Second Life in Education

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Contents

Module Summary

Some 14 years after its creation (June 23, 2003), Second Life still exists, and it still attracts some to its 3D immersive virtual world for learning purposes: simulations, labs, foreign language learning, online events, and others. It is still the forerunner in this space. This module considers some applications of SL for learning and considers some ways to capture learning data from this space.

Takeaways

Learners will...

  • explore what Second Life is (now in its 14th year), its basic elements, and the basic elements of the end user license agreement for Second Life (at this moment)
  • consider the elements of basic training required for learners to use Second Life—particularly in the creation of avatars, navigating, teleporting, and building
  • review how accessible SL is in terms of meeting learner needs and what some available accessibility accommodations are
  • consider some learning applications in Second Life (simulations, labs, foreign language learning, and others), list some must-see sites related to learning in SL, and review what SLURLs are and how they are used in learning
  • consider the sorts of learning data that may be extracted from SL for island owners and non-island owners…and how this data may be relevant for learning design; consider some non-SL ways to capture learning data from SL-based learning experiences


SLImage.jpg


Module Pretest

1. What is Second Life? What are the basic elements of Second Life? What are the basic contents of the end user license agreement (EULA) in Second Life (at this time)?

2. What basic training is required for learners to use Second Life? What is de-ruthing an avatar? What is navigation? What is teleporting? What does building involve?

3. How accessible in Second Life in terms of meeting learner needs? What are some accessibility accommodations?

4. What are some learning applications in Second Life? What are some must-see sites related to learning in SL? What are SLURLs (Second Life URLs)?

5. What sort of learning data may be extracted from SL for island owners? Non-island owners? What may be relevant for learning design? What are non-SL ways capture learning data from SL learning experiences?


Main Contents

1. What is Second Life? What are the basic elements of Second Life? What are the basic contents of the end user license agreement (EULA) in Second Life (at this time)?

Second Life is a proprietary 3D “immersive virtual world” [or “metaverse,” “synthetic world,” or “multi-user virtual environment” (MUVE)], which is accessible through a web-based free Second Life viewer. The Second Life wiki contains basic information about this online “space,” and a glossary of terms may be helpful to better engage the space.

Basically, SL enables people to create virtual avatars through which they may engage a three-dimensional world. They may navigate by walking, running, “swimming,” and flying. Avatars may teleport to public locations or for-pay ones. There is a built-in map in each region that enables an aerial view of the virtual space and indicators of other nearby avatars.

[For easier selection of sites to possibly explore, SL enables the following categories:

  • What’s Hot Now
  • Featured Events
  • Editors’ Picks
  • Newcomer Friendly
  • International
  • Chat Hot Spots
  • Clubs
  • Adventure / Fantasy
  • Games
  • Beaches
  • Romantic
  • Adult
  • Premium

The “Premium” requires a higher-level for-pay account on SL.]

Some free-access sites may require Heads Up Displays which also entail a cost, for the added user access and capability.

The elements in the virtual world include the respective regions—which simulate land masses (surrounded by water) or “islands.” In these regions, various super-physics building structures may be built. Structures may also be built in the air. There are also objects that may behave in various ways based on scripting (using the Linden language). Avatars may be human-embodied or artificial intelligence-powered (such as advanced “chatbots”).

There is a built-in camera in the user interface for still image captures as well as video recording of machinima (machine cinema).

Linden Labs’ Second Life Terms of Service describe the agreement that users have to enter into in order to use this service. There are guidelines for required standards of conduct. Since these terms change, please refer to the link for the most up-to-date information.


2. What basic training is required for learners to use Second Life? What is de-ruthing an avatar? What is navigation? What is teleporting? What does building involve?

For educators who want to use Second Life for immersive experiential learning, they may create some basic trainings for how to create an account, style a digital avatar, start navigating the virtual world, teleport to different locations, and interact with others online. Or, there are “training schools” for new users to the platform List of Second Life Skills Training Schools. Note that the prior has “SLURLs” or Second Life URLs that enable linking to particular resources directly once a person has signed into the Second Life platform. There are also new-avatar friendly islands that are welcoming to new users, so individuals may try out their skills.

