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Online Higher Education in Second Life? 67

Posted by Cliff
from the virtual-school-rooms dept.
XxtraLarGe asks: "As both a technician for my college's Distance Learning program and as an avid gamer, I have been tasked with investigating Second Life as a possible way for us to extend and enhance our online classes. I've done a lot of research, reading about what other schools have done. While I personally think it is a really cool idea, I am somewhat skeptical of the actual practicality and value of what seems to be a glorified chat room. I'd like to hear from others about their education experience in Second Life, particularly if you've been involved in setting up any online classes or taken any online classes. What sort of training would be required for the faculty, and is it really worth it?"
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Online Higher Education in Second Life?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 23, 2007 @01:33AM (#18455205)
    if so, consider the fact that you guys will look like total boners if you offer classes in a video game. I don't care if that sounds ok to you, accept that you're weird and think how it's going to sound to anyone who is in a position to hire anyone for a real job.
    • by Kangburra (911213) on Friday March 23, 2007 @01:37AM (#18455215)
      I don't see why this has been modded down.

      Second life is a game, education is not. Get the education through known (quantifiable) channels before playing with games.

      Employers can be finicky about all aspects of your education, someone who gamed their diploma will struggle even if they are the best for the job.
      • And what if... (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Employers can be finicky about all aspects of your education, someone who gamed their diploma will struggle even if they are the best for the job.

        And what if it is a school for videogaming? (Programming and Animation in particular, such schools exist).

        Anyway, in my experience. employers for technical jobs care about competence more than education. And if they are competent, they can tell if you have the stuff or not by the end of the interviewing process. They won't care if you did your classes standing

        • Re:And what if... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Moraelin (679338) on Friday March 23, 2007 @03:35AM (#18455645) Journal

          And what if it is a school for videogaming? (Programming and Animation in particular, such schools exist).


          I can't see how having the school _in_ a video game would help with either. You could use a video game as an illustration or assignment, maybe, but having virtual avatars dicking around in a virtual world? Seriously, how's that going to help?

          So I wouldn't be turned off just because a student learned through a game (a top freshman or sophomore Naval pilot trained on a Microsoft's Flight Simulator a few years back to win Naval contest that only juniors and seniors won before... can't seem to find the story right now). I remember also a Discovery Channel special where they showed surgeons being trained on a video game.


          Except those are very specialized simulators, extremely close to the real thing. I can't see how playing any game would help programming in the same way. If you play MS Flight Sim, you might actually learn something about airplanes, but if you click around a virtual classroom in Second Life, all you've learned from there is to click around in a game. Maybe a valuable skill for something else, but it won't make you a better programmer no matter how you want to slice it.

          Additionally, SL does have the dubious reputation among many people of being basically a 3D cybersex game, and of pink flying penises. Deserved or undeserved, I'm not discussing that at this point. Just that it has it. So while many employers could maybe live with getting your courses online, many _will_ be turned off by such an association. It's basically on par with saying that you got your education at the local brothel. You know, one of the hookers also was good with computers and stuff.

          OTOH, the worst classes I have ever taken were online classes. Impersonal, the teacher (in English anyways) seems to grade papers harsher without a face to put to it, lacking in clarification or time the teacher can devote to your question, and all around sucky for areas you aren't naturally good in. No social interaction, etc.


          I'm not sure putting a silly avatar on it would help that horribly much. Or not enough to offset the other problems.

          So I would ask: does this make sense and how exactly will it help students? Is this just eye candy? Will it put up barriers for education? (I know nothing about 2nd life - Windows Only? Does it require too high end of a computer to run comfortabley?) Make that a consideration. Is the professor going to struggle with this? Could this money be spent in a better way or would it be better not to spend it at all? Is it easy? When your semesters are only 14-15 weeks, you don't want to dick around for a week or two getting things running on either side. Does it or doesn't it make sense? It should be really that simple.


