EL PASO, Texas — For several years now, Professor John Dunn has wanted to offer an online graphic design course for his students at The University of Texas at El Paso, but one problem held him back. In a traditional graphic design course, individual student work is displayed and critiqued by their instructor and peers. Recreating this environment online has posed as a challenge for Dunn, until now. Today, students gather at the XSITE art studio in Second Life and meet with Dunn’s avatar, RU12 Rodex.
According to wisegeek.com, Second Life is a three-dimensional virtual community created entirely by its membership. Members assume an identity and take up residence in Second Life, creating a customized avatar or personage to represent themselves. The avatar moves about in the virtual world using mouse control and intuitive keyboard buttons.
The platform provides tools that allow residents to build their own environments. Second Life residents can engage in rich, sensory experiences, authentic contexts, activities, and opportunities for reflection that form an exciting new domain for a range of educational applications including distance education, vocational and tertiary education, and workplace training.
According to the Second Life website, Second Life Work is the leader of compelling, cost-effective virtual education solutions to amplify an existing curriculum or create new models for engaged, collaborative learning. Today, hundreds of colleges, universities, and other learning organizations —from nearly every country— are either augmenting their current curriculum with a virtual learning component or they are holding classes and entire programs exclusively in immersive learning environments in Second Life.
A UT System Transforming Undergraduate Education grant has allowed for UTEP to buy 3 islands in Second Life in efforts to enhance the quality of the learning experience at the University, lower costs of delivery of instruction, and increase the reach across the diverse learning styles of students.
“It was really second nature to them [students],” says Dunn, as he describes student reactions upon entering the virtual world. The 3D gallery has many advantages over a real life classroom. For instance, student’s work is displayed for an extended period of time allowing for visitors to come and view their work. Dunn also talked about being able to invite artists to come to the space and speak with the students.
So far, Dunn hasn’t run into any major obstacles, the Second Life forum has proved to be very similar to the real life classroom.
“In terms of a graphic design classroom, things are digital so everything works out well,” says Dunn.
Dunn isn’t the only one reaping the advantages of Second Life at UTEP. On Tuesday, May, 11, organizers of UTEP’s Spring 2010 Film Festival simulcast the event as avatars in the virtual theatre on one of UTEP’s 3 islands. Avatars poured into the cyber-theatre as associate professor of English, Beth Brunk-Chavez’s avatar greeted her 3D guests.
Instructional Support Services staffer and UTEP computer science graduate, Saul Gutierrez created the Second Life theatre, complete with red wall–to-wall carpet, stadium seating and a popcorn machine. Avatars were able to take a seat, relax, and view each of the films created by English 1312 students at UTEP from the comfort of their own homes.
Educators from across the globe are tapping into the endless amount of possibilities Second Life has to offer. “There are many advantages to this setting [Second Life], it can serve us so much more,” says Dunn.