“De-ruthing” refers to updating an avatar’s style and dress beyond the “default loading avatar.” (There are a range of default loading avatars that enable representation of a wide range of races, genders, ages, and so on. Beyond the base model, of course, there are many ways to update the avatar’s look-and-feel and functions. Some of these capabilities may involve a payment in Linden dollars.)

Navigation merely refers to moving around the virtual space…and between regions (teleporting).

“Building” refers to the creation of new objects in the SL world. To do so, one needs more than a free account; rather, one has to own land on Second Life. (There are discounts for educational uses.) To build objects, developers use “primitives” (prims) and add visual effects through uploaded “textures”. They may script object behaviors using the Linden Scripting Language, which has been compared to Java. The script determines how an object behaves and how others may interact with it. SL objects cannot apparently port off into OpenSim or other platforms.


3. How accessible in Second Life in terms of meeting learner needs? What are some accessibility accommodations?

There are a number of articles in the research literature that suggest that Second Life may enable those with physical mobility issues to create a sense of physical mobility in-world. In terms of navigation, there are some keyboard shortcuts that enable movement through the virtual world using input devices.

That said, the author has not found any article that deals with first-hand experiences of navigating Second Life with perceptual and / or cognitive / symbolic processing challenges.


4. What are some learning applications in Second Life? What are some must-see sites related to learning in SL? What are SLURLs (Second Life URLs)?

In its heyday, universities apparently engaged in what one author called “a virtual land grab” on Second Life. The site was appealing. The rush of people to SL meant that having some online space could result in improved public relations, marketing, and advertising. For a while, it was the place to hang out. Where massively multiplayer online (MMOs) were “fixed worlds,” SL was more flexible (Maiberg, Apr. 29, 2016), with more capabilities in the hands of users, who could create their own contents. There were high hopes for the in-world physics of Second Life and what that could mean for virtualized labs (with substances that would emulate real-world behavioral properties). Those were early days.

Back in the day… Back in 2007, early days in Second Life’s existence (it started in 2003), there were apparently some 170 accredited educational institutions in in Second Life (Jennings & Collins, 2007). In this virtual space, there were various classroom and meeting spaces, theatre spaces, art galleries, hybrid course spaces, and others (Jennings & Collins, 2007, p. 718). Student projects were hosted online. University brands were extended into the virtual.

Second Life has been harnessed for fully online learning and for blended or hybrid courses (which include some face-to-face contacts). Second Life was used for the following: “self-paced tutorials, displays and exhibits, immersive exhibits, role plays and simulations, data visualizations and simulations, historical re-creations and re-enactments, living and immersive archaeology, machinima construction, treasure hunts and quests, language and cultural immersion, (and) creative writing” (Kay & Fitzgerald, 2008, as cited in Salt, Atkins, & Blackall, 2008, pp. 28 - 29). There are immersive games. Some sites are designed to simulate historical periods. Mock trials and debates are held online. Fashion shows, concerts, movie screenings, and presentations have all been held online. There are many presentation surfaces—kiosks, poster boards, screens, and other virtual surfaces.

Various types of theories have been applied to learning in immersive virtual worlds: situated learning, problem-based learning (Good, Howard, & Thackray, Dec. 2016), and others.

In terms of fields of study, they include the following: virtual hospitality and tourism (Salt, Atkins, & Blackall, 2008, pp. 30 - 31), language acquisition (pp. 32 – 33), business, science and technology, architecture, interior design, literature, creative arts (p. 2), and others. Virtual worlds were seen as having “great potential as sites for research in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences, as well as in human-centered computer science” (Bainbridge, 2007, p. 472). A perusal of learning cases based in Second Life include the following: interdisciplinary communications, argumentation, foreign language learning, computer science, human physiology, education, instructional technology, gaming education, and others.

