Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Using ‘Second Life’ opens up new world of communications to students

Condensed from “In Focus” The College of New Jersey Magazine, June 2009

Karen Cooper ’82, a doctoral candidate in instructional technology at the University of Central Florida, spoke on “How Technology is Changing the Way We Learn.” Cooper wasn’t on The College of New Jersey’s campus though - she was at home in Florida - and some of the NJ students were not even in a physical classroom - they were sitting in their dorms wearing pajamas and slippers. Cooper’s lecture took place in ‘Second Life’ online, 3D, virtual world.

In ‘Second Life,’ users design their own avatars and interact with other “residents” inside a user-created virtual realm. Although ‘Second Life’ looks like a video game - and many people use it only for recreational purposes - a growing number of educators are incorporating it into their pedagogy.

College of New Jersey instructor Yifeng Hu rented an “island” within ‘Second Life’ on which she built the virtual campus where her classes meet. During these in-world lessons, students can attend class inside a virtual castle or even atop the platform that floats above the island (in ‘Second Life,’ flying is as easy as pressing the “F” key on your keyboard). These virtual meeting spaces offer everything a real-world classroom would - for example, projector screens and video monitors that can be used by the instructor. But the in-world class sessions offer some distinct advantages, according to Hu.

“The interactive nature of ‘Second Life’ really helps the students become more engaged in the learning process,” Hu said. During an in-world class session, students can continuously ask questions and make comments via ‘Second Life’s live-chat feature. The students also use the chat feature to “reinforce and complement each other’s perspectives,” thus creating a more meaningful dialogue during classes, Hu said. An added benefit of using the chat feature, Hu discovered, is that “shy” students are more willing to participate in class discussions.

“They love it,” Hu said. “They’ve said to me several times, ‘We should have class within ‘Second Life’ all the time.’” Perhaps more importantly, she added, “When the learning process is more fun, it is also more engaging for the students.”

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