Inworld speakers address education and SL

The Second Life College Fair is going on this weekend. (More information about the College Fair in general here.) There are a lot of speakers (full list), but three have particularly caught my eye, and I wanted to share what little I know at this point in hopes that it might serve someone else.

  • Claudia Linden of Linden Lab will speak at 5 p.m. SLT (8 p.m. Eastern time), topic not announced yet, but Claudia is the liaison for much of higher ed in SL.
  • At 6:30 p.m. SLT (9:30 p.m. Eastern), P Charles Livermore of St. John’s University in New York will address “WHY SECOND LIFE???” I particularly like the triple question marks; I suspect he will be getting really practical.
  • If you can get yourself up on Sunday morning and don’t have church conflicts, I think you’ll benefit from hearing Dr. Anthony Curtis, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke (just over the hill!) speak about “Educational Uses of SL.” It’s at 7 a.m. SLT (10 a.m. Eastern).

All speakers should be findable at this SLurl: http://slurl.com/secondlife/International%20Schools%202/101/156/55.

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Reconfiguring Campus2 in SL

This is primarily for those Pellissippi State folks with an interest in our presence in Second Life.

Things languished the last year or so, as we anticipated. We were all overwhelmed with moving to a new Course Management System, a new Content Management System, a new Student Information System, budget cuts. overwork, etc. Along with others, I found myself having to track my time and energy into other things. That situation has improved somewhat, and so we are looking at that potential again.

As we’ve mentioned in other articles, Second Life has fallen off the radar of the mainstream media, but since I’ve gotten back into it I’ve been impressed with the continued growth of educational endeavors there, and the ways in which people are figuring out how to use it to foster learning, along with the serious research that is being conducted on SL as a medium for education in distance and hybrid situations. The University of Texas system, for instance, has announced a system of around 50 islands to provide significant space to each of their 16 real-life campuses. Plus, we have people working on an open-source version that can reside on our own servers and potentially hook into the larger metaverse, part of a larger world-wide effort that is likely the next stage in developing a virtual universe that might be considered Web 3.0 or 4.0.

Several faculty were interested in the possibility of SL at one point. We would like to completely rebuild the island known as WindingRiver Campus2 to make it more useful for learning, given SL’s unique capabilities. We’ll have a meeting to discuss this when we get back from fall break, probably at 3 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 23, but subject to rescheduling depending on feedback. If you are interested, please drop an email to dking at pstcc dot edu to make planning easier. Thanks!

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Interesting Second Life stats

Comes a report backed up by data (from Linden Lab, of course, but no indication it is anything but correct) that gives a glowing picture of health for Second Life. In some circles, the drop-off in press coverage was equated with the pending demise, but it seems that SL continues to develop just fine. What I would read into some of the figures: yes, plenty of people try SL, get discouraged by the learning curve, and drop out within days. Enough persist, however, to continue solid growth, and that remnant may be enough to fuel the growth of the general metaverse (including canonical SL along with the various Open Simulators that are, basically, open source versions AND other virtual worlds).

A couple of highlights:

“Land in Second Life has grown roughly 18 percent from Q1 of 2009 and approximately 75 percent since Q1 of 2008.” The 75 percent figure is particularly interesting. There is always some bit of SL land that is not owned by residents, but it’s a very small percentage, so that sort of huge increase indicates a vast increase in actual user involvement.

“The inworld economy, says Linden Lab reps, grew 94 percent year-over-year from Q2 2008 to Q2 2009. Now at nearly USD$50 million each month in user-to-user transactions, the Second Life economy is on an annual run rate of more than a half billion US dollars.” At a time when the rest of the world is struggling just to get even again, that’s pretty healthy no matter how you look at it. And, again, it indicates some genuine involvement, even if it is only a small percentage of the people who go in to give SL a try.

That also means that if Linden Lab manages to increase the retention rate by just a few percentage points, the growth of SL could double or triple.