Academic researchers have conducted studies on the enablements and constraints of the learning ecology in Second Life to identify optimal designs and harnessing of virtual world social dynamics (Hayes, 2006).

Researchers have found indicators of a kind of cyber-physical confluence, with in-world behaviors carrying over to the virtual, and vice versa. For example, non-verbal social norms such as proxemics and human gaze are transferred to digital avatars. One team writes:

Every day, millions of users interact in real-time via avatars in online environments, such as massively-multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). These online environments could potentially be unique research platforms for the social sciences and clinical therapy, but it is crucial to first establish that social behavior and norms in virtual environments are comparable to those in the physical world. In an observational study of Second Life, a virtual community, we collected data from avatars in order to explore whether social norms of gender, interpersonal distance (IPD), and eye gaze transfer into virtual environments even though the modality of movement is entirely different (i.e., via keyboard and mouse as opposed to eyes and legs). Our results showed that established findings of IPD and eye gaze transfer into virtual environments:

(1) male-male dyads have larger IPDs than female-female dyads, (2) male-male dyads maintain less eye contact than female-female dyads, and (3) decreases in IPD are compensated with gaze avoidance as predicted by the Equilibrium Theory. We discuss implications for users of online games as well as for social scientists who seek to conduct research in virtual environments. (Yee, Bailenson, Urbanek, Chang, & Merget, 2007, p. 115)

Another carryover from the real to the virtual is the preference for attractive spokespersons or rather, spokesavatars:

The participants perceive human-like spokes-avatars as more attractive, and players who interact with a human-like spokes-avatar perceive the iPhone advertisement as more informative than those who interact with a non-human spokes-avatar. However, gender matching between consumers and spokes-avatars does not have any significant effects on the dependent variables in our study. The data also support the mediating role of the perceived physical attractiveness of a salesperson on consumers' evaluations of advertisement messages. (Jin & Bolebruch, Fall 2009, p. 57)

Where are things today in relation to learning on Second Life?” Since then, though, in the intervening 14 years, many of the sites have disappeared. It is not unusual to teleport to a region and find no one there or only automated agents (virtual dogs, virtual horses, etc.) about. In mass media articles, there is a sense that this platform did not live up to its initial promise for virtual learning. Some suggest that Linden Lab may be squandered its position by not building on capabilities to enhance SL usage in virtual learning. The retraction of an educational discount in 2010 alienated many educational users, and the reinstatement of a 50% educational discount in 2013 did not apparently bring back many institutions of higher education or other educational institutions. Some customers have gone to open-source alternatives, like OpenSim, which enables the porting off of the 3D objects that people create and their reconstitution on other platforms. The crowds that used to exist online are rare. Among many, there is a sense that the platform’s use in education is long over, with the feel of “an academic ghost town” (Wecker, 2014). [According to one blogger, as of Sept. 2016, there were still 24,176 Main Grid regions, 17,098 “private estates,” 7,078 Linden-owned spaces, and a 3.8% loss of private estates (677 regions) in the past quarter. (Voyager, Sept. 2016) The numbers of online users are not clear.]

Instead of a lot of educational sites, it turns out that users have other interests. One author writes: “If you let users make whatever they want, they’ll make a lot of sex stuff” (Maiberg, Apr. 29, 2016). Apparently “half of the most popular locations in Second Life are Adult-rated” (Au, 2016, as cited in Maiberg, Apr. 29, 2016), with many featuring interactive pornography. And many use the space for money generation.

"Last year, users redeemed $60 million (USD) from their Second Life businesses, and the virtual world's GDP is about $500 million, which is the size of some small countries," Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg told me in an email. (Maiberg, Apr. 29, 2016)

In a sense, SL was able to corner a market that they created:

Second Life is still a thing because despite its age and the easy jokes, it owns an entire market it invented itself. A competitor, perhaps one with better graphics and the slick public image of a modern tech company, would have to directly poach from Second Life. But because those users already have so much invested in the platform—entire businesses in some cases—they have little incentive to leave. (Maiberg, Apr. 29, 2016)

Where this platform goes in terms of higher education will depend on the platform, related costs, instructor interests, and learner interests. At present, this all seems to be at a lull.


