Make as big a mess of my Second Life — and a new virtual campus for my province

“Education is learning what you didn’t even know.” — Daniel Boorstin

I’m arriving very late to the Second Life party for a number of reasons. For one, my bent toward ‘fast, cheap, and out of control’ technologies has left me underwhelmed by top-heavy immersive 3-D environments. And given my demonstrable inability to manage my life and professional interests as they stand, I had my concerns about whether I could handle the increase in mental bandwidth. But given the rapid increase in activity, my uninformed contrarian stance becomes increasing untenable.

My co-instructors and I committed to staging a short foray into SL for the Text Technologies course, so for the past couple of weeks I’ve been poking around the environment and beginning to read up. My so-called thoughts are barely half-baked at this point, but my impressions of the technology itself are surprisingly positive… though my ability to find environments that genuinely engage me needs to improve.

One thing that has been clear to me in this process is the tremendous support available due to efforts of people in my dispersed professional network. I cannot say enough about the great work that Alan and his peers at the NMC have done to establish an environment and supporting documentation. Simply a lifesaver. I’ve enjoyed reading Bryan’s periodic observations, and he’s turned me on to what Warren Ellis is doing. I loved this snarky take on the limitations of gratuitous 3-D by Jon Udell.

And today Katherine Miller here at UBC alerted me to a local initiative that might have big effects:

Four of the Lower Mainland’s major post-secondary educational institutions will simultaneously open a virtual campus in the online cyberworld Second Life and a new real-world $40-million digital media school on Great Northern Way.

The Masters of Digital Media Program is a collaboration between the University of B.C., Simon Fraser University, Emily Carr Institute and BCIT, and is due to welcome its first cohort of 35 students in September 2007. An open house for prospective students is scheduled for Nov. 25 at the Vancouver campus and the virtual campus now being built in the three-dimensional metaverse, peopled by more than one million registered users worldwide.

… While the curriculum, developed in collaboration with local new media companies like Blast Radius and Electronic Arts, is still at the outline stage, Clayman can envision holding classes and interactive labs at the virtual campus.

The aim of the program is to groom the world’s best digital animators and effects creators and that makes Second Life an obvious place to recruit students from all over the world, said program director Gerri Sinclair.

“All kinds of amazing creativity and talent in this very field of digital media is very much in evidence there,” she said.

In addition to taking classes, students will help design and create the virtual campus in Second Life, Sinclair added. Having students create their own learning environment “is the future of educational research,” she said.

Tuition for this program is going to cost twenty grand per year, but given the educational activity in this space, we will be seeing far more accessible projects soon — at least to those who can afford the bandwidth.

From cranky skeptic to provisional convert in under a week. I guess that’s called learning.

11 thoughts on “Make as big a mess of my Second Life — and a new virtual campus for my province

  1. I too am a reasonably recent adventurer in Seocnd Life and am getting ready to build my little corner over the coming weeks. I have been both elated and dejected at various times in my foray into the abyss. I am inspired by the creativity and the friendship and sharing. At the same time I am disheartedned to see some of the most boring and didactic, non-participatory pedagogy I see. the image above is a scary one to me…passive listening replicated in 3D…has a place but not always pride of place. Perhaps we are destined to replicate before we can innovate. Perhap Second Life is not all that different form Real Life…the good teachers who ‘get it’ could teach with a rock in a desert and the poor teachers who don’t ‘get it’ couldn’t teach with a multimillion dollar, high tech virtual OR real world. It comes back to what is learning and how does it happen and how do we create a participatory process that goes beyond ‘guess what the teacher is thinking’ or ‘monkey-see, monkey-do’. We need to look long and hard at what makes good pedagogy and document not merely the description of what IS but also what works and why it works.
    Lindy (Decka Mah, SL)

  2. Lindy – I cannot stress this enough, but it is important to get a feel for the wider community within SecondLife. This is a failing of many institutions; engaging the culture within SecondLife itself may not be something which has immediate benefits but it will allow the stretching of the culture to absorb more of the educational things which are being done. 🙂

  3. I’ve also just started investigating Second Life, I think that I’m probably likely to be guilty of Taran’s point of not really getting a feel for the wider community, as in my first forays I just found it frustrating to have to learn to pick things up, how to change my appearance, how to fly (I’m terrible at it, but at least you don’t seem to sustain injuries when you crash land in water!), etc. (Possibly that’s why I never really got into Black and White).

    I can see that if we are going to use it with students, it’s going to take a lot longer (for me … hopefully the students won’t have a problem) to get used to it than getting used to a VLE – which some can find difficult.

