I don’t get Second Life

I've been following the activities of educators and ed-tech folks in Second Life. It seems like it could be a really compelling virtual environment to help enhance online learning, by providing a shared quasi-physical face to face venue for distributed groups that wouldn't otherwise have one.

The amount of effort and care being put into these virtual places is stunning. The architecture is impressive, and the potential to create your own regions is compelling.

There are some amazing, interesting, and cool things being done in SL. For instance, the Space Museum, where you can walk around, climb on, fly over/through what appears to be every space craft ever created. Sit on top of the Space Shuttle, and see just how much taller the Apollo rocket is. And how much smaller SpaceShipOne is. Walk up to the Hubble Telescope and see an animated cutaway showing the lightpath through the instrument. View a simulated solar system, complete with orbiting planets.

Second Life - Flying around rockets: Taken while flying around the Space Museum in Second Life.Second Life – Flying around rockets: Taken while flying around the Space Museum in Second Life.

Second Life - Solar System Simulation: Taken in the Space Museum in Second Life.Second Life – Solar System Simulation: Taken in the Space Museum in Second Life.

What I don't understand is the faithful reproduction of the physical environment, warts and all, in the creation of other educational spaces. I don't want to pick on any organization or group, but I have seen two separate education-oriented SL places, and each has involved exact reproductions of lecture halls. Dozens of seats, aligned in rows. A stage with a podium. A large screen.

Second Life - NMC ClassroomSecond Life – NMC Classroom

It's an obvious first step, but in a simulated virtual environment, why would you willingly apply the same constraints as a real lecture hall? Why would you create a place where there is a concept of a "bad seat". Where your "view" of a presentation can be obstructed. Where the number of available seats is limited. It the case of the screenshot above, the audience is limited to 32 members, unless people are willing to "stand".

I'm not sure how Second Life would be applied in a real education setting, as compared with something like Croquet , which is more of a collaborative workspace environment (think Hypercard, rather than The Sims).

13 thoughts on “I don’t get Second Life”

  1. d – Gehry in SL would be cool. There is some pretty sweet architecture in there already. I’d love to see what an up-and-coming architect or designer would come up with, without being encumbered by decades of terrestrial design projects.

    so THAT’s what that noise is. The remember-davidicus module was acting up, and mixing up repeat visitors, so Person A might come back and be “remembered” as Person B (and vice versa). Doh. When I get a chance, I’ll take a look.

  2. Trying not to be reflex commenter, considering I am involved with one of the pictured SL places, but…

    I do agree to a point about questioning the strategy of building RL places to scale, etc in Second Life, especially when your construction there has no constraints. Other .edus are building entire campus replicas. On the other hand, I see them as bridges for people to cautiously step into SL, so there is a middle ground between the familiar and the really bizarre.

    Moreso, and your picture where one person alone sits in an empty room, the power comes not with the buildings themselves, but the social interaction when your are in a group. Our “traditional” classroom may be one of the least used places on NMC Campus, but on Oct 18, we had an incredibly successful panel discussion there, with more than 40 avs (some sat on stage, on the floor, hovered in the air). And even if you stand, it’s not like you get tired or sore muscles ;-) http://www.nmc.org/sl/2006/10/18/symposium-oct18/

    This room, like many others on our sim, also has a subtle feature of no roof, making dropping in and out like you cannot do in RL. Your view is not really limited to where you sit, as anyone can alt/option zoom for a better view form any location, even a mile away.

    And no one can really do massive crowds in SL, as most sims get maxed out when you hit 70, 80 avatars in one place.

    We’ve conducted activities in every range of environment we have on our sim, from the rows and stage, to roof top, to mountain top, to sitting on the grass, to under water… and once people start interacting, the “physical place” seems to matter less and less. And there are some interesting effects when you have events that bridge both RL and SL such as the MacArthur Press Conference last month, when live video was streamed from New York in our campus, where we had a rich backchannel, and even communicated questions from our audience back to RL, all streamed back into world: http://www.nmc.org/sl/2006/10/19/macarthur/

    It’s all pretty much experimental lego set, and like you, I am eager to see the things that push back from traditional forms. There is no material cost to rebuilding, and we are already planning to move one of those classrooms from rows to a more flexible circle shape environment.

  3. Alan, I agree that there needs to be a bridge. If people get dropped into some Escheresque transdimensional communal space, the reaction will be more “MwaaaAAAH?” than anything productive. I really meant to attend the virtual sessions, but my SecondLife app was completely hosing my system every time I launched it – I only recently got it working again.

    One thing that really threw me back was the virtual wheelchair in the boardroom. It’s cool, a bit gimmicky, but so totally against the nature of a nonphysical reality.

    I have no idea what a more creative or effective use of a fluid virtual space might be. I’m not alone in that, which is why we’re falling back on making virtual copies of real places. But, I’m sure we’ll have to figure that out before this medium really lives up to its potential.

    You NMC folks are doing some really cool stuff that needs to be done – don’t read my post as any NMC bashing. It was just the closest example I had at hand.

  4. heh. someone figures out a way to script “copy. paste.” and an entire in-game economy collapses. nice. yeah, no bubble there :-)

  5. After some thought, and the gruesome images presented to me care of Something Awful, I think if something like this were to be developed (that is, a virtual university on an MMORPG model), it’d have to be done as a unique project unto itself. It could be based on similar architecture as Second Life, but I think it’d have to be more customized to the purpose and even if it were a commercial enterprise, its central purpose (while not to the exclusion of other purposes) would have to be education.

  6. Being something of an MMORPGer, I like the idea of a fully virtual environment. The importance is the appearance and feel of a ‘real world’ environment. If I could login and actually be (or have a 3rd person view of) a character/avatar within a virtual university land, it’d be awesome. Of course, it needn’t be limited by real world constraints. The appearance of a classroom/lecture hall sets the mood. I for one hate the idea of staring at a canvas/presentation/chat window completely disconnected from my peers and prof.

    Of course there are limitations to the real world lecture hall, but within this system why wouldn’t my character be able to set aside the hall at a whim and view only the screen, or have automatic alpha transparency on objects or portions of objects blocking the view?

  7. Aron – what just plain “feels” wrong to me is unthinkingly faithful reproductions. Where you have to get a good seat in order to be able to properly see the presentation screen. I guess you’re right, though – each person has the option of rendering the “lecture hall” however they wish. Maybe some view the presentation full screen, others are more tuned into a text or audio channel, etc…

    It just seems like a waste not to force ourselves to think critically about what would make a more effective communal space, assuming the limitations of physical space and time were lifted. Instead, we have nice wood grained lecture halls with neatly arranged chairs obediently facing forward…

  8. Aron, definitely check out Croquet

    http://croquetproject.org/

    It’s sorta SecondLifeish, but it’s an open system where anyone can run a server, and all scripting is done via a variant of Smalltalk. Looks pretty darned cool, but not quite ready for prime time (well, not as shiny as SL, at least…)

  9. Croquet looks pretty cool. I’d like to have a 3rd person, over-the-shoulder view, but it’s probably doable in the API. Impressive.

  10. some outside the box architect like Gehry needs to get in there and work without gravity, material, and cost constraints.

    btw, your blog doesn’t remember me any more :( having to type my name and email in every time i comment is making me whine.

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