As usual, Jon Udell is onto something interesting. A company called Linden Labs has produced a MMORG called Second Life. Three things make this particular venture somewhat unusual, though. First, they bundle a free development environment, so that people (theoretically even non-programmers) can create their own clothes, bodies, objects, buildings, and so on. Second, it's not so much a game as it is a virtual market. People own the digital objects they create and can buy and sell them. And finally, they are actively recruiting educators to use their virtual world.
All in all, it's vaguely reminiscent of JotSpot, in the sense that it's a consumer-oriented social canvas for creating certain kinds of applications. In the case of Second Life (SL), you can think of it as a simulation wiki.
I haven't spent much time in SL yet, but so far I find it very easy to use. When you enter the world, you're given a tutorial on how to move around, how to change your appearance, how to talk with other players, and how to buy and sell. This last item is of particular importance, because in many ways SL is really all about commerce. You create virtual items (though those items can, in fact, be behaviors to make an avatar do different things, like dance or...well...more adult stuff.) You buy and sell those items. There is an exchange rate between the virtual currency (Lindens) and US dollars, so you can, in fact, make money.
More interestingly, you can buy property and build virtual environments. Most of these so far seem to be either stores (for making money) or homes (for personal entertainment). But they can also be other kinds of public spaces. For example, Mass General Hospital has created a virtual island in SL called Brigadoon, where Aspergers patients interact with each other and help each other learn interpersonal skills. Linden is actively recruiting people for this sort educational application:
Second Life provides a unique and flexible environment for educators interested in distance learning, computer supported cooperative work, simulation, new media studies, and corporate training.
Second Life provides an opportunity to use simulation in a safe environment to enhance experiential learning, allowing individuals to practice skills, try new ideas, and learn from their mistakes. The ability to prepare for similar real-world experiences by using Second Life as a simulation has unlimited potential!
Students and Educators can work together in Second Life from anywhere in the world as part of a globally networked virtual classroom environment. Using Second Life as a supplement to traditional classroom environments also provides new opportunities for enriching an existing curriculum.
There are many options for Educators in Second Life. Private Islands provide the ability to create secure "intranet" spaces with restricted membership. Public land allows educators and students to interact with all the Residents of Second Life.* If you are an Educator interested in using Second Life, please contact us at [email protected]
I'm going to spend some time in the coming days brainstorming educational applications and possibly talking to the Linden Labs folks themselves. Offhand, one (relatively) easy and cool application might be to create a virtual art gallery using video podcasts like this one. You could recruit different institutions to put up exhibits. Think of it as an art museum wiki, where not only the art works and commentary but also the architecture, the exhibit halls themselves can be put up and taken down collaboratively by the users.