It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses an Avatar. Library Instruction in a 3D Virtual World – a Second Life Collaborative Project

By:  Denyse Rodrigues (Mount Saint Vincent University)

In this session Denyse Rodrigues discussed her experiences with using Second Life (3D virtual world) as an educational tool.  She began the session by entering Second Life and showing the delegates what the Second Life environment entailed.  Most delegates were familiar with the virtual gaming environment but had never entered themselves.  Denyse explained the various features of Second Life such as creating an avatar, teleporting, instant messaging, and chatting. 

Based on gaming research by Gee (2004) and Peng (2004) and her own interest in exploring the Second Life environment Denyse decided to collaborate with a faculty member, DeNel Rehberg Sedo, in the creation of a course held in this environment.  The course was a fourth year course in Employee Relations and the reasons for using Second Life were clearly outlined in the course syllabus.  Several of the course’s main objectives were to:

A)  articulate a heightened awareness of the uses of the virtual environment for effective internal communication;  

B) demonstrate the skills necessary to analyse and critique value propositions for professional communication in an online environment;

C) demonstrate mastery of researching in, and writing for, an online environment; and

D) demonstrate a comfort with basic ‘in-world’ skills in Second Life. 

Denyse and DeNel provided an introductory class on Second Life in which they outlined that the behaviour of the student avatars needed to match traditional class behaviour.  They had very few intrusions or “griefing” as they met on information island in what were considered “safe areas”.  The class met a total of six times in the online environment.  The first two classes were held in a computer lab so that Denyse and the professor could provide students with assistance.  For the other four classes students had the option of using the computer lab or accessing Second Life remotely.  One of the difficulties with holding the class in the computer lab was that it required Second Life to be downloaded every class and students felt that it was artificial as they were communicating online but were in a shared physical space.

Denyse had expected that most students would be web savvy and comfortable in the online gaming environment.  However, most of the students had never entered Second Life and half were uncomfortable with the gaming nature of the environment and the other half were intrigued by the nature of the sessions.  The students were more engaged in the online environment, however, because there was no audio option in Second Life the class interactions were text heavy and some students found the conversations were too fast-paced. 

Denyse concluded the session with a list of issues to be considered when embarking on a Second Life collaborative project with faculty.  She explained that the project was both stressful and exciting.  Denyse experienced a steep learning curve as she needed to learn how to control her avatar, record logs, and work with scripts and objects.  She found resources and support from Lori Bell (SL Lorelei Junot) as well as the McMaster Second Life librarian Krista Godrey (SL Danu Dhalstrom). 

At the end of the session several of the delegates asked Denyse how much the course cost.  She explained that she was able to complete the six sessions in Second Life for less than a dollar Canadian.  Denyse clarified that to buy land or an island on Second Life was very costly.  One of the delegates suggested that librarians should unite and ask the creators of Second Life to donate an island for libraries.

Denyse’s session was extremely informative and I know that many of the delegates that I spoke with after the session were excited to go home and explore Second Life themselves.  I encourage others who were at the session to provide their impressions and to fill in what I missed.

Posted by:  Sarah Coysh (University of Toronto/York University)    
 

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