Case Study on Second Life

The Implications of Second Life as a Teaching Tool

History of Second Life Museum, online classes can be had inside the buildings. This world could be explored by the whole class simultaneously to participate in virtual activities that relate to educational standards.

Students can learn history by becoming Ancient Athenian virtual reality citizens and running an Athenian horse or clothing business then vote in Athenian democratic meetings.

What is Second Life?
Second Life is an online world similar to World of Warcraft where you create a character or avatar that you name and dress up then control to explore a virtual 3D world with. The avatar’s look can be changed to look like you, even using a picture of your face on the avatar’s face.
Users, or ‘residents’, of Second Life can do many activities – socializing, building, creating and exhibiting art, playing games, exploring, shopping, or running a business.
Users can talk to each other through their avatars using voice (if they have a microphone) or text messages. Conversations can be private or public. You earn virtual money by making objects such as walls for houses, toys, decorations, clothes for avatars etc. to sell to other users to use with their own avatars in the virtual world. Popular activities include virtual shopping, buying virtual land to make your own house, museum or store decorated with virtual art you buy or make, and then hosting a virtual party for other avatars with music users can hear online.
Real life businesses such as IBM can host online meetings this way, as well as advertise and demonstrate new real world products.
The virtual world is divided into areas called islands because they are separated by water. Each island can have a particular theme and its own rules on content and behavior. Each island is rated according to permissible content and behavior, these ratings being general, medium and adult. Visitors are encouraged to report inappropriate content or behavior to the area moderator by pressing a button for removal at the moderator’s discretion. You can search for an ever wider variety of theme islands such as The Spartan Empire, fashion or a school for online classes.

Ethical Implications for Teachers

Access to adult content is too easy but that is a problem with the internet in general. Teachers will have problems trying to stop kids from visiting areas they are not supposed to, at home or in class. When I visited the Second Life site I went to the Spartan Empire island area to research for a lesson on Ancient Greece. The content rating for the island was medium, but there was no other warning and nothing stopped me from going in. I looked aound the shops at the starting area of the island and saw some shop displays selling tatoos on models that were shockingly realistic. Not photo realistic but pretty close. I can imagine what a parent would say when they see their child look at this graphic home work project on their computer at home or seeing it in class.

Ethical Implications for students.

Inappropriate behavior and content in Second Life is controlled by users reporting it, so there will be a delay while such content is reported and removed. This will not stop anyone online from adding adult themed objects to rated G sites, so even a teacher created island is vulnerable. While waiting for problems to be fixed students may be temporarily exposed to inappropriate content or online bullying no matter what the area content rating is. A teacher must not allow students to search Islands on their own, even on medium content rated islands. Students must be supervised when using Second Life at home and school and only allowed to enter G rated islands.

Another problem I found was the illusion of movement in a 3D world is so good that I started to feel motion sickness. If a student complains about that then I may have to let them participate in some other way, like researching their projects on non 3D websites and creating a powerpoint presentation.

Implications for Teachers and Students in Class

A teacher needs to control the areas students are allowed to explore by finding G rated islands and checking for problems before students visit. Teachers then make a list of rated G islands students are allowed to explore, or make their own school appropriate island where students and teachers from all over the world are invited to make historical themed school appropriate areas and objects but this will take some time. All islands not on the list are off limits, in class and at home. Teachers in class should supervise students by walking around the class to make sure the islands visited are on the G rated list and if a problem is found students could be directed to avoid it and explore other areas of the same island.

Using the school website blocker would not work because that would block the whole second life website. Can software be developed that would only block particular pages on a website, or allow only preapproved rated G areas of a website to be accessed?

What if during class you or a student does find an innapropriate picture placed in your virtual shop right before class? Do you postpone the lesson untill the problem is fixed? How long will removing unwanted objects take? Teachers must check their shop right before class.

Ideas for Using Second Life in Class

Perhaps a class island could be made were students create areas in it for each time and place studied, ancient Rome, Greece etc. The class decorates each area with appropriate shops, houses and objects for the time period assigned. To find appropriate objects and clothes, the teacher may have to set up the shops with appropriate content the teacher imports from other islands the students are not allowed to visit. The kids then can safely look for and buy objects in a teacher created shop. Kids then can use those objets to make their own shops and houses, all on one safe island. This will be time consuming for the teacher and limits the student exploring options until the teacher controlled island is populated with enough content from other teachers and classes.