5. What sort of learning data may be extracted from SL for island owners? Non-island owners? What may be relevant for learning design? What are non-SL ways capture learning data from SL learning experiences?

Various types of learning data may be extracted from Second Life. It is not clear if island owners, with premium accounts and extra access, have more learning data made available to them. It is possible that they can use scripted avatars and agents and objects to capture data about interaction, but these data collection features do not seem to be built into the SL platform as a feature.

On the front end, even with basic free accounts, instructors may (1) elicit feedback from learners through surveys, (2) harness observational research, (3) conduct learner performance assessments, and so on.

There are some tools that enable in-world survey-taking. One is the Virtual Data Collection Interface (VDCI), which enables what its creators call the “Virtual Assisted Self Interview” (VASI). The creators used this tool to elicit responses about demographics in Second Life (Bell, Castronova, & Wagner, June 2009, pp. 1 - 2). This tool used virtual kiosks, which enabled in-world avatar respondents to opt-in to the survey by clicking in a box (p. 8).

Automated agents or “robots” were also harnessed as a new research method to approach human-embodied avatars to study spatial behavior (particularly virtual proxemics). The researchers describe their tool:

We have developed software bots that inhabit the popular online social environment SecondLife (SL). Our bots can wander around, collect data, engage in simple interactions, and carry out simple auto- mated experiments. In this paper we use our bots to study spatial social behavior. We found an indication that SL users display distinct spatial behavior when interacting with other users. In addition, in an automated experiment carried out by our bot, we found that users, when their avatars were approached by our bot, tended to respond by moving their avatar, further indicating the significance of proxemics in SL. (Friedman, Steed, & Slater, 2007, p. 1)

It is possible that others have created new tools and methodologies for conducting research in immersive virtual worlds.

Examples

Because of the dynamism in the space, it is hard to point to SL islands that are effectively used for particular types of learning. This will require exploration by potential instructors.

Some educational islands may be restricted through privacy settings.

How To

How can one start harnessing Second Life for teaching and learning? It would make sense to conduct a thorough environmental scan to see what is in Second Life currently that may be used for learning purposes. It may help to review the literature to see what others have done and what they’ve learned about pedagogical and andragogy-based insights. It will be important to understand the technology—particularly its underlying “physics engine,” its data collection capability, and other affordances vs. limits—to understand what may / may not be done. It may help to create a test site and pilot-test it to see how effectively it may be harnessed for the teaching and learning…before any longer term commitment may be made about its usage. One research team has lauded the benefits of piloting the online learning experiences on SL and assessing the actual learning outcomes based on technological affordances and learning design (Salt, Atkins, & Blackall, 2008).

Learners also get a vote. How well do they like the site and its functionalities? Is the site a benefit to the learning, or is it a distraction? Is the site sufficiently accessible for the learning?

Research suggests that particular personal factors of learners, such as “computer self-efficacy, metacognitive self-regulation and self-esteem” affect their engagement in online learning on Second Life (Pellas, 2014, p. 157).

Possible Pitfalls

There are some basic concerns with using Second Life. One that is mentioned in several research articles is the learning curve. The investment of effort in training learners to use the platform may be somewhat prohibitive, particularly as new features have been added that require more complex understandings.

The technical nature of the objects created in SL means that while developers and creators own what they create, there is nothing they can port the objects off to… Rather, these objects may only be used on the Second Life platform.

The cost may be prohibitive. As of December, 2017, the posted prices are as follows:

$195 a month for the Entire Region
$2,340 annually

There may be a Value Added Tax (VAT). There may also be a Land Use Fee (Tier Fee) as an additional monthly charge for premium membership (at $9.50 a month).

