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Second Life: Effective Educational and Networking Tool? Or Free World of Warcraft Clone?

It has been interesting for me lately to hear mention Second Life and how highly some speak of it. I’ve been hearing a few things from various corners about its potential for collaborative learning. It turns out that one English professor at a major university here in Korea has been pioneering a combination of Second Life and Moodle (“a Free web application that educators can use to create effective online learning sites” (Moodle.org)) for a better English language educational experience for students. The professor, Chris Surridge, says that his combination of Second Life and Moodle “promotes creative problem solving, student centered exploration, and unique, personalized learning experiences.” However, as I watched his video describing energy crystals, zombies, and classic gaming puzzles, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was all, as Kayne on WiseGeek writes, “an instant guilty pleasure.”

Professor Surridge received high praise from his students for his innovative approach to language learning, and although I do agree that technology, and a new approach – beyond the traditional lecture – are necessary in classrooms of the twenty-first century, it still makes me wonder how practical it all is. How collaborative and beneficial to students, designers, companies, or organizations is Second Life as a social network? For all appearances it seems much like a free online version of World of Warcraft or other similar MMORPGs. I’ve seen countless students, and even adults get sucked into the virtual world of MMORPGs. There’s even a now infamous news story of one couple in Korea who was so concerned with feeding their virtual baby that they neglected to feed the real one until she died. (Politifi.com).

Where’s the proof of its effectiveness?

I don’t mean to detract from the beauty of Second Life, perhaps I’m just uneducated as to its usefulness as a networking and marketing tool. But it presents itself more as a game than a professional tool for networking or businesses. Janet Fouts poses some interesting questions for measuring the success of any social media: “The question about metrics is, what data would be valuable to you and how do we measure it accurately? Of course, you can measure the increase in traffic, the number of comments and links to your blog, the number of users and posts in a forum, how many views of a podcast. But how does that translate to sales? Do those metrics tell you the value of your campaign?” (Fouts, 2009, p 136).

But I suspect that this is the same problem facing all social media, and even the integration of technology into modern classrooms. There’s a “lack of hard numbers.” (Fouts, 2009, p 135). Most people and businesses like looking at graphs, bar charts, and tables of hard data to tell them how successful a certain initiative has been. Nothing says success like seeing numbers go up. But Fouts mentions a new model for measurement: “Forrester Research defines the engagement between individuals and brands in terms of the four I’s: Involvement, Interaction, Intimacy, and Influence. How do you measure that?” How do you measure engagement?

After introducing his classes to his Second Life mod, Professor Surridge noted huge increases in motivation, enthusiasm, and communication among his students. Hard data alone probably wouldn’t support his efforts as many of these students probably wouldn’t score much higher on a grammar test than students taught in traditional lecture classes. However, the level and quality of involvement, interaction, motivation, and overall communication of these students would be much higher. Therefore, if Second Life has such an effect on the networking efforts of designers, businesses, or non-profits, then by all means, take advantage of it. However, I think it wise to be careful of the amount of time, and the kinds of activities we involve ourselves in, in any kind of social media.

What about you?

Do you think Second Life is an effective networking tool? Is it more than just a game? Can Second Life be used in education? If so, to what regard, and in what other fields might Second Life be used? Is this the beginning of a new tech revolution?


Moodle.org. (n.d.). Welcome to the Moodle Community! Retrieved on May 27, 2010 from http://moodle.org/

YouTube.com. (2009, Dec 21). Devil Island Mystery: Program Overview. Retrieved on May 27, 2010 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j63IE3PHnT4

Politifi.com. (2010, Mar 5). Baby dies as parents raise virtual child online. Retrieved on May 27, 2010 from http://politifi.com/news/Baby-dies-as-parents-raise-virtual-child-online-253015.html

Fouts, Janet. (2009). Social Media Success! Silicon Valley, CA, USA: HappyAbout

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