          I'm guessing it would take a lot more than a week or two, including dealing with disruptions, pranks and whatnot. The pink flying penises aren't just a wisecrack, that's just what happened to someone's press release in SL.

          Plus, I see it as more work for the teacher all semester long, if they actually want to simulate all the advantages of a real school. Just seeing the teacher standing there isn't going to do much.
          • Lets get this straight, Second Life is not a game. It's not WoW. It's a 3D virtual environment. You can play games within SL, but itself is not a game, but a platform. You can play games via IRC, but no one calls IRC a game, right?

            g. I can't see how playing any game would help programming in the same way. If you play MS Flight Sim, you might actually learn something about airplanes, but if you click around a virtual classroom in Second Life, all you've learned from there is to click around in a game. Ma

        • Second Life is open source, official clients exist for Windows, OSX and Linux. It does require good 3D hardware but will run (sluggishly) on at least some integrated graphics chipsets.

      • Second life is a game, education is not. Get the education through known (quantifiable) channels before playing with games.


        It took me a lot of grinding, but I finally levelled up in my scripting skill! ;-)

        Seriously, SL is just as much of a game as IRC or Slashdot is. You can play a game through it (by posting chess moves for instance), but that doesn't really make it a game in itself.
      • I disagree.

        Education happens when people learn, and people can learn in a variety of ways that do not involve sitting in a chair with your fellow students. There have been online telecourses for a while now, and video courses for much longer (I took a physics class in college where all the lessons were on a cable channel). To say that Second Life is a game and that's not a forum where education can occur really pigeonholes Second Life and ignores one of the key ways people learn - interacting and building r
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Seumas (6865)
      I have to agree. From what I have seen of Second Life, that and "higher education" do not belong in the same sentence. Second Life is where the people who are too retarded for other games go to "play".

      Seriously, I tried to play it once and within five minutes of creating a character I had one female avatar offer to go offline and have "sex via instant messaging" for cash and another try to sell me some random crap that I didn't have a clue about. Needless to say, I deleted the game and never played again. N
    • if so, consider the fact that you guys will look like total boners if you offer classes in a video game.
      Yeah, I'd hate for us to look like Harvard or Stanford [simteach.com]....
    • consider the fact that you guys will look like total boners if you offer classes in a video game.
      I would also ask them to consider the risk of the classroom being attacked BY flying boners.
  • My god (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bobetov (448774) on Friday March 23, 2007 @01:46AM (#18455255) Homepage
    Ok, so Second Life is cool. It's waaaay trendy. It has the sexy.

    But it is chat. Only chat. Chat that you can't archive, that is done with word bubbles, and without a moderation system. What on earth would make you think that this would be a good platform for instruction?

    Additionally:
    - It's a beast on the requirements side, you need a ton of 3D horsepower and a fat network pipe to use it effectively
    - Large groups of avatars clustered together hammer the client, turning things into a 4fps slideshow
    - Server uptime has historically not been stellar, though that may have changed since I was involved
    - It's distracting as all hell - your students will spend all their time customizing/scoping out each others' avatars

    Please, for the love of pete, get over the hype on Second Life.
    • Re:My god (Score:5, Informative)

      by Seumas (6865) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:17AM (#18455343)
      If I met someone who acquired their education via Second Life, I would laugh hysterically at them. Then I would toss my spare change into their tin can and while I continue on my way to work.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by DaleGlass (1068434)

        If I met someone who acquired their education via Second Life, I would laugh hysterically at them. Then I would toss my spare change into their tin can and while I continue on my way to work.

        So what exactly would make you feel so superior? I would hope that the prestige of one's education is based on its quality, rather than on where you got it.

        Here in Spain we have the UNED, a distance university. I think it's the spanish university with the highest number of students. You can pretty much study everything

      • Consider the fact that a $200 video card attached to a new-ish PC is pretty much REQUIRED for SL to not totally suck ass, we can assume that people using it have slightly more resources than your average hobo.
    • Re:My god (Score:5, Informative)

      by Aladrin (926209) on Friday March 23, 2007 @05:52AM (#18456319)
      Instruction is just chat, also. I fail to see how that's any different.

