Since 2006 I have been working within Second Life, using it as a collaborative platform. But one of the key questions to be answered is what makes Second Life qualitatively better than a discussion forum or VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) application? What is the added value of a virtual synthetic world like Second Life? And where will this lead in 2008?
1) A social Technology. MUVE (Multi User Virtual Environment) users share, real-time experiences. A website is an isolated, one-way communication channel. Second Life, on the other hand, allows visitors to interact in real time using many different media at once (synchronous communication). For example, an avatar visiting a virtual meeting hall can view a video while text messaging or voice chatting with another avatar watching the same video. It allows a resident to communicate either to the whole population, or to a specific resident on a one-to-one basis. “Building together, assistance from peers is nice, interaction helps a lot, finding similar people around the world, the international atmosphere in general, geographic separation of teacher and student is less of a barrier” However, external applications (email) are still needed for direct file transfer.
2) Graphical 3D representation; provides visual sensory stimulation that leads to a contributed sense of immersion. An equality which isn’t easily achieve in other learning applications. This provides a cost effective avenue for continued research in the fields of not only education but training and simulation as well.
3) Forums within communities. For example, www.schome.open.ac.uk plays a vital role within social interaction between community members and encourages collaboration. Establishing a sense of belonging within the community is greatly satisfying “We learn by becoming part of a community of practice” (Lave & Wenger, 1991) however, “such collaboration will not automatically occur simply because peer-to-peer interaction is supported and facilitated.” (Murphy, E. 2004). Illustrating that encouragement of social interaction is not solely defined by the facilitated technology to communicate. How does the MMO (massively multiplayer online) environment encourage this interaction and collaboration?
In typical gaming synthetic worlds, communities are built around common goals or objectives (e.g. slaying Onyxia in World of Warcraft), whereas in Second Life there is no pre-determined path. Communities form around ideas, projects, brands and interests, and therefore the responsibility is passed to its residents to form their own objectives and goals.
2008 will be an extremely interesting year with continued improvements to Second Life, for example the mash up between moodle and Second Life. It will also be the year for new emerging synthetic environments, such as the MPK20 project developed by Sun Microsystems, which looks extremely interesting. Providing a true distributed multi-user internet application, where several users are capable of viewing and editing the same document within the environment. Whereas Second Life is unable to provide this level of collaboration, it's of no value if a user can open a page in isolation and other users are not involved in either being unable to view or change what that user is browsing. This level of functionality provides a more versatile collaboration tool.
Most interestingly of all will be the work of Second Life’s own
residents and the extent to which Second Life can integrate with
traditional e-learning models to find new approaches to teaching and
learning that are truly immersive and collaborative. 2008 looks
Second Life Media Zoo link;