Second Life, an online 3-D virtual reality world, is currently gaining in popularity around the world. Second Life allows users or “residents” to come together to interact, play, learn, do business, conduct classes, do research, and hold conferences in an online environment which is entirely built and owned by its residents. Residents can engage in rich, sensory experiences, authentic contexts, activities, and opportunities for reflection that form an exciting new domain for a wide range of educational applications including distance education and corporate training. This unique and cutting-edge technology enables teachers to build virtual learning communities for students with the goal of helping students solve real-world problems in an experiential setting. Colleges around the world are opening virtual campuses in Second Life. Today, more than 150 colleges in the U.S. and 13 other countries have built island campuses in Second Life to experiment with virtual learning. Some of these institutions include: Columbia University, Duke University, Indiana University, Ball State University, University of Texas-Austin, and MIT. They open their virtual campuses to attract students who are taking online courses, but miss the “presence” and the sense of community found in a regular classroom.
In order to help teachers bring their classes to Second Life, Linden Lab recently announced “Campus: Second Life,” a program to allow college level classes to use the powerful tools and realistic environment of Second Life as a venue for learning. The “Campus: Second Life” program will give teachers the use of 1 acre of land in Second Life completely free for the duration of the class. This allows teachers to try out Second Life with their classes for the first time at no cost.
Although some teachers are skeptical of the value of the 3-D digital world, the number of virtual campuses keeps growing. I think we should not under-estimate the potential of 3-D Web. This could be a technology with a future for higher education. The Gartner Research Group predicated that 80% of regular Internet users will have a 3-D Web presence by 2011. Perhaps, we should explore the potential of 3-D digital world in teaching and learning. Second Life could be a valuable educational tool for teaching the Net Generation. Second Life provides opportunity to use simulation in a safe environment to enhance experiential learning, allowing students to practice skills, try new ideas, and learn from their mistakes.