According to "Second Life Duty Now Required for Penn State's Online Advisers," academic advisers for the Penn State World Campus Island will now be meeting with students in the online virtual world Second Life to help their distance education students pursue their curricular objectives. It might be somewhat disquieting to have mentors who look like undergraduates themselves with their younger, fitter avatars.
Students on the real campus get to chat with their advisers face to face. Now online students who never set foot there can do the “exact same thing,” says Shannon Ritter, social-networks adviser for the Penn State World Campus.
Almost the same thing, anyway. Second Life requires users to choose avatars, or graphical representations of themselves. So students who want to meet with Rachel Zimmerman will find themselves chatting with a character called RachelM Snoodle. Looking for Karen Lesch? The adviser goes by KarenM Magic. All advisers are required to cover at least two hours a week.
Given how often support staff deal with tears from frustrated students, I'm not sure that the "exact same thing" is possible in an environment in which there is such limited paralinguistic contact.