Liberty’s virtual ‘Second Life’
Liberty’ University’s School of Education became interested in the virtual classroom concept after asking a simple question: “How can we figure out a way to get our student teachers more connected?” Dr. Randall Dunn and Dr. David Holder believe that they have found the answer in the social network known as Second Life.
Liberty’s School of Education has more than 100 student teachers in its program, Holder said. Many of Liberty’s student teachers reside all over the world, reaching as far as Australia.
The locally based student teachers are involved in a mentoring program that the school provides specifically for them. Unfortunately, the students who do not live in the general area have been unable to take advantage of the opportunity at least until now.
Second Life is a virtual 3-D world created by Linden Lab. As of 2011 this social network has had approximately 20 million user accounts created, according to the Second Life website.
The School of Education has realized the potential that this network has in the world of academics. The student teachers can now interact with their professors and peers in this virtual setting, whereas before they were only able to do so through Blackboard and e-mails.
“We used Second Life to get that cognitive presence, that social engagement,” Holder said.
One of the first steps of this process is the creation of an avatar to represent the student in Second Life. The avatar allows them to connect with their professors and fellow student teachers, verbally and visibly in a social context.
An avatar can be anything the person wants. The typical avatar is human in appearance and can be created to closely resemble the person it is representing.
“My avatar is a real life reflection,” Holder said. “Some are fantasy (darth vader, purple teletubbies etc.). While mine is a reflection, it is still a romantic fiction of myself.”
Student’s avatars have to be granted access to the university’s portion of land before they can interact with the professors and other students. This prevents any potential distractions or dangers from being present in the academic setting.
Like many other universities, Liberty rents a section of an island owned by the New Media Consortium. The professors have constructed rooms in which the avatars can congregate and interact with one another, giving the students a sense of community. Many of the ideas for the rooms came from students themselves.
One of these rooms is simply known as “The Woods.” This is not your typical classroom setting. The scene displays trees, rocks and foliage; there are even some small butterflies to complete the effect.
Other rooms include a winter cabin, a planetarium and a lobby. Each is well-designed and fascinating to explore. A presentation board is present in every room, allowing professors to use slide shows, PowerPoint and other visual tools.
“We’ve had lots of positive feedback,” Dunn said.
“We’re getting more dialogue out of these guys than in the live classroom,” Holder said.
Liberty is one of few institutions doing research on this new classroom with actual students. They are very pleased with the progress they have made so far, according to Dunn and Holder.
Dunn and Holder encourage students who are interested in learning more about this virtual classroom to contact them. Students are welcome to either visit them in Second Life or to e-mail them with any questions they might have.
Dr. Dunn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Holder’s email address is email@example.com