Teaching & Learning
A Briefing Paper
Dr. Geoffrey A. Walker
1. What is Second Life?
1.1. Second Life (SL) is a Multi-User Virtual Environment (MUVE). As an educational
resource, it could be described as an EdMUVE.
1.2. A free client program, downloadable from the SL website, enables its users, or
residents, to interact with each other through an avatar (a graphical image
that represents a person). Residents can explore, socialise, participate in
individual and group activities and create and trade virtual property and
services with one another. However, SL, unlike other MUVEs, does not have a
designated objective and that is, perhaps, its major strength.
1.3. Avatars may take any form users choose (human, animal, vegetable, mineral,
or a combination thereof) or residents may choose to resemble themselves as
they are in real life or choose even more abstract forms, given that almost
every aspect of an avatar in SL is fully customisable. A single resident account
may have only one avatar at a time, although the appearance of this avatar
can change between as many different forms as the resident wishes. Avatar
forms, like almost everything else in SL, can be either created by the user or
bought pre-made. They communicate via sound chat, local chat or global
instant messaging (IM). Chatting is used for localised public conversations
between two or more avatars, and is visible to any avatar within a given
distance. IMs are used for private conversations, either between two avatars,
or among the members of a group, or even between objects and avatars.
Unlike chatting, IM communication does not depend on the participants being
within a certain distance of each other.
1.4. SL has an internal currency, the Linden Dollar (L$). L$ can be used to buy,
sell, rent or trade land or goods and services with other users. Virtual goods
include buildings, vehicles, devices of all kinds, animations, clothing, skin,
hair, jewelry, flora and fauna, works of art and many other objects. Some
companies generate US dollar earnings from services provided in Second Life.
Subscribers (non-basic account holders) are currently also provided with a
range of styles of Linden Home which is customisable and furnishable.
1.5. For a comprehensive Official Guide to Second Life, Rymaszewski et al (2007)
provide a good starting point as does Robbins and Bell (2008). Although,
sections on the SL user interface are now outdated by the SL Viewer Version 2.
However, a great deal of user support is now provided on the SL YouTube
channel at http://www.youtube.com/secondlife.
2. Implications for Teachers and Learners?
2.1. The virtual environment of SL provides an important resource with a number of
advantages over face-to-face working:
• a programmable virtual environment;
• individual and group model-building;
• integration of online and offline tools;
• flexibility of design and development of an alternative educational tool;
• anonymous identity of users;
• capable of linking in-world and out-world activities;
• viewable universally, at any time, by all students.
2.2. The emergence of a generation of "digital natives" (Prensky 2001) or "insiders"
(Lankshear and Bigum 1999) has created new challenges for the future of education,
particularly as more learning occurs online, be it in traditional classrooms
integrating online technologies or in full-fledged online classes. Many educators see
the importance of human interaction in learning, but students are growing up with
more opportunities for less human interaction. As Lankshear and Bigum (1999) note,
"for perhaps the first time in human history, new technologies have amplified the
capacities and skills of the young to such an extent that many conventional
assumptions about curriculum (and pedagogy) become inappropriate"
2.3. In theory, the grid provides an appropriate and effective constructivist
environment for teaching and learning where the student constructs their own
learning environment and the educator facilitates this construct. On the other hand,
however, students can find existing constructs difficult to engage with and can find
the grid equally difficult to manipulate and manoeuvre even in simple tasks such as
walking and flying.
2.4. Constructivism requires a space for experimentation and exploration as students
construct their own understandings through interaction with their teachers, peers,
subject matter, and environment. Furthermore, the guiding principles of
constructivism provide ways to employ online technologies as pedagogies evolve. For
example, mind mapping is a constructivist exercise that can be implemented in an
online setting in order to share ideas among students and the instructor (Muirhead
2.5. The future of online learning will depend on our ability to make use of the
Internet and other technologies that focus less on "information dissemination"
(Barab, Thomas, and Merrill 2001, 109) and more on communication, "camaraderie,"
and human experience (106); Second Life is such a technology.
2.6. The NMC Campus (see Appendix One) in SL is viewed as an excellent example of
how to use the grid for educational purposes. A video introduction to the NMC
Campus, entitled ‘Seriously Engaging’ is available on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9VZKTT6gZ8. SL also has its own channel on
YouTube http//www.youtube.com/secondlife which is used to provide video
tutorials on uses and aspects of the grid.