      As for archiving, there are linux-based scripts to intercept the text chat and store it. So no issue there, either.

      It's not THAT bad on the client side. If you don't get crazy and build a complete model of your real building in-game, you should be able to get quite a few people in the same area without issue.

      Server uptime is questionable at best.

      It IS distracting for sure.

      Getting your slideshow to work can be an exercise in profanity.

      And people can just wander through uninvited, unless you make everyone part owners and use special scripts to keep others out, etc... A real pain.

      How do I know this? I used to go to the RoSL (Rubyists of Second Life) weekly meetings to listen to them talk about the cool Ruby stuff they were working on. Why don't I go now?

      Because the idiots that staff Second Life can't fix my account and don't want to even talk to me about it. They had numerous security breaches, and on the first one, made everyone reset their password. Mine won't, it just gives an error and tells me to contact support. Email support claims they can't help other than to send the same broken url that's on the website. The phone support always does one of the following: disconnects immediately, puts me on hold forever and disconnects at the recording, puts me on hold forever and PROMISES they'll contact me and let's me record a message and then doesn't contact me, or goes into an infinite loop and won't let you do anything. I don't think there even ARE live people on that thing. I've certainly never talked to one in 6 MONTHS OF TRYING.

      Seriously. If you have ANY issues whatsoever, you can kiss your precious class goodbye.

      That's the real reason to stay far, far away from Second Life for anything non-trivial.
      • by Alioth (221270)
        There are better ways to do 'just chat' online though, than Second Life. IRC - which has very light requirements will fill this requirement fine.
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          There are better ways to do 'just chat' online though, than Second Life. IRC - which has very light requirements will fill this requirement fine.

          The advantage of using second life is that you can provide visual examples.

          You could accomplish the same thing, however, using Sauerbraten. You would need some custom additions to do much other than pull cubes around; building is a VERY slow process and cloning objects etc is somewhat nonintuitive. But it allows in-game collaborative building, and it doesn't cost

      • Have you tried opening a new account and contacting the helpstaff in-game? I have a friend who works there as a programmer, and she ends up doing support-type duty semi-regularly. Yeah, you might get someone miles away from anyone in the offices whose sole job is "helpstaff" - or you might get someone sitting there in the office, who can have a look at the account database and frob a few settings directly.
        • by Aladrin (926209)
          No, I have completely lost any faith I once had in their support staff. I just received a letter this morning that was sent to attempt to maintain their 24-hour maximum response time. It was a form letter, and it is weeks later. Yes, closer to 24 days than 24 hours.
    • by Dogtanian (588974)

      It's distracting as all hell - your students will spend all their time customizing/scoping out each others' avatars
      Whereas a hallful of students in their late-teens/early-twenties wouldn't be leching over each other in real life?

      Then again, not so likely if we're discussing a real-life CS/IT/Videogaming degree with more than its fair share of pasty-faced under/overweight male geeks. :-)
    • But it is chat. Only chat. Chat that you can't archive, that is done with word bubbles, and without a moderation system. What on earth would make you think that this would be a good platform for instruction?

      Chat can be archived, you can access a log in SL (ctrl+H), and it can be moderated. If you own the land you're speaking on you can kick people out, ban them, or make the land accessible only to people on the allow list.

      - It's distracting as all hell - your students will spend all their time customizing/s

      • The logs are also saved to plaintext files, you don't need to use the SL app to access them. You can also grab screenshots of whatever visual material is presented.
    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      I agree that higher education in SL would be a joke. Though I do feel obligated to point out that chat in SL can indeed be easily archived. Just open up your chat history window, select all the text from that session and hit Ctrl-C (copy). It will copy to your clipboard quite nicely.

