The following personal reflection on the educational advantages and disadvantages to SecondLife (SL) is based on a single user’s online experience. In the era of massively multiplayer role-playing games where participants interact in-world in groups (study hall, computer lab, or arcade) as well as online, the following advantages could increase and the disadvantages could decrease.
Disadvantages to SL include the requirements for high-end technical hardware and software and potential lack of the universal design for learning. Because SL requires a certain bandwidth capability and computer graphic cards for participation, it will create a barrier for some students.
Second, SL requires learning by trial and error that hinges on the motivation and personality of a learner. I’m an adventurer type (global learner), so I don’t mind trying and failing. However, from experience as an educator, not all students have the same will or ease. For instance, an analytical learner would need lots of demonstration videos and the rules prior to login. Therefore, learning preferences should be considered in multiuser virtual environments (MUVEs).
I’m unsure if all SL venues provide alternative text, but I did see a lot of instructions provided at the locations I visited. For example, on a dance floor, a floating ball provided instructions to click the ball and a menu of dance moves appeared. I’d hope that the JAWS (Job Aid With Speech) screen reader would be able to read it for persons requiring that accommodation. I haven’t done any research on the accessibility of SL specifically.
Conversely, the advantages for SL and other MUVEs are tremendous. Some benefits include accessibility for persons otherwise unable to participate fully in the real world. The affordances lend themselves to learning various content in authentic environments and provide the opportunity to unite people. SL provides the following multimodal means of representation: text chat, language translations, audio, written descriptions of venues, and remote-controlled avatars.
The affordance of trying new skills in a simulated environment, especially if that skill may be a dangerous one in real life, is a great advantage. For example, in the Health Workforce Australia document (Walsh, 2010), the use of MUVEs was proposed as instrumental for education in dentistry:
“A virtual world which is used at the University of Southern California School of Dentistry exposes students to exercises in diagnosing complicated problems, which in turn eliminates the use of live patients in a risky environment. Such VW are especially useful during the first half of the curriculum when students are inexperienced in patient
care (p. 15).”
SL provides unique and varied opportunities for gatherings. For example, the Veterans Administration set up an office where veterans can visit and learn about their benefits in SL. Another example is how IBM uses SL to meet virtually with its administrators worldwide. IBM said this environment was much more appealing than teleconferences between boardrooms. I’m a positive thinker, so I believe the opportunities are endless as long as you have the necessary equipment, MUVE skill set, and motivation. For more information, read my previous post on the use of SL for educational purposes.
Note. This is part two in a series on SL.
P.S. I participated in a SecondLife project for my doctoral internship. I learned to film episodes in SL to create machinima (machine created cinema). See the blog post.