In this two-part series on Second Life, Laura Sillerman asks whether we should enter the virtual world — or just get a real life. Below, reference librarian Ellyssa Kroski explains the social and educational benefits of SL.

by Ellyssa Kroski

I had the privilege recently of overhearing a lively conversation between my two pre-school nieces that took place during the construction of the My Little Pony Butterfly Island.

The older one was daydreaming about what she wanted to be when she grows up, and it seemed that she had settled upon becoming a teacher. The younger considered this choice, but wasn’t tempted, instead deciding that she wanted to be a butterfly.

I sighed and thought, “So do I!”

Ohio State University in Second Life

Now we can all be butterflies. Or fairies. Or even cats. Whatever we didn’t get to be in this karmic cycle. We can all live out “second lives” in an immersive virtual world known as Second Life; a universe created by its inhabitants and limited only by their imaginations.

Within the span of a recent afternoon, I went ice skating in a winter wonderland, swam through a mermaid’s grotto, flew in a raptor to a battlestar, stopped for a pint at the Blarney Stone in Dublin, and participated in a drum circle in an elven glen. And, oh yes, bought some hair.

All without leaving the comfort of home.

Not only does Second Life enable us to effortlessly flit from one locale to another by flying or teleporting to Second Life location URLs (called SLURLs), but it offers us a whole new world of learning opportunities. Distance and available space are eliminated concerns in the virtual realm, opening up educational opportunities to everyone.

More than 60 colleges and universities are currently in-world, setting up virtual campuses and offering courses ranging from writing to cyber-law. Today’s college professors hold virtual office hours and may speak to students through voice or IM chat, making distance learning a more personal experience.

Harvard’s Austin Hall in Second Life

Four EduIslands house college buildings and offices, although many larger universities such as Ohio State, San Diego State and San Jose State universities have acquired their own land parcels. Harvard Law School has created a replica of its Austin Hall situated on its Berkman island.

It is not only educators who are turning to virtual environments, but librarians as well.  There are currently more than 500 librarian professionals within the Second Life community, many of whom can be found staffing libraries spread out across the Info Archipelago, made up of 12 islands including the EduIslands.

These island communities are helmed by the Second Life Library 2.0, a joint effort between the Alliance Library System and OPAL (Online Programming for All Libraries), which offers library programming and services, tours and special exhibits.

Residents seeking to learn how to build and create the world around them by manipulating “prims,” or geometric primitive shapes with the system’s 3D modeling tools, will find that such casual learning opportunities abound in Second Life.

Both Rockcliffe University and the NCI (New Citizens Incorporated) campus offer daily drop-in classes on topics such as prim fundamentals and scripting basics. Classes can be found by browsing the education category within the events section of the application’s “search” interface.

Second Life is brimming with educational offerings, from organized classes to self-paced walk-throughs and tutorials such as those found in places like the Ivory Tower of Primitives and the Machinima Institute. It is also rife with educational displays and exhibits such as the International Spaceflight Museum and the UC Davis Virtual Hallucinations Facility. Overall, it is a world filled with opportunities for educators and learners alike.

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Ellyssa Kroski is a reference librarian at Columbia University as well as an independent information consultant. She is an adjunct faculty member at Long Island University, San Jose State University and Pratt Institute, where she teaches LIS students about emerging technologies. Her book “Web 2.0 for Librarians and Information Professionals” will be published this winter. She blogs at InfoTangle and iLibrarian.

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