      One thing that you didn't mention that would also be a HUGE potential problem are griefers. They are not quite as common in SL as people think (they generally prefer harassing clubs and tend to avoid discussion/education/art

    • by GWBasic (900357)

      It's distracting as all hell - your students will spend all their time customizing/scoping out each others' avatars

      I don't know about you, but when I went to school in first life, I spent a lot of time scoping out female avatars... I'd much rather leave my room to go to class if it means that I'm more likely to get laid!

    • It's more than chat. You can show LIVE VIDEO in Second Life. You can stream LIVE AUDIO in Second Life.

      If you were teaching something like architecture or carpentry, you could show full 3D models to students and allow them to view the models from any angle, copy the models, modify the models, etc.

      For an online-only class, Second Life could be better than WebEx or whatever other crap we have out there. Especially in certain domains.

      By saying it's "just chat" you prove that you aren't qualified to comment on t
  • Well... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 23, 2007 @01:51AM (#18455271)
    Well, if nothing else, at least once a day your virtual classroom could be invaded by giant, flying lessons in human anatomy.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    seriously how much is second life paying slashdot to post all of this crap?
    • seriously how much is second life paying slashdot to post all of this crap?
      If they're getting a kick-back, I hope I get some too! Did you even read the summary? Why would somebody from Second Life say they were skeptical if it would work, or if call it a glorified chat room?
  • I've never played, but I've heard that Second Life is built on scripting. If you have the ability, get people together and script all the necessary things like chat logging to create a good classroom environment: white board, pseudo-textbook, tests etc.

    Forget trying to teach people, you could probably even make a profit off it by charging people admission. I'm sure even if the concept of learning was useless, you'd make money just based on novelty.

    And I wouldn't worry about lag too much, its not like

    • Why not?

      Because it's retarded.

      I'm all for innovation, but if I was a student at wherever this guy works, I would be incredibly pissed off that any amount of time was spent even talking about this idea. College tuition and fees are already unnecessarily high pretty much everywhere, and crap like this, which at least two people had to have spent time on the clock talking about and this guy has apparently spent time "researching" (Read As: Playing Second Life) on the student's (and possibly tax payer's)
  • Overhyped (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tsa (15680) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:16AM (#18455337) Homepage
    SL is so extremely overhyped right now it seems like the new Internet of the late 1990s. People even have conference chats in there, and now we need to have schools in there as well? Get a grip guys, and focus on the quality and results of your work. Doing your work in a new and cool way isn't always better you know. The only ones who will profit from the hype is the Linden 'family'.
  • by Wax_and_Wane (558470) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:20AM (#18455353)
    Having taken part in the initial beta of the Second Life voice client starting two weeks ago, I can say that when voice capabilities come to SL they will certainly make it more useful to educational purposes. The system they are testing already works well and allows for 3D stereo sound. I realize that this alone does not make it perfect for education, but it does mean that it will not simply be a "glorified chat room" much longer.

    I think attempting to bring learning systems to SL does have merit. The tools actually are shaping up and aside from the universities that are already in SL, I know of a few other educational offerings that are being developed now that could demonstrate value for educators and students.

    I think that this type of immersive long-distance multiuser education is here to stay. Whether it will gain public acceptance during the platform life cycle of Second Life really depends on whether innovative educators keep coming into the virtual world prepared to push it forward. So if you are looking for a polished educational software platform to set up and get rolling quickly, then SL is not for you yet. On the other hand, if you want to be a pioneer and expand your thinking on how virtual worlds can fascilitate education then you should invest a little funding in SL and see what you can make of it.
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Man, voice chat (VC) is *SO* controversial in SL right now. I never would have thought it would evoke so much emotion (guess a lot of guys out there are pretending to be girls and don't look forward to getting "found out"). I literally got kicked out of a discussion a while back for even admitting that I *liked* the idea of VC.

