First steps into Second Life
To the uninitiated, Second Life might seem like a great way to waste some time chatting online or role playing. However, dig deeper and you will find a hugely powerful communications tool with hitherto untapped teaching potential. The beauty of Second Life is the freedom and flexibility that it presents to visitors. Almost anything you can imagine can be achieved there. Unlike a computer game, all the content within Second Life is created by participants. Once established within Second Life, residents can log on, create their own identities and then chat with other people they come across. This gives residents the chance to create their own world, to buy and sell land and to set up online businesses.
This inherent flexibility is what appeals to an increasing number of ‘bricks and mortar’ universities which have spotted the potential to use Second Life for things that they could not do in ‘real life’. For Dave, Second Life began as a bit of fun. However, as he spent more and more time in Second World, it became apparent that this virtual world could have other applications and that it had real potential for the teaching of mathematics. With this in mind, Dave looked around Second Life for examples and was surprised to find that there was not very much in the way of mathematics teaching taking place there.
The idea for a WMI presence online came out of Dave's realisation that Second Life would be ideal for teaching online tutorials to his students. The potential that he had spotted for making, manipulating and demonstrating geometric shapes would be perfect for the type of work that he was trying to do with his students. As a result of this, Dave applied for funding from the University's Education and Innovation Fund and was able to use this to set up Warwick's online presence.
With funding in place, he was able to create an ‘island’ on which WMI could build virtual teaching facilities as well as a ‘bar’ (named after Christopher Zeeman) where WMI students and alumni could come to hang out while online. The WMI Second Life island was launched in April 2008 and shows great promise as an alternative learning environment. Dave has tried to recreate the Institute's supervision sessions and spaces for information dissemination. As students are coming towards the end of the academic year one of the first things that he did was to set up online tutorials for first year revision. He hopes that visiting Second Life will give students a break from staring at books and another, more interactive, source of information.
What is the long term future for Second Life and how can the University use it? For alumni, virtual meeting places such as Zeeman’s Bar would make great places to meet online, to chat, to network and to catch up with recent developments at the Institute.