Just recently in one of my COMM courses, we were assigned a project to create a pirate-based game in Second Life.  The target audience for this game was to be 7th graders, and at first I thought that this was a pretty cool idea because 1. teenagers seem to be more willing to learn if it’s in an informal setting; and 2.With the experience of having a 14 year old brother, I know that kids are into pirates. However, prior to this course I had only ever heard about Second Life from word of mouth, and most of those people were people who weren’t in favor of it.  My only prior impression of Second Life was that it was “SIMS on steroids.”

I obviously was intimidated by this program, and don’t get me wrong, Second Life is intimidating at first.  I wouldn’t consider it very user-friendly, but after getting used to the main interface it actually isn’t too hard to figure out.  My class was broken into groups for this project, so it was nice having team members there to provide constant support, or to lend an ear when I became extremely frustrated.  The theme for my group’s pirate game was infamous pirates of the Caribbean and in the process of researching the topic I learned a lot, but I constantly kept thinking: isn’t there an easier way to do this in real life? With how much money it takes to create and market a virtual world educational game, what is the true cost:benefit that you could use sell to school districts?  Yes, it is interesting and because kids these days are so wrapped up in gaming and the use of an educational video game kind of fools the audience into learning.  However, the information provided through the virtual world will always be limited and ultimately predictable because it can only be used one time before all of the information it contains is revealed.  In a formal classroom, a teacher is the facilitator of learning and while they do use a lesson plan as a guide, its not guaranteed that they will provide the exact same content every time they give the lesson.  There is a professionalization factor that a teacher brings to a classroom: their stories and experiences, which I think makes them irreplaceable.

Along with purchasing the game, the school district would have to hire a technical support staff to be on call when the game malfunctioned.  They would also have to be on the lookout for updates, as well as download/purchase the program the virtual game runs on.  Second Life, while it is very sophisticated, was glitchy during most of my experience with it, and the avatars were a little bit hard to control.  Personally, for 7th graders, I think that this particular program would be too difficult to give to 7th graders, unless they had a class or real life experience that gave them the prerequisite knowledge they needed to learn.

Another point I would like to make (and please keep in mind that my experience with Second Life is limited) is that I don’t believe that Second Life was designed with the sole purpose to serve as an educational tool; rather, to simply connect people.  There is too much “other” content that students could stumble upon.  Therefore, I think that virtual worlds could be implemented, but it must be a program that aims to serve as an educational tool.  In Second Life, there are no limitations as to where a person can access, so a 7th grader could access a world that contains explicit adult content.

In short, Second Life is cool, but it has some improvements to make before I can be considered it to be useful in an educational setting.  I can see education in a virtual world becoming a mainstream way to teach in the future, but I can only see it selling if the creators somehow persuade a school district that it is the most effective way to transfer knowledge to students.