Online Learning with Second Life

Through its ability to enhance social presence, Second Life provides a virtual, learner-centered environment through which instructors and students can mediate the tensions that typically arise in many current approaches to online education. Such technologies allow for a “relationship among learning, playing, and helping” (Barab, Arici, and Jackson 2005, 15) by providing opportunities for human interaction that, in turn, can sustain authentic, meaningful learning experiences. In doing so, they promote curricular innovations that can help students and instructors better understand each other’s needs, abilities, and interests (McCombs and Whisler 1997).

This understanding is necessary in our world where change, globalization, and diversity converge upon our learning environments and where respect and trust are required to foster motivation and learning (McCombs and Whisler 1997). These developments bring social foundations to the forefront. As we adapt to changing conditions, we will need to examine social values, educational contexts, access issues, and basic human needs, from relationship building to creating and donating one’s work to the world. When new educational technologies are vetted theoretically and philosophically through curriculum theory and social-foundations perspectives, then such technological innovations can become truly transformative.

Innovate: Mediating the Tensions of Online Learning with Second Life,. Innovate

Nancy Evans, Thalia M. Mulvihill, and Nancy J. Brooks

A decade ago convergence was the big word: all of these separate technologies, for email, scheduling, music, and video, would merge into a single device. The cell-phone may well be the ultimate expression of this idea. Educational technology is no different. A dozen years ago we had websites, email, maybe a MOO or a MUD. Over time, they converged more or less successfully into course management software.

I think in the next few years the term convergence may come to apply more and more specifically to online education, as old school ‘course management’ systems, which I use now, begin to move closer to what Evans and Brooks call new style “multiuser virtual environments (MUVEs)” such as Second Life. This means that the pioneers of MUVEs today are, in effect, mapping out the technologies and teaching methods everyone in distance education will be using in future.

It’s easy to forget that the current systems are rooted in rapidly disappearing technological limits. Or, rather, that they are rooted in technological limits that are unequally distributed along class lines. It’s easy to imagine an education system in which the wealthiest districts have MUVE classrooms, and the poorest are stuck with static classroom management software.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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