Inspiration and Engagement: Fueling a Second Life Program
Second Life provides access to potential immersive
educational experience more than any single enabled technology. The limit is
only bound by the imagination of thousands of educators worldwide who are
approaching this new frontier with curiosity and enthusiasm. The success of any
educational project in Second Life hinges on the ability to convert those new
ideas into action by engaging a community of users, and supporting their
experience. There are four main stages to building a Second Life program from
seeding initial interest through to project completion. These stages are
cultivation, focus, training, and community. This outline provides a framework
for starting a new Second Life program and seeing projects through to
successful completion by generating genuine interest and then supporting that
Generating interest in a new Second Life educational program
presents several challenges. Virtual world platforms for education are a
relatively recent technological development, and there may be some resistance
to this emerging medium. By introducing the educational possibilities in
stages, a spirit of interest is cultivated and possible participants are
Presenting the educational possibilities of Second Life in
stages allows people in your institution time to understand this new platform.
Prior to “desktop virtual worlds” like Second Life, three-dimensional
environments were not possible in most educational contexts, as they were cost
prohibitive. This revolutionary delivery system is new for everyone, and time
must be given for understanding.
One effective approach in cultivating interest in a second
life project is to provide three informative demonstrations with increasing
levels of engagement. Typically these demonstrations start out general before
large audiences, and move to more specific instruction with identified
The initial presentations invite your whole institution to
learn about this new medium and to give a broad overview of Second Life and how
it may be used as an instructional tool. It should leave participants asking
the question, “How can apply this to my area of expertise?”
From the general presentations, interest is developed
throughout the organization. It is advised to offer many general sessions in a
casual format of openness and possibility. The aim is to not only generate
interest but serious potential participants.
The next level of presentation involves smaller groups with
an identified interest to learn further. Participants are invited to engage
with Second Life directly, creating accounts, making avatars, and learning the
very basic commands for navigation. Emphasis is placed on participants
experiencing for themselves the engagement level in using second life and not
on comprehensive training.
These sessions are usually filled with laughter and
discovery, and for some, trepidation. While most new users have enthusiastic
responses, some will be wary, and offer objections. This need not be checked,
other than to suggest that many users need several experiences before they
reach their personal comfort level. Participants are invited to consider
tangible applications for Second Life and to follow up for a more in depth
Ideas generated by the participants in the initial sessions
that have enough forward motion move to the next phase: a small group
engagement with Second Life around a specific idea. At this stage, while
beginning to consider details, the potential project is investigated within Second
Life. Tangible skills are introduced with the aim of giving the participant a
realistic sense of the commitment required to undertake a project in Second
Life. Additionally, skills level expectations are introduced. Participants are
asked to create a short proposal to formalize the project and set the next
phase in motion. They are encouraged to become more proficient in Second Life
on their own.
Once projects are identified the formal planning phase
begins. The project leaders should already have several hours of guided and
self-guided experience in Second Life, and therefore an awareness of the types
of skills required by project participants. Additionally, the details of every
aspect of the project must be identified, and duties assigned appropriately.
This division of labor will constellate differently in each organization, but
should consider the following elements in the plan:
i)Technological Requirements and support. User computer updates,
accessibility, connection speed, video card, Second Life downtime.
ii)Full or blended learning experience.
iii)Building and development needs.
iv)Instructional design and materials creations
vii)Timetables and milestones.
viii)Institutional code of conduct.
Typically a project requiring building or development
require two to three months from this phase through to launch. Extra care
should be given to effectively planning the entire project and anticipating
possible challenges. However, the newness of this field requires a certain
ability to adapt to new conditions as they arise. Sometimes those new elements
add value, like a new tool in Second Life, and so flexibility should be
Once definite projects are identified and development is
underway, a comprehensive training approach should be created. At this stage,
all project leaders should clearly understand the project goals, and should
have a confidence level proficiency in Second Life. The time required for
proficiency differs with each individual, however for leaders, it is estimated
thirty hours of experience is required to gain mastery.
The participant training is approached comprehensively over
one or two sessions. Session one includes avatar creation and at least the
The training is most effective when participants are
assigned a simple and doable task. One popular exercise that has been effective
is to have participants photograph a specific location using the built in
capture tools, and then email that picture to the instructor. This allows all
the skills of movement and camera to come together in a dynamic and enjoyable
The supplementary session should focus on specifically what
the participants will be doing in Second Life as part of their educational
experience. While it is ideal to have a high level of proficiency amongst
participants, in many cases this develops throughout the experience. It is
unrealistic to anticipate high levels of competency from new participants, and
this should be accounted for in laying forth the plan for the experience.
While the educational experience may be underway,
participants will also constantly be learning Second Life, both from the
activities, and from one another. The mutuality that develops within the
experience should be cultivated, and is also necessary for the leader to offer
basic support while furthering the project aims.
The people involved in your second life project form a valuable
leading edge asset at your institution. As such, it is crucial to support the
communal aspect of the experience, by bringing participants together in SL to
share experiences, concerns, skills, and moreover, to share one another’s
There are many social
activities that are appropriate in an educational context from speaker series
or public symposia, to dances and parties. Involve the participants themselves
in planning a social experience for all Second Life participants to come
together. These meetings with solidify to positive and innovate context that
these forerunners operate within, and celebrate their ingenuity and
determination to expand the possibilities for educational experiences.
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Virtual Vibe Jazz Fest presented by USC Center for Public Diplomacy starts bright and eary Friday October 26 6 am SLT. Should be a terrific event with some great players gathering from all over the world to come into Second Life.
Author, Teacher, and Media Ecologist Eric McLuhan came to Second Life Monday October 22 for a talk at the Media Ecology Pavillion (we the living). Eric, whose avatar was attired like an Egyptian Pharoh, spoke about his new paper "The Dance of the Ages," which examines Egyptian art forms from a new perspective. McLuhan examines how the silouettte forms have a built in "special effect" that, with the proper sensitization to the possibilities of the image, open up into rudimentary animated images. This, McLuhan contends, assured the perpetuation of these forms and why the Egyptians never developed more detailed or complex figures; the figures which we had previously considered primitive, we a delight of movement, explaining their longevity. McLuhan engaged the audience with more general questions about Second Life and virtual worlds, which he called a "fantasy state," a place where instant wishes can be fulfilled. He also marvelled at the wonderous meeting space where people joined together in a global experience - as predicted by his late father Marshall McLuhan some forty years ago with the concepts of the Global Village and the Global Theatre. You can watch the whole talk archived at SLCN.TVand read McLuhan's paper on Egyptian Animations here.