is a pretty interesting interactive world focused on Genetics, featuring exhibits such as a slideshow that explains the inheritance of the X-linked Orange gene in cats, and cat avatars you can click on to see the colors of their offspring, as a demonstration of gene sharing outcome possibilities. This site gets heavy with scientific jargon, and familiarity with Genetics is required to fully appreciate this Island.
The Most Beautiful Campus in SL” – DePaul University College of CDM (Computing & Digital Media) (search for ‘depaul' in SL): While being rather different from the museums and art displays above, it just didn't seem like this listing would be complete without including at least one well done SL college or university Campus, and this one is a beauty. This Island is richly detailed and possible to appreciate for that quality alone. Stop by and have a look around!
Second Life has the potential to play a variety of interesting roles in the educational process and can provide a more interactive experience than the average web site or tool, but it requires more of an investment in time to learn and use than many other web based tools require. Educational institutions across the world are finding many interesting ways to leverage SL, and I could spend many more weeks learning about and reporting on Education related SL activities there. In fact, I have become interested enough in the tool to continue working with it on my own time, and I am looking forward to providing an update here in a few months, after I have given the environment more of a workout. I feel I have yet to fully grasp the various mechanics of using the environment, and that there is more of interest awaiting me as I take the time to explore further.
Longer term, it could be quite interesting seeing how this immersive toolset evolves over time and how Second Life and other Virtual World technologies are adopted by education in years to come. As the speed of processors, bandwidth, and other relevant resources continues to evolve, the potential utility of this type of complex tool could be very impressive. Better integration of video, more interactive objects, characters with artificial intelligence (and quicker rendering of the landscape) could turn what is already an intriguing environment into an Internet experience with little comparison.