3. Current Educational Uses of Second Life?
3.1. SL provides the potential for a wide range of uses across a range of learning
fields. SL may be applied to college-based courses in a wide range of ways, in
• Access to Higher Education, Preparation for Work, Skills for Life and Equality
• Accountancy, Business Administration, Business and Management Courses
• Art and Design, Media and Performing Arts Courses
• Beauty Therapy, Catering and Hairdressing Courses
• Care, Childcare, Counselling and Health Courses
• Construction, Planning and the Built Environment Courses
• Education, Training and Teaching Assistants Courses
• Engineering and Motor Vehicle Courses
• English Courses
• Horticulture Courses
• ICT and Computing Courses
• Science and Mathematics Courses
For all these courses, SL could be used for conferencing, role-playing and model-
3.2. For a selected list of educational locations in SL which utilise a range of designs
and tools see Appendix Two.
4. Potential Positive and Negative Outcomes of Teaching & Learning in Second
4.1. Potential Positive Outcomes
4.1.1. Many learners find the experience of using SL as fun, an essential component
of the learning experience. They can explore a rich and well-designed interface,
develop their understanding of the social construct and its uses and build their own
4.1.2. Younger learners find themselves immersed in a familiar, video game style
environment. Although, educators who support SL do not see the grids as a game,
learners develop skills in this space through a process of socio-cognitive
connectedness (Cheal 2008). They learn through recognising a familiar platform,
develop cognitive skills and find support by connecting to others.
4.1.3. Learners that find the SL experience rewarding also refer to the unique
atmospheric nature of the grid and see themselves engaged in ‘something different’
over which they exercise some control.
4.1.4. Essentially, SL is a shared, collaborative and participative environment and
learners gain enjoyment and entertainment through interacting with others, forging
relationships and friendships.
4.1.5. Learners are given the opportunity to move from the linear process of
information dissemination to a universe of knowledge sharing.
4.2. Potential Negative Outcomes
4.2.1. For some learners, they experience a steep learning curve, due to low mouse
and keyboard skills when learning to walk, fly and teleport in SL. A number are
discouraged by this initial stage and tend to become frustrated. However,
appropriate and effective one-to-one support can overcome this.
4.2.2. A relatively high system specification is needed, especially RAM space, to run
SL at a fluid level. ‘Lag’ can be a problem when a number of residents are online and
this can be heightened by low system specification. Having said this, the recently-
released SL Viewer Version 2 appears to be running quite smoothly in Windows 7.
4.3.3. Low bandwidth can also create lag. Obviously, necessary bandwidth varies
with the level of interaction with the grid; the higher level of interaction the greater
the bandwidth needed. Walking, flying and teleporting appear relatively unaffected
by bandwidth but building is a complex process which can be affected by bandwidth.
4.4.4. Course design and the allocation of tasks can be a problem. Cheal (2008) found
that those who saw the grid as a game-like environment tended to be poorly focused
on completing tasks.
4.4.5. Another negative outcome discovered by Cheal (2008) was that a proportion of
learners failed to see MUVEs as learning environments. They tended to ‘play’ rather
than ‘learn’. The connection between playing and learning in this environment
needs to be explored and the pioneering work of Tees Valley Community Media might
prove useful as a working example of this relationship.
APPENDIX ONE: THE NMC CAMPUS
The NMC Campus is seen as a seminal educational resource on the grid and offers several exemplary
resources and elements of design.
Notecard: Welcome to the NMC Campus
Welcome to the NMC Campus Project, an educational collaboration that includes more than 125 colleges,
universities, and other organizations. More than 14,000 individuals from 54 countries have registered to
follow the work of the project. Launched publicly in June 2006 at the NMC’s annual Summer Conference,
the NMC Campus Project has always had a simple but clear vision: to comprehensively support colleges
and universities who wished to experiment with virtual worlds. The original campus, still located where
you now stand, was intended to be a test bed for research and demonstration activities and was originally
only open to NMC members.
As the project grew to nearly 100 regions, the project opened its doors to all, and now anyone can visit
the entirety of the NMC Campus. At every turn, the vision has been to inspire and influence future
development, to expand working knowledge, to showcase creativity and ideas, and to encourage
collaboration both inside and outside of Second Life. Among the very first educational organizations to
enter Second Life, the NMC has by any measure had a profound impact on the adoption of virtual worlds
The project community has created a remarkable legacy on the web. Links to these materials and other
documentation referenced here can be found at http://www.nmc.org/pdf/linden-prize-
The key to the success of the NMC Campus Project, which has been completely self-sustaining now for
more than two years, has been three fold: to be a good community member; to set a high standard for
design, aesthetics, and technical proficiency; and to make educational spaces as compelling and
immersive as possible.
