We’re introducing Second Life to L1 journalism students next week. I normally attempt to cultivate a cool, ‘technological determinist’ image. But in this case, I have had to work extra hard to explain the relevance of SL to our students.
The buzz surrounding SL was pretty high back in May 2008 when I was planning the teaching. Fast forward 10 months, and it seems about as academically sexy as receiving a £70 fine for spending five hours in an Aldi car park (thanks Parking Eye!)
Statistics – it’s Second Life versus Twitter versus Britney – let battle commence!
In terms of blog coverage, SL was once the talk of the town.
Now that young upstart Twitter is the belle of the ball. Just to keep
it ‘scientific’, Britney is acting as our ‘base’ for blog buzz.
UK universities using Second Life
Like many UK universities, the place where I work has received research funding to create a cool-looking virtual campus and to investigate teaching possibilities (particularly in distance learning).
As a journalism lecturer, I have to consider SL’s relevance to unit outcomes.Fashion and interior design courses at the university are already using SL as a means to preview student projects and obtain tutor feedback.
SL in journalism teaching – any use?
SL offers the possibility to stage ‘virtual news events’. We do a number of these mock exercises in “first life” already. But these can be expensive to run, take considerable planning and we would like to do more of them.
Students also study ‘virtual communities’ from a theoretical perspective. So SL gives students real experience of this, outside the normal Facebook arena which most students seem to use.
CNN is also still asking its iReporters to submit citizen stories, many of which can be found on the CNN iReporters site here. Although other large media brands seem to be scaling back their efforts and I’m not sure whether the CNN experiment has been particularly successful.
SL is very bandwidth-intensive and this has presented networking problems. Only a few IT rooms have the software installed (the other university PCs are just not up to the job). So the ‘business case’ for teaching SL is starting to look shaky already.
SL also needs to be made easier to use. Philip Rosedale said in a .Net Magazine interview (February 2007) said that it took around four hours to learn the basics, which could be described as quite a ‘barrier to entry’. This need to change before it gets any sort of mainstream acceptance.
That said, I still think that virtual worlds are a key to the Web 3.0 model. And whilst it may not be SL that wins the race, we are fulfilling our duty in getting students’ pointing their heads in the right direction.