Indiana University has just extended its virtual presence by acquiring an island in Second Life, which is the biggest and most popular 3D multiuser virtual environment. As any other virtual world, users interact with each other through avatars and can communicate by chat or voice teleconference. This type of real-time immersive interaction has the potential to promote social presence.
The island counts with seven different meeting places, some of them are informal while some others keep a more formal design. There are three informal places: a gazebo, an amphitheater and a casual room. The gazebo fits seven people surrounding a firecamp. You can even hear the cracking of the fire! For bigger groups of students, there is an amphitheater which can fit about fifty people. Moreover, there is a casual room for up to seven students to relax as they converse among them.
The formal places include an old type classroom which fits up to sixteen students “comfortably” seated. There are two meeting rooms, one of them fits seven people whereas the other one fits sixteen. There is also a new type of classroom in which students are seated in groups of four. Both classrooms and conference rooms have a type of whiteboard which include a web browser for students to see the content of a specific web page. Instructors could upload their PowerPoint presentation to websites such as slideshare and then show them to their students within Second Life.
There is also an area (sandbox) in which you and your students can build new virtual objects such as cylinders, balls, buildings, etc. The objects you create remain in the sandbox for about two hours before disappearing. It’s a nice way to practice your 3D modeling skills.
Currently, access to the island is restricted to prevent anyone from interrupting instructional sessions. If you have considered using a virtual world for a synchronous activity as part of your class, please contact the Instructional Consulting Office.
Finally, before starting using Second Life as an educational platform, it’s advisable to plan the goals for its use. There are some caveats that need to be addressed such as having to download and install the program to run it, amount of computer resources needed and required bandwidth. So, it might not be too convenient to use it just as a teleconference tool or to give a lecture since there are more straightforward technologies that could accomplish that, such as Adobe Connect or Skype. Additional information about instructional uses of Second Life are provided by EDUCAUSE over here.