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August 18, 2007

Will the last avatar to leave please turn out the lights?

Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffrey R Young questions the likely reach of SL educational activities and asks:

Are any college officials working in Second Life starting to have second thoughts?

Clearly, asking this kind of question doesn't make you many friends in SL circles! But it strikes me that it is absolutely critical that we keep asking ourselves these kinds of questions as we spend more time, effort and money building up educational spaces and activities in SL.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that we shouldn't experiment with SL in education. Just that we need to be sure that whatever we do there has some useful impact on learning.  And that we need to manage expectations rather better than has been done in some other areas of SL activity.

We (the Eduserv Foundation) are currently in discussion with John Kirriemuir about him following up on his snapshot of SL use in UK HE and FE.  John has already said that he wants to focus more on 'impact' rather than simply 'use' in any future version of the snapshot and I'm very supportive of this - though of course there are questions to be asked about what 'impact' actually means in practice. I'd also like him to begin to ask, "who has tried SL and decided not to continue with it?", and, if so, "why?".

I was wondering earlier on today about whether I could draw an analogy between SL and cycle racks, in the sense that the number of people on campus that make use of them is pretty small, but a university would look pretty stupid not to provide them. But, on reflection, I don't think it works too well :-).

Over on Facebook, Brian Kelly has asked a similar question, "is it time for universities to engage with Facebook or should they leave it alone?".  In answering I said, somewhat incoherently, that at this stage

I suspect that the best form of institutional engagement is 'not getting in the way'.

Perhaps this is all we need from institutions around SL at this stage?  Give the educational innovators with ideas about how SL can make the world a better place a chance to experiment, sit back and see what happens.  Above all, don't throw the baby avatar out with the virtual bathwater just because SL doesn't come up to the hype that has been allowed to grow around it.


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> Are any college officials working in Second Life starting to have second thoughts?

The comment suggests most of all that the author is not familiar with the discussion in academic circles about second life.

It suggests that academia merely leapt into Second Life, uncritically - and nothing could be further from the truth.

The snapshot survey was discussed in a presentation at the recent ALA games and second life et al event in Chicago.

Large download from here:

Snapshot mentioned by me from about 55 minutes in onwards. Ignore me gasping for breath (not used to heat, nor air conditioning).

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