Tuesday, February 20, 2007

No Anteater is an Island

According to my UCI colleague Peter Krapp, the university is planning uses for Anteater Island in Second Life.

I shouldn't be surprised by this development, given how both The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education have been reporting on how an island in SL has become "a new status symbol for colleges" as a laboratory for distance learning experiments. Of course, these islands are "made invisible to random passers-by" and thus are -- unfortunately -- like many real campuses, disconnected from the communities that are contiguous with their Ivy-covered virtual walls.

Indeed, in this hermetically-sealed environment, which is similar to corporate islands such as Chatsubo, variations on industrial communication tools like PowerPoint may eventually dominate rhetorical expectations for presentations to and by students. (Should you desire some tips for importing PowerPoint slides into Second Life, you can check out some hacks here, even if the whole exercise seems as silly to me as preparing slides by loading them into a virtual slide projector for a MOO talk.)

I can't see the sense of having students cooped up in a virtual world. One of the main problems with teaching in the real bricks-and-mortar university is that field trips are prohibitively expensive and constrained by concerns about potential litigation. No matter how much I think my students might enjoy an art opening or a Shakespeare play, I don't want to lead a caravan of liability-encumbered cars to get there. In Second Life, I could take my students on field trips to demonstrations against the National Front or the new Swedish embassy or an office of the Centers for Disease Control without buying a single airplane ticket.

Luckily, faculty at UCI have creative ideas for using SL for purposes other than skill-and-drill distance learning, such as promoting information literacy efforts for the library or teaching computer scripting languages with the interface and tools of the virtual online world.

For more on digital learning in higher education, check out Henry Jenkins' recent essay From YouTube to YouNiversity and for the global context of access to regular face-to-face opportunities for college see this informational representation of tertiary education.

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