Well, I guess it had to happen. A college in Texas is offering what it believes to be the first degree offered via Second Life. I haven’t had a good look around (the web site mentioned in the blog entry I linked to above is down) yet but I can think of all sorts of reasons why this might be problematic. Before I go into that, I do want to make it clear that I do think that Virtual Worlds like SL do have a lot of potential for educators (Yes, I do have an avatar in Second Life – Feather Congrejo, although I’m a fairly rare visitor these days)
So what are my reservations. Firstly, Second Life gives me a headache if I use it for any length of time. (Must be my aging eyes, but a colleague who attended a 6 hour conference in SL reported the same phenomenon!) Secondly, it needs quite powerful graphics cards, a requirement which seems to increase with every upgrade they produce, and I think that is a big accessibility issue. Thirdly, SL is a public site, and has, inevitably, some less than salubrious areas. (Quite a lot actually!) OK, I suspect this is actually quite a small proportion of SL’s total facilities, and students in HE are adults and we can’t hold their hands all the time, but I can’t see any HEI relishing the prospects of misinformed local media announcing that it is directing students into what might be described as “adult” web services. I suppose you could get round that by using something like Open Sim http://opensimulator.org/wiki/Main_Page for a stand alone environment but you’d lose a lot of connectivity in doing so.
It also requires quite a lot of skill in building a properly immersive environment. It can be done, but it takes time and skill, and teaching in SL seems to require that quite a lot of time is devoted to orientation. (I suppose that’s a one off cost with each cohort of students though) The other issue is about how to devote sufficient time to each student, while continuing with Real World work. I’ve always thought that one great advantage of technology enhanced learning is that it does allow the “quieter” students a chance to get involved. But there’s no getting away from the fact that it does take more time to deal with 30 problems or questions than it does to deal with the 5 or so assertive students in any class.