Pre-made objects may be bought from any number of storefronts in Second Life. However, these do not come with custom scripting. Developer costs to creating objects is not low-cost. In the research literature, creating and maintaining such islands may run in the tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention the annual maintenance costs.

The SF-based Linden Labs started SL in June 2003, and it survived through the present. It is branching out to virtual reality, with new products lines. In any technology investment, though, the stability of the company will be of interest.

Accessibility may be a challenge also, in terms of navigability and other functions.

Module Post-Test

1. What is Second Life? What are the basic elements of Second Life? What are the basic contents of the end user license agreement (EULA) in Second Life (at this time)?

2. What basic training is required for learners to use Second Life? What is de-ruthing an avatar? What is navigation? What is teleporting? What does building involve?

3. How accessible in Second Life in terms of meeting learner needs? What are some accessibility accommodations?

4. What are some learning applications in Second Life? What are some must-see sites related to learning in SL? What are SLURLs (Second Life URLs)?

5. What sort of learning data may be extracted from SL for island owners? Non-island owners? What may be relevant for learning design? What are non-SL ways capture learning data from SL learning experiences?


References

Bainbridge, W.S. (2007). The scientific research potential of virtual worlds. Science: 317(5837), 472 – 476.

Bell, M.W., Castronova, E., & Wagner, G.G. (2009, June). Surveying the virtual world: A large-scale survey in Second Life using the Virtual Data Collection Interface (VDCI). RatSWD research notes: No. 40.

Friedman, D., Steed, A., & Slater, M. (2007). Spatial social behavior in Second Life. International Workshop on Intelligent Virtual Agents: 252 – 263. SpringerLink. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-540-74997-4_23.

Good, J., Howland, K., & Thackray, L. (2016). Problem-based learning spanning real and virtual words (sic): A case study in Second Life. Research in Learning Technology: 16(3). https://journal.alt.ac.uk/index.php/rlt/article/view/928.

Hayes, E.R. (2006). Situated learning in virtual worlds: The learning ecology of Second Life. Adult Education Research Conference. Kansas: New Prairie Press.

Jennings, N. & Collins, C. (2007). Virtual or Virtually U: Educational institutions in Second Life. International Journal of Educational and Pedagogical Sciences: 1(11), 713 – 719.

Jin, S-A. A. & Bolebruch, J. (2009, Fall). Avatar-based advertising in Second Life: The role of presence and attractiveness in virtual spokespersons. Journal of Interactive Advertising: 10(1), 51 – 60.

Maiberg, E. (2016, Apr. 29). Why is ‘Second Life’ still a thing? Motherboard. Vice. https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/z43mwj/why-is-second-life-still-a-thing-gaming-virtual-reality/.

Pellas, N. (2014). The influence of computer self-efficacy, metacognitive self-regulation and self-esteem on student engagement in online learning programs: Evidence from the virtual world of Second Life. Computers in Human Behavior: 35(2014), 157 – 170.

Salt, B., Atkins, C., & Blackall, L. (2008, Oct.) Engaging with Second Life: Real education in a virtual world: Literature review.

Voyager, D. (2016, Sept.) Second life statistics—September 2016 update. Daniel Voyager’s Blog. https://danielvoyager.wordpress.com/2016/09/07/second-life-statistics-september-2016-update/.

Wecker, M. (2014, Apr. 22). What ever happened to Second Life? ChronicleVitae. https://chroniclevitae.com/news/456-what-ever-happened-to-second-life.

Yee, N., Bailenson, J.N., Urbanek, M., Chang, F., & Merget, D. (2007). The unbearable likeness of being digital: The persistence of nonverbal social norms in online virtual environments. CyberPsychology & Behavior: 10(1), 115 – 121.

Extra Resources

Mainland Pricing and Fees. (2017). Linden Lab. https://secondlife.com/land/pricing.php.