Schools eyeing virtual campuses
Second Life has a new function - providing a place for online classes to teach real-life skills
An internet fantasy universe full of pretend worlds devoted to video games and socialising is expanding to include virtual classrooms and universities.
A new trend in online education involves students acting through animated characters called 'avatars' mingling in simulated school settings.
San Jose State University in Silicon Valley has built a campus at Second Life, the popular virtual world created by Linden Lab in San Francisco.
The virtual university spans 16 digital acres dotted with school buildings that Library Sciences Department students use for classes and experiments.
'When I teach with Second Life, I think of it as an experience generator,' Professor Jeremy Kemp said.
'I can send a student in to have an experience in an unstructured environment, and then come out and have a conversation about it.'
Thirty students signed up for Professor Kemp's 15-week virtual-world class, which includes learning about the application driving the Second Life programme.
'I ask them to volunteer on [an in-world] reference desk, or take a tour of Second Life with snapshots,' he said. 'Students can even design a library programme with a speaker and invite the public.'
Professor Kemp is trying to simulate real-world experiences with virtual audiences so students can learn in realistic, but safe and controlled, settings.
'We're experimenting with using Second Life to prep students to face the terror of public speaking,' Professor Kemp said.
'That's very difficult to do in any other way.'
The pace of academic institutions moving into virtual worlds such as Second Life promises to build as students growing up with the technology become educators themselves, according to Professor Kemp.
'This is an adolescent technology that's lurching and pushing in different directions . . . The things we're learning from Second Life will eventually help distance educators do their work. It's very promising.'