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SL gives voice to the repressed

I remember when FAX machines made possible protests by Chinese dissidents against the Chinese government. That has been a few years. Now, Second Life seems to be providing an outlet that not only facilitates protests of a similar sort, but also brings people together in ways even beyond the Internet. The Web site “Foreign Policy in Focus” has a thorough article about “The Iranian Opposition’s Second Life” that is thought-provoking in a number of ways. It seems not only to have been a means of free expression, but also of providing something like face-to-face meetings in a “place” where face-to-face meetings otherwise can be very, very dangerous.

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Second Life Web page update aids functioning

Linden Lab seems proud of their new Web site, and so far it seems justified to me. They have aggregated several useful features on the Web that makes using SL itself easier, and that enables some quick functioning without having to log into the grid.

One of the neatest seems to be the dashboard, reachable by http://secondlife.com/my. This page brings together several of the most popular pages of information as well as account information.

For instance, at the very top you find What Next, World Map, Shopping, Buy Land, Community, and Help. What Next has several items like the Quick Start Guide and links to video tutorials (which are also linked further down the dashboard, which seems redundant to me, but heck, I’m old-school).

The World Map actually is a piece of the SL Search Engine, enabling you to search for both places and events and, once you’ve located the point on a Web-based map, teleport directly there.

Following the pattern of “more there than what the label would suggest,” the Buy Land tab certainly lets you buy land, but also gives you link to information such as the location of land owned by groups to which you belong, and the location of land that you own.

Other widgets on the page give you access to your account information, your Friends list, the Linden currency exchange, XstreetSL (including merchant tools, and several other informational links.

And that’s just the dashboard. Linden Lab also says they have streamlined the registration process (and God knows it needed streamlining–the new page is accessible via http://join.secondlife.com/), and they’re planning to improve the orientation experience as well.

I’m personally looking forward to seeing what’s involved in the Viewer 2.0 thing. Tateru Nino wrote about the plans back in June, which is forever in SL terms. Back then, the major change was a rearrangement of menus in an attempt to be more intuitive. Lots could have changed since then, of course, and I’m hoping for the better–not that the interface is bad now, but that could just be because I’m used to it. Anyway, I’ve not seen recent updates on its design or status, and I couldn’t help but notice it was the one thing on the LL blog page that was not linked to another story.

In any case, it does look as if they are trying to make things easier for experienced users as well as n00bs.

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SL moving closer to real life

Here we are with a new academic year starting, and among other things this year holds, I’m getting back into Second Life again. Much has changed, and much remains the same. I’ll be sharing observations more frequently than in recent months.

One thing that caught my eye today: Paul Sweeney has noticed an implication of recent announcements by Linden Lab, i.e., that “Second Life [is] getting closer to real life.” Part of that announcement revolved around an upcoming viewer upgrade that will allow the viewer to handle HTML, Flash, and embedded browsers, and it may even be able to talk to real world applications like Excel. Such capabilities will make virtual meetings seem/feel more like real-world meetings, making them feel somewhat like face-to-face (where it’s so easy to just say, “Look at this!”) while retaining the advantages of using the Internet for distributed meetings rather than having everyone hop on a plane.

That has implications for distance education as well, of course.

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NPR features SL educator

NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday featured Michael Demers, a geography professor at New Mexico State University, talking about how he uses Second Life to help his students learn more effectively. You can listen to the segment online.

Of course, so far I haven’t been able to get it to play myself. [sigh] Your luck may be better.

Update: I managed to get it to play. Worth listening to!

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Community college resource in SL

You know, I can find more in the first five minutes I’m awake every day that needs doing than I have time to get done all day.

Without going into all the links involved in finding this (thanks, Greg, for getting me started!), I want to share with you a great resource especially for the community college faculty who read this blog. If you have Second Life installed on the machine you’re sitting at, you should be able to go to the CCSL presence by following this link:

http://slurl.com/secondlife/Eduisland%203/81/151/25

You need to also find the group and join it for free.

They have a lot of resources for teaching in SL, and as nearly as I can tell, they are somehow connected with the EduIsland folks who can provide space for teachers who want to use SL, but whose institutions do not yet have Island or other space for them. I am way behind on how this works, but I will post more information when I get it.

In the meantime, you probably also want to check out their Web site, a Wiki with tons of useful information.

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