If the teacher thinks they can trust the students to not look for and pick up adult objects, then the students could be allowed to look for G rated islands about ancient Greece for example, supervised by the teacher. The problem is the islands I found related to ancient Greece were not G rated. A week or more before class the teacher needs to check to see if suitable islands exist, or time must be taken to create a rated G island beforehand.
Another view of the History of Second Life Museum. Faster computers allow much more details in 3D worlds. Notice the light reflecting off the water.
If the class does not have enough computers then a laptop linked to a projector could show the class at least one point of view while giving a lesson or exploring an appropriate area as controlled by the teacher. The teacher could demonstrate how to explore a Spartan themed island and let students decide on how to create a Spartan themed object to sell and make money for a piece of land and a Spartan house to make, rent or buy. The students could take turns telling the teacher avatar where to go to participate in the virtual Ancient Spartan economy.
The teacher sets up the virtual environment to demonstrate a California Standards related activity such as exploring economic, social and political factors of Ancient Greece.
Ideally if the whole class has computers in the real classroom or computer lab the virtual class is given during school hours or as part of an on campus after school program. The teacher or school employee can monitor behavior as well as websites visited and computer use.

Implications on Classroom Environment
During school or after, a teacher avatar can host an online class in a virtual classroom they make themselves from premade walls they buy at shops that line the entrance to most islands. If enough computers are available, student avatars sit in the class and hear the teacher’s voice through the teacher avatar. Student avatars can raise their hand and users ask questions with their microphone. The teacher would have difficulty controlling secret online text messages. “I said NO TALKING!”

How do you stop a student from misbehaving/ talking in a virtual class? Do you tell the student avatar to leave class? Avatar behavior could be linked to the student grade and reported to parents and school principal. Perhaps parents could be invited to join the class with their own avatar or at least monitor their child at home during the online class. This of course is a problem if the child uses a computer away from the parent such as at a library or the parent is not computer savvy.

Computers must be relatively new to be able to handle a 3D program so net books may not get the job done. The graphics settings in the program can be simplified, cutting detail in lighting etc. to help make the program usable on older, slower computers.
The teacher could assign students to set up a Spartan style house building business with each student making or buying one wall or decoration such as a vase, tree or statue. Students could also buy Spartan style clothes for their avatar to wear. Some of these items may be copied for free in some areas.

Evolution of this Technology

The internet was invented as a communications system for the military to use if an attack destroyed the conventional national phone system.
Three dimensional online virtual world technologies came from training simulators for the Army in the 1980’s. The army set up a computer generated world on one computer that could be accessed by several computers simultaneously, using internet technology. Now one soldier learning to drive a tank in a simulator could train for hours before getting into a real expensive and dangerous tank.

Where did Second Life technology come from?

1969 United States Defense Department creates ARPANET, which evolved into the internet.

1978 First MUD (multi-user dungeon) developed; it can still be played at

1983 ARPANET is split into a public ARPANET (today's internet) and a classified MILNET.

1984 Islands of Kesmai, the first commercial MMORPG (massively multi-player online role playing game), was launched on Compuserve.

1985 LucasFilm launches Habitat for Commodore 64. Habitat is the first MMORPG with a graphical user interface so you see pictures instead of only text.

1992 Ultima Underworld is the first 3D game. It was based on the Ultima RPG, which first appeared around 1980.

1984 William Gibson coins the word cyberspace when he publishes Neuromancer

2003 Second Life launched Oct 2003

2004 World of Warcraft online game world launched

2007 Multiverse - Build your own virtual world!

2007 World of Warcraft, hits a milestone when it surpasses 9 million subscribers worldwide in July.

What will the future bring?

Teaching using online virtual reality should improve education as students may become more interested in learning because it will be fun. Class will be more fun because kids will be able to create and explore online worlds that teach standards but feel like a video game experience. The object of teacher made 3D world exploration games would be related to educational standards.
To improve safety software could be developed to restrict access to only G rated areas. Software could maybe allow for faster removal of adult themed objects, making for safer exploration of G rated islands.
As more and more people all over the world gain online access, online virtual world technology use in the classroom will explode the way the internet did. As IPod type devices get more powerful and electronics prices drop, such small devices will be able to accept 3D virtual world exploration programs and so maybe even replace laptops in the classroom for Second Life use in 2020. Computer labs may become unneeded as every class will have such devices. Online schools using 3D technology should grow by leaps and bounds.