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Virtual World Business And Development Information

Second Education

Posted by SIM on January 27, 2007

Virtual world classrooms of Second Life know no bounds
Roberto Rocha
January 27, 2007

MONTREAL — Montreal’s Lasalle College just opened a new campus, made almost entirely of glass, where students can levitate to class.

Yes, you read that right. Their students fly.

In the virtual world known as Second Life, people aren’t bound by the laws of physics, but it’s as close as it gets to the real thing for students taking online courses from their homes.

“You can interact visually with the teachers,” said Jean-Francois Comeau, a business development manager at Lasalle, “and with the students too. This has never been possible in web seminars.”

Granted, those students and teachers are represented by cartoon-like characters, who may look nothing like the real person controlling it from a computer. It hardly matters to the downtown trade school. With this new e-learning platform, Lasalle became the first Canadian school to offer courses in Second Life’s make-believe universe.

Second Life, for those out of the loop, is a computer program that allows people to live a fantasy existence as an animated character called an avatar. People all over the planet interact in this world, some buying “land,” building homes and running businesses that sell avatar enhancements.

It has almost three million registered users, according to Linden Lab, the San Francisco company that created the program.

Part of its appeal is the freedom users have to build items with a 3D design tool and keep intellectual property rights for their creations.

For Lasalle, which will offer interior design and fashion marketing courses, the benefits are clear.

“Imagine doing a design course in a 3D world. We can have our students design a house that the other students can see,” Comeau said.

Lasalle’s online courses were normally done through a web seminar program, which beams slideshows, video and the instructor’s voice through the Internet to a student’s computer. But the interaction with the teacher was limited, Comeau said, and non-existent with other students.

“Now, the students can meet at the lobby and talk about their projects,” he said.

Right now Second Lifers can only communicate by typing instant messages, but Linden Lab is working on adding real-time voice technology, which Lasalle hopes to exploit when its first virtual classes start in September.

And while Second Life is a public place, landowners can restrict who comes on their land.

“We need security, of course,” Comeau said. “We don’t want anyone coming in with a weapon, or rival colleges putting up publicity on our walls.”

According to CNN, more than 60 schools in the U.S. have set up courses in Second Life, including Harvard University. The course Cyber One: Law in the Court of Public Opinion is taught in an outdoor amphitheatre on a private island.

“Second Life allows a deeper sense of community among participants that just wasn’t possible in distance learning,” said Gene Koo, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.

The artificial world, where everything is created by its residents, was also a perfect metaphor for the course’s content.

“In Second Life, the rules are made by people,” Koo said. “It’s less obvious that the world we live in was also built on human-made rules. This lets the students know they have the power to change the rules.”

Other schools have also jumped on the technology as a way to engage children in the online medium they’re growing up in.

“There’s so much potential for kids to create whatever they want,” said Kelly Czarnecki, the teen librarian in Charlotte, N.C., who helped create a virtual library in a teen version of Second Life.

“We thought it was better to reach out to where they are,” she said.

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