I realize this is an article about “big business,” but their experience in using SL as a means of communicating with customers sheds light on the nature of SL for education. The thing that, in particular, strikes me about Mitch Wagner’s Information Week article on “Using Second Life As A Business-To-Business Tool” is this comment:
The real value of Second Life for Cisco is the opportunity for spontaneous customer interaction, said Christian Renaud, chief architect of networked virtual environments for Cisco…. “I bump into customers and partners multiple times a day in Second Life. In 11 years at Cisco, walking through the parking lot in San Jose, I never get people come up to me and say, ‘I’m a Cisco customer, have a second?'”
Renaud confirms what I’ve seen for myself, and learned talking to other real-life businesses in Second Life. Second Life is a social networking tool, like blogging or Web discussion forums. It’s a way for people to come together and talk. It’s a way for companies to come together and talk with their business partners and customers.
At the risk of sounding like Martha Steward, that’s a good thing. In the classroom, it’s easy for two or three people to dominate discussion. In a Web class, it’s easy to feel disconnected from everyone else in the class. Both situations have been shown by research to negatively affect learning. If SL can counter that, then it’s useful.