All indications are that we have hit those marks — the average time that the 15,518 unique visitors who
came to the NMC Campus sims over the last 100 days was an astounding 98 minutes per visit (sources at
http://www.nmc.org/pdf/linden-prize-documentation.pdf). These visitors span the globe, with visits
from more than 56 countries over that same time, including areas such as North America, Europe, China,
Malaysia, Australia, Japan, and even Africa! More than 14,000 individuals have voluntarily provided us
with their contact information; the NMC Campus Observer blog routinely sees more than 4,700 unique
visitors each month from dozens of countries around the globe. Since July 2007, the NMC has ushered in
nearly 6,500 new educators to Second Life via its own reg-API site, averaging upwards of 450 new SL
educators per month.
It was a natural extension of our real-life work to begin to look at the potential of Second Life as a venue
for genuine sorts of academic meetings. Beginning in 2006, we have brought more than 2,000 scholars
into Second Life to explore weighty topics like the Impact of Digital Media, Creativity, the Evolution of
Communication, and more via the NMC’s continuing Series of Virtual Symposia. These fee-based events
($295 US registration) are ranked very very highly by attendees for their innovative use of the platform
and the engagement level of the virtual setting. To date, every single symposium has been
The NMC is also a committed member of the Second Life community, and sponsors a wide range of
events, art exhibitions, performance groups, and more that are free to the public on an ongoing basis. To
learn more about the NMC arts mission, see http://www.nmc.prg/pdf/Aho-Museum-of-Art.pdf.
There is far more to this story than can possibly be told here. Now beginning our fourth year in Second
Life, the NMC is as committed as ever to its mission of helping educators make the highest possible use of
this platform via support, the sharing of models and resources, pushing possibilities, and absolute
transparency. At the NMC, we share everything we learn, and give back to the community every way we
can. We have provided extensive documentation via a list of urls that we think are critical to
understanding the impact of the NMC Campus. This simple list of links will take you to literally tens of
thousands of images taken by our community, to dozens and dozens of YouTube videos, and to a wide
range of NMC web resources, academic papers, and much more.
We hope you enjoy your visit to our community. Look for the blue phone booths (Tardis) — they are
teleporters that will take you almost anywhere in the NMC Campus project. As a not-for-profit, the NMC is
committed to sharing its work with the educational community. All of the reports, research, and other
materials the NMC produces in the project are published under Creative Commons licenses. In addition,
the NMC has created and stocks the largest open educational content repository in Second Life, in the
NMC’s full-sim Resource Center on Learning. Content from business attire to learning objects, to medical
equipment and entire buildings, to orientation experiences and much more, is all available on Learning for
APPENDIX TWO: SELECTED LOCATIONS OF EDUCATIONAL INTEREST
In some cases, this list utilises SLurls (Second Life uniform resource locators) a web
address which links a web browser to a precise location in Second Life.
LOCATION & DESCRIPTION SLURL
ISTE Island: On ISTE Island, the
International Society for
Technology in Education hosts a
Tuesday evening speaker series
and Thursday evening Educator
NMC Campus: Soon after the New
Media Consortium (NMC) Campus
opened in 2006, it became a hub
of activity for educators in
Second Life, hosting numerous
seminars, discussions and
Info Island: A team of librarians
and other volunteers from around
the globe have grown Info Island
from a few buildings in early 2006
to a cluster of islands bustling
with activities that explore roles
libraries and librarians may play
in 3D virtual worlds.
Campus: Second Life: Educators
who would like to try Second Life
for a class without investing in
virtual land may apply for an acre
to use for free for one semester
through the Campus: Second Life
Barab, S. A., Thomas, M.K. and Merrill, H. (2001) Online learning: From information
dissemination to fostering collaboration Journal of Interactive Learning Research 12
(1): 105-143. http://inkido.indiana.edu/research/onlinemanu/papers/jilr.pdf
(accessed June 12, 2008). Archived at http://www.webcitation.org/5XHagzG94.
Cheal, C. (2008) Student Perceptions of a Course Taught in Second Life, Innovate,
Available at http://www.innovateonline.info Accessed: 19/04/2010
Lankshear, C., and Bigum, C. (1999) Literacies and new technologies in school settings.
Pedagogy, Culture & Society 7 (3): 445-465.
Lankshear, C., and Knobel, M (2003) New literacies: Changing knowledge and classroom
learning. New York: Open University Press.
Muirhead, B. (2006) Creating concept maps: Integrating constructivism principles into
online classes. International Journal of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning 3
(1): 17-30. http://itdl.org/journal/jan_06/article02.htm (accessed June 12, 2008).
Archived at http://www.webcitation.org/5XK9ZOsEw.
Prensky, M. (2001) Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon 9 (5): 1-6
Robbins, S. and Bell, M. (2008) Second Life for Dummies Indiana: Wiley
Rymaszewski, M., Au, W.J., Wallace, M., Winters, C., Ondrejka, C. and Batstone-
Cunningham, B. (2007) Second Life: The Official Guide Indiana: Wiley