Experience from Evolution by Lorraine Mockford

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As education evolves, we can’t see where we are going. We are living it now. How Second Life® is redefined remains to be seen. For many, SL is where the greater community ‘resides,’ although we find new ways to connect.

There used to be a vital and active educational community in SL. The expectations in the early days, were that SL could increase our reach, expand flexible learning options for students, and teach concepts in ways that are NPIRL not possible in real life. It was out of this optimism that SL-BPE (Second Life Best Practices in Education) was born and eventually became Virtual World Best Practices in Education (VWBPE).

Using SL solely for marketing led to the re-creation of physical campuses, that no one visited. Then the tiers fiasco hit when Linden Lab withdrew nonprofit support. When you are the evangelist at the your institution, and then the rug is pulled out from under you in SL, it is really hard to go on. To be honest, lots of people just gave up.

It was hard when these changes happened. Funding from institutions was often based on proof of concept activities. And, we were well on the way to developing use cases for longer term projects when, as they say in Newfoundland, ‘the arse went out of her.’

Unfortunately, these SL issues happened at the same time as a downturn in the real life economy, and a decrease in possible funding from institutions and governments.

A lot of the empty campus builds are remnants, with no one maintaining them. However, the creativity and innovation that brought these educational pioneers to SL gave rise to new funding models, often collaborative, and exploration of cheaper alternatives, while pushing the boundaries of education practices in virtual worlds.

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The changes in SL drove people to alternatives, like Opensim, where active and engaging communities can affordably develop. The OS grids have more collaboration between institutions, and a sharing of resources, so they are better utilized. There is a reason our conference is called ‘Virtual Worlds.’

Tech has the potential to get people excited again. Imagine a tour using Oculus Rift!

Virtual worlds are also at the bottom of the hype cycle right now, starting to creep back up. Over-hyped to begin with, then the expense thing sent SL education crashing. But the hype cycle is a natural part of the adoption process.

There is now a considerable body of research that looks at the benefits of virtual worlds in education. So, we are on our way back up.

SL will need to work hard to win back all the educators. But education can, and will, take place in virtual worlds.

SL remains a place to market and reach other educators. Yet, the education model has to change. We are seeing that with the MOOCs (also over-hyped as they find their place).

So the reality is, many of us are still doing great stuff, but we are doing it with less money and more creativity. We needed not to give up, but to step back and redefine. Now, contributors fly under the radar quite a bit. But there are many institutions teaching courses about teaching and learning in virtual worlds, more than ever. This is the future—the students in those courses will see the value and move on to use virtual worlds in their own practices.

—Lorraine Mockford
Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Committee Chair and Instructional Designer at Nova Scotia Community College

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Enjoy different, but related, issue versions: online and in-world (available at the Second Life® SSJ office (Innu 40, 36, 1650) or here as a PDF: sim street journal #9.
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Sim Street Journal explores the relevance of second to first life. © 2014 by Eleanor Medier, Sim Street Journal. Articles cannot be reprinted without permission.

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