People are finding innovative uses for virtual worlds, some professors are even holding classes in Second Life. Read about this and other interesting uses of this phenomenon in this post!
The dog did not eat my homework, and I promise I did my reading. The only reason I could not give you my assignment and was ‘quiet’ in the class was because I was having trouble with my Internet connection…
Professors at Elon University in North Carolina are experimenting with the use of Second Life as a teaching tool in class. Is it possible that the physical classroom may just be completely replaced by a virtual one? How likely is it that this could become a common practice? Will this perhaps be the future of distance-learning?
Virtual Worlds do offer a lot of benefits as is pointed out by the Elon professors who are currently using it as a teaching tool in their classes. It allows for easy visualization of otherwise difficult to demonstrate concepts and phenomenon. It also allows students to use their imagination to build almost anything that they can envision – and program – without incurring the prohibitive costs of doing so in ‘real’ reality.
Elon is by no means alone in such endeavors. Imperial College in London has a program that uses Second Life to teach medical students how to treat their patients. Students get to treat virtual patients in Second Life in order to learn how to treat real patients. The experiment is not intended to replace traditional teaching or practice opportunities for students. This is because the virtual environment does not ‘feel’ real, and students do not take it as seriously as a result. This concern may not be as significant in the use of Second Life to teach students of non-critical subjects, where they are not practicing on ‘dead’ subjects with the intention to port their knowledge to live subjects.
The use of Second Life in an increasingly diverse array of scenarios is raising interesting questions. In a recent assignment for the Graduate component of this class, I read the chapter “Virtual Communities or Network Society” from the book The Internet Galaxy by Manuel Castells. In this chapter the author quotes results from different research projects that attempted to find out the effects of increased on-line interactions between individuals on the number and depth of relationships that exist in society. While some results suggested that increased on-line activity had a negative affect on the number and quality of relationships between individuals, others suggested quite the opposite. A key difference seemed to be the age at which the subjects adopted new technologies. Those who were unfamiliar with technology and adopted it at later ages seemed to witness more adverse affects than younger subjects who were familiar with new technologies already.
Take the case of Ric Hoogestraat for example. Hoogestraat became increasingly obsessed with Second Life to the point of neglecting his real life. He eventually met a redheaded avatar, fell in love with her and asked her to be his virtual wife.
His real wife was not amused.
“Everybody has their hobbies, but when it’s from six in the morning until two in the morning, that’s not a hobby, that’s your life,” Hoogestraat’s wife said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
In this case, the subject can be seen as an exceptional case who is obsessed with his new-found on-line activity. Since Second Life is a relatively recent technology it may be assumed that the subject did not grow up with similarly engaging on-line social networking tools. While extreme reactions will continue to exist, the numbers can be expected to decrease as the newer technologies are adopted at earlier ages by individuals. By the time they come to college, they will no longer be fascinated by the new technologies and the use of these technologies as tools in the class room will not necessarily take away from the seriousness required for effective teaching.
The future of virtual worlds and their implications for various walks of life remains uncertain. However, it is inevitable that the role that technology plays in the social sphere is bound to increase in the foreseeable future. What remains to be seen is how society will evolve with the evolution of such technologies, and the effects will be across generations.