On Friday, I'll be presenting with a number of colleagues on our campus' adventures into Second Life. Last year I wrote a small campus grant that funded the initial purchase of the island and a few other things. Information Resources came through with the money for the monthly fee. And so we began.
My colleagues in the library did the building on the island. (I still haven't given myself the task of learning to build.) I piloted using SL in my classes, including a learning community. I wish I could say it was a great success, but it wasn't. I will take the blame for that. It was a bigger commitment than I thought it would be. You'd think I'd learn. However I learned some things that I'll take with me into next fall.
1. This might be a fairly obvious observation, but only b/c it's foundational. The 2d web shifts time and space. Come to my blog from anywhere in the world and at any time. It's here. We can converse asynchronously. SL is primarily a synchronous environment. Yes, there are installations you can visit, but the emphasis is on real time interaction. This strikes me as a challenge for course use.
If you have an FTF class, there's little point in using classtime to go to SL and interact. Maybe once just for the experience or to get people up and running, but not as a regular practice. If you have an online class, you have the challenge of getting students on at common times, unless you have an online class with an established meeting time. But I don't think anyone is ready for that yet. You could make this work with a hybrid/blended course, but still it would really only make sense if you are doing something in SL you can't do FTF.
2. The leads me to another obvious observation. We all know SL is somewhat like online games but w/o the purpose of gaming. We need to invent purposes for SL. This is especially the case for the classroom. There seem to be several common purposes: building, sociological observations, and educational simulations/installations. None of these really work all that well for me in a professional writing curriculum. At best I think we might investigate how people communicate/use writing in SL. Yea, there's probably some work to do there.
But what interests me more is using SL as a collaborative environment for working with students from other institutions. Of course there are serious logistical problems with meeting up, as mentioned above. It's like your worst GRE nightmare (that's for everyone in the crowd old enough to have encountered the analytical portion of the GREs). But assuming that you can make it happen, I think SL can help to establish group cohesion beyond what happens in asynch networks.
So that's where I am with that. We'll see how it goes tomorrow. The exciting thing is that there seems to be some real interest among my campus colleagues with SL. The more people who take it up, the more potentially useful it will be I think.