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Second Life in Education

Why should educators bother with Second Life?
Rationale for and against

Why should serious educators bother with Second Life?

Why should they NOT bother

There's an interesting post reflecting on some of the successes and limitations of SL. The writer may have been impacted by poor performance (possibly an individual computer issue and likely to be mediated over time as older computers are phased out) - Sylvia Martinez. (July 2007). Second Thoughts on Second Life. Generation YES Blog: Thoughts About Empowering Students with Technology. Retrieved August 13, 2007 from:

Clay Shirky has been calling Linden Labs to task for conflating user figures. In a Feb 3, 2007 posting at he says, on reading Linden Labs's latest figures releases, "we can see that the Residents figure, as expected, is a big overcount over actual people (about 50% inflation, in fact, accounting for over a million ersatz users). Second Life doesn't have two million users. They have had two million users over the life of the service, and they've lost most of them. Of those users, the majority -- something like 5 out of 6 -- bailed in the first month. What we don't know is what the other sixth are up to, but after Friday's post, we can guess the answer is "Not much." As John Zdanowski, the Linden employee who posted the figures, notes, "Approximately 10% of unique users have logged in for 40 hours or more." He doesn't caveat this -- it isn't current users, or 40 hours per month. The plain meaning of that sentence is that fewer than 200,000 people have given Second Life even a cumulative work week of their time, over the history of the platform."

Charlie O'Donnell has raised eyebrows, hackles, and some interesting points with his posting 10 Reasons to Go Short on Second Life, The ten reasons are (exerpted):

  1. Second Life "probably will never be, mobile ... and will not wind up on your cellphones anytime soon."
  2. In "a short attention span world... small and bitesized. SecondLife can't easily be consumed in small bits. You can't link to an event that already happened, or tag a place, or share it with someone who doesn't have the software."
  3. "Second Life is a benevolant dictatorship. ... a very small group of people basically dictates what goes and what doesn't in this market... a group of people that is not beholden to the residents by law, is a political risk."
  4. "Second Life is a business. Linden Labs has taken venture capital investment and those firms are going to look for an "exit" at some point over the next four years or so. Maybe Linden Labs will ... have the pressure to grow revenues which may be at odds with the authenticity of the service."
  5. "Diminishing returns for brand participation ... Right now, you can gain a lot of PR buzz by participating in Second Life... probably enough buzz to justify the investment in development for whatever you build to put in there. But, how long will that last?"
  6. "Requires 100% attention. ...You can't casually browse Second Life... It's very different than an IM window you can put away in the background when you're doing other things."
  7. "Lack of context. ... no guidence, no schedule ... users find themselves lost over overwhelmed."
  8. "Digital world with an analog business model ... but because of their digital nature, SL has experienced problems lately with users copying digital items that would otherwise be sold."
  9. "Reach. No matter how many registered users you have, getting less than 20K simultaneous users online really isn't very much. ... Yes, it's growing, but interestingly, the number of registration is far outpacing the active usage of the site. ... more people are coming to check it out, but they're not sticking around. "
  10. Escapism vs. Reality. The promise of social networks is that you've got digital self expression going on in unprecedented volume.... to connect you with real people based on real and authentic things about themselves. ... I thought the blog/Web 2.0/Cluetrain revolution was all about authenticity and living online the way I do in real life... my digital world as a reflection of my real interests and real personality? So far, that seems a lot more compelling for people than fantasy... otherwise, wouldn't most of the profiles on MySpace be roleplaying profiles... fake people created and maintained by real humans behind them? If I'm a business, I want to make sure I'm connecting in a sincere way with real people as well.... not sponsoring a fantasy."

This was posted on Nov 27, 2006 and there has since been some digital fallout:.

A really great example of "constructive, and constructivist, play/work/whatever" landed on the Webheads list recently, showing us how webheads Ken Cage, with Martin McMorrow and some of their colleagues, balance work and F.U.N. (has nothing to do with SL, but if you've got time for a short break ... )

Well, actually, it DOES have something to do with SL. It's this kind of spirit, that proclaims that there is much scope in education for experimentation and enjoyment, and the result doesn't have to look like 'education'. As Stephen Downes also says in his wider work, learning should be built into and part of what people do naturally day to day rather than something people are uprooted into doing within the walls of an isolated institution. If people are drawn to karaoke or virtual worlds such as Second Life, then educators who are also drawn to those places might be in the best position to intersect with the interests of the target learners already there, or who accept invitations to go there, and help make these experiences educational ones.

"This puts a new slant on Second Life - and using computers in general: Scientific American 8 December 2006 Second Life: The SUV of Computer Carbon Emissions '[…] your average Second Life avatar consumes about as much electricity as your average Brazilian.' See also: Going green: Is the growing power consumption of data centres a threat or an opportunity? The Economist 1 March 2007 'The people, places and things inside Second Life, a thriving online world with millions of residents, may be imaginary - but the power consumption of the computers that maintain the illusion is all too real. Nicholas Carr, a business writer and blogger, recently worked out that each of the 15,000 or so residents logged in at any one time consumes electricity as a result of their activities in the virtual world almost as fast as the average inhabitant of Brazil does in real life. Second Life's residents, Mr Carr concluded, don't have bodies, but they do leave footprints.' " Contributed by Graham Davies Educational Software Consultant, Camsoft Emeritus Professor of Computer Assisted Language Learning

Graham Davies writes again in July 2007: "I took part in an international audio conference on 23 June this year, which was set up within the Second Life virtual world and linked with the (free) Ventrilo audio-conferencing software. In many respects I found this a more satisfactory medium than videoconferencing. Speakers' and participants' voices came through very clearly at my end, and the speakers were able to put up PowerPoint slides on a large display at the conference venue, the Glass Pyramid on EduNation Island. You couldn't see anyone "for real", of course. We all appeared as our chosen avatars. Text chat was active throughout the conference - and, because text chat is silent, participants could chat among themselves without disturbing the presenters. In the discussion sessions, participants could use text chat with the presenters or they could illuminate a light bulb on their head to indicate that they wished to use the audioconferencing facility, and then the chair would call upon them in turn. It worked amazingly well. This approach to conferencing is still in its infancy, but I estimate that it will be more widely used in the future, especially when Second Life's real-time audio chat comes online. See:"

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Page updated: August 13, 2007

Copyright 2007 by Vance Stevens
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February 17, 2007

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