    Have you seen Sloodle?

    (Emmadw Rickenbacker)

  4. Brian – I’m not quite the cranky convert but my head really does hurt – I’m overwhelmed by my interests in educational technology – and underwhelmed by my ability (opportunity, time and energy -oh, and skill) to make things happen. Second life has some great opportunities – but the investment in time and energy needs an infusion of dollars and maybe, third party assistance (like this), to test it as an area of pedagogical interest. I am also concerned about the “replication” dilemma – graphical images of the classrooom always seems to be the vision of a learning space – and we fall into the same old approach to teaching and learning because we use the same concepts and images to represent – my other concern is the opportunity for commodification – just think of all the second life classrooms, gathring spots, and the background has embeded images of coca cola, billboards, storefronts – a myriad of ads flecked through the territory. IBM and telus are there – next Blackboard will come in and create the Blackboard Institute of E-Learning and claim they have the patent on virtual learning spaces.

  5. Hmm – interesting choice of illustration. The original has an inserted comment (note the Dalek (from Dr Who) in the upper right about to blast the presenter) When you mouse over the dalek the inserted caption reads “can’t do that in meatspace” i.e. blast away at the presenter.

  6. Thanks for all the feedback — what a great way to be introduced to you all (Tim excepted)…

    Lindy, Emma and Michael, you all express some of my own misgivings better than I could. And it will take me a while before I feel confortable and confident enough in this environment to do anything genuinely creative — and yes Taran, that does mean engaging the more vibrant elements of the culture on its own terms, if only to get a sense of what works.

    And thanks for the links! All new to me.

    I guess what my taste so far has shown me is that the replication Michael speaks of may not be as pointless as I thought it would be… there’s an enganement that kicks in that I don’t quite feel able to articulate yet.

  7. Interesting that educational activities in Second Life seem to involve replicating traditional spaces (at least, judging from the screenshot). My personal feeling is that SL may just end up like the Blaxxun 3D worlds did – being cool for a couple of years, but not really having a lasting effect. In any case, for education, I think this has some accessibility implications:
    1) you need a good connection to be able to use SL without getting frustrated
    2) it might put some non-gaming members of a class at a disadvantage, as they are not used to navigating in such a way.
    I certainly found the user experience frustrating in SL, the same way as I do with complex games. If SL can be made as easy to use as a Nintendo game, then I could see more benefits…

  8. Alexa – Another great blog discovered through this post!

    I suspect that SL will be superseded by something as well, because that’s the way of things in techworld, but I also think that the interest stirred up by SL speaks to a desire of users for a sense of personal connection online. As above, I too find it disappointing that so far most efforts simply try to replicate class spaces, but in my experience when a new media form emerges people tend to first make sense of it by using it in much the way they used earlier forms — I should take a minute here to dig up the appropriate quotes from McLuhan and Bolter, but I’m both harried and lazy.

    The connection speed and ease of use issues can’t be swept away easily, and in themselves would prevent me from setting up a required course activity in SL. But I must give props to the SL designers for the way they set up their orientation — I really was impressed with how quickly I picked up the basics, and I’m no gamer.

  9. I fell onto this post from a chain of skeptics, who I now see missed the key angle to this initiative. The idea of logging in to SL to watch a video of a professor give a lecture on the classics makes my brain lag (and I don’t even want to consider writing essays on notecards!). For those (Americans) unfamiliar with the (Canadian) players, let me break it down:

    * Simon Fraser University – prestigious science & engineering university
    * Emily Carr Institute – world renowned art school
    * BCIT – heavy-duty technical school
    * University of B.C. – largest land endowment in North America (read “deep pockets”)

    Together, they sat down with Electronic Arts (largest games maker in the world) and designed a curriculum for a “Masters of Digital Media Program”.

    If you’ve experienced SL and this initiative does NOT make sense to you, then you’ve been spending too much on the camping chairs and need to get yourself down to the Sandbox. Download Avimator, the free avatar animation-making software available on, make goofy dance animation… and then realize that it’s ready to be imported into the animation programs used by EA, Pixar, Lucas Films, etc. Second Life is practically a training ground for digital artists already!

    No matter how bad the instructors are, the students will earn their MA just by trying to impress their peers with their latest object, texture, skin or animation. Truth.

    For this opportunity (and certification that they’ve learned something) students will pay less for a Master’s than for one year’s undergraduate tuition at an American private school. Wow. Did the San Francisco Academy of Art just jumped the shark?

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