      Glad to hear it works well, though. Maybe when it's actually implemented people will stop bitching about it. I suspect those with something to hide will always resent it. And it wil

  • Part of the advantage of online classes is the idea that students can read the materal at their own convience and communicate though email and postings. Having a live chat can be useful but is unnecessary to have every week.
  • by Andabata (778566) on Friday March 23, 2007 @05:11AM (#18456095)
    Look beyond the hype and anti-hype. Second Life is a great platform for cooperation, and it is not just about chat.
    People can build things together without having to know 3-D instructions of 3-D software. People can program in a C-like syntax, event-driven. It has produced a great result in beginning programming classes, since students have been able to produce enticing results from their first 'for','while', or if... And they find an immediate use for maths (3-D movement) and for lots of algorithms.

    For instance, my undergraduate students are producing in Second Life "products" that behave as if they had RFID tags and are now developing a traditional Windows application for managing e-mails sent by those "products" - without actually having to acquire RFID tags. And they are just beginning their programming.

    On the other hand, one of my PhD students is trying to integrate Second Life with teaching management software like Moodle or like our in-house system. There is an open source platform for accessing Moodle content from Second Life (Sloodle), but not the opposite.
    I think you two could exchange interesting view. Get in touch.
    • by aicrules (819392)
      For you first example, yes it has a programming languages that is built to allow people to learn it easier. It contains fundamentals of programming that can be applied elsewhere. This is a legitimate way to use SecondLife to teach a class something. It doesn't have anything really to do with CONDUCTING the class in SecondLife, it just happens to be the language environment of choice for the project.

      Building products in SecondLife that act like RFID is interesting, but with what applicability? None fo
      • by Andabata (778566)
        As for the students and the RFID simulation, there are two great pluses:
        • the products look like products and the clients look like clients and are really close by or clicking on product, it's not a Web page equivalent or a "let's all pretend that this text is instead...";
        • The students will develop a Windows application for managing data arriving from sensors. That the sensors are virtual has little to do with the top layer of the application, changing it to real sensors has major impact only on the bottom
  • Bad Idea (TM) (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Second Life in its current form is not suitable for any serious business (or education) for the following reasons:

    1. Unplanned outages. These have been there from the start, but for the past 3 months or so it has been horrible. Expect at least 2 to 3 days a week where no work can be done due to the fact that people can't log in, can't get to the assigned location, can't chat properly because their chat lines are coming out in jumbled order or not at all.
    2. Griefers. SL is so full of these it's going to kill
    • Are you running the same SL I am? I remember the inventory troubles I used to have when SL hit over 10000 simultaneous users. They don't happen now even when it hits 30000. The client used to crash in the 1.10 days when I tried to run anything else, firefox, notepad, anything. Nowadays I could even run GIMP (I'm running the Windows version)

      As for griefers I have this to say: What griefers? Maybe I don't hang in the places griefers do but I don't see them. Besides, griefers tend to avoid cultural/educ
  • Having held two seminars in SL - at the request of other players - as well as doing the same in a real university I think I can fairly comment on how lacking SL is as a teaching medium.

    The seminars were a "101" style introduction to a scientific subject. I prepared for it much as I would have any presentation. I made my standard dull yet structuring powerpoint slides, exported them as jpegs and scripted a slide viewer in LSL. The seminar was well attended, drawing 20+ attentive students to each two hour s

  • If you're planning to acquire a whole sim, then you can get a nice discount on it.

    I'm not sure if a whole sim would be needed though, but they have advantages over normal land as you get a lot more control over them.
  • Slogan (Score:3, Funny)

    by rlp (11898) on Friday March 23, 2007 @08:28AM (#18457499)
    "Get your degree without leaving your parents basement!"
  • by blueZhift (652272) on Friday March 23, 2007 @09:50AM (#18458597) Homepage Journal
    In itself having online classes in a 3D virtual setting like Second Life is a good idea. It is surprising just how much more of a connection seeing and interacting with others in such a manner brings compared to text only. Integrated voice should serve to deepen the immersion and effectiveness of using SL as an online education platform. The real problem though, is that Second Life is not quite up to the task yet and the kind of hardware that students would need to run it well is not that widespread yet.

    The hardware issue makes me think that while Second Life is not, strictly speaking, a game, it would be a good idea to create an optimized client for game consoles like the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. These two consoles have the raw computational power and graphics capabilities that should make for a smoother in world experience. Plus, game consoles are standardized platforms that are widespread and easier to support than PCs at lower cost to the user. Sony's virtual world project Home (beta soon [homebetatrial.com]), may point the way for Second Life on a console.

    In a lot of ways, Second Life is glorified chat. But don't forget, in the early days, AOL made a lot of money off of mere chat. And now chat and online forums, etc. are being used effectively for online instruction. So it's just a matter of time and technology before many of us will be taking our seats in a 3D virtual classroom, hopefully free of flying male anatomy!
  • There are a couple of points here. First, using Second Life (SL) as an environment for learning brings it under the general heading of online learning about which there is a rich literature already and which deserves some attention on your part. A readable introduction to this topic is Palloff and Pratt's "Lessons from the Cyberspace Classroom", or Harasim et al. "Learning Networks : A Field Guide to Teaching and Learning On-Line " for a more scholarly treatment.
    Second,
  • I got a law degree via distance learning and am now a patent attorney. Any type of distance learning will turn off some employers, but so what. It worked out well for me.

    You WILL need voice. In my lectures, the prof talked while the class messaged. SL has the goods for doing that.

    It is easy to establish a group and restrict parcel entry to that group. You can also restrict object rezing and such to the parcel owner. There are lots of trespass bots available in SL that will eject intruders and in
  • I strongly agree with all the comments explaing why Second Life wouldn't be a good tool for online learning, but I was hoping to read some well informed detail about viable alternatives. I was thinking that something like Groove or Placeware would be a good platform for building a real online school, but I don't know enough to talk about it with authority. Anyone?
  • SL seems it should be useful though the best I've seen has been billboards to teach SL prim building, and an outdoor class on fountain making which was chaotic but neat somewhat. The teacher can pull out models from his or her inventory to show. I do have a serious problem with all the skankiness in SL (I avoid it all but it fills up the search dialog). There are beautiful places however, so a private island seems the answer there.

    There are other systems perhaps. I have not used it but Squeak (language) has
    • Whereas AC and others have pointed out some obvious issues with SL & online ed, I have to agree with those who have pointed out some of the benefits of virtual worlds for learning and note that completely ignoring these is a bit short-sighted. The SL for Learning question is less a technical one (though, clearly, technical issues are present) and more of an implementation/philosophical one. The "on the Internet no one knows you're a dog" approach in SL does not support the development of the kinds of
  • Just take a look at this wiki on education uses of second life [simteach.com]. Lots of institutions are investigating Second Life, and you can probably learn a lot from what the New Media Consortium is doing with Higher Education institutions like Ohio University.
    • Get an island with your educational discount. People who don't do this are subject to all the said griefers from the other posts. Plan on asking for a modest budget, and get your own island. You can completely control access very easily, and you won't have
  • As a student having experienced both traditional lectures, distant learning, and e-learning, I would be very interested in learning through Second Life, and I believe that it could help me to better retain the material in my long-term memory. Remember, though, that users are the creators of the SL universe, and therefore the designers of an SL educational programme must have a good understanding of SL in order to fully use its capabilities.
  • Hi, I have been using virtual worlds in college classrooms for the past four years. To date, I have used Everquest, Everquest II, World of Warcraft, and Second Life, with varying degrees of success. In all of these instances, the benefits outweighed the disadvantages. A paper on my preliminary findings was published in the JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY, and is available online at: http://www.ifets.info/journals/9_3/14.pdf [ifets.info]. You might also want to check out the first-rate work of Constance Steinkuehler,

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