Imagine touching the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, having the power to create anything you can dream up and learning from people across the globe all with the click of a mouse.
This is Second Life (SL), one of many 3-D virtual worlds that are changing the way people interact and how teachers educate and collaborate.
More than 200 universities and institutions around the world are using SL, said Leslie Jarmon, a senior lecturer who is leading the way in SL instruction at The University of Texas at Austin.
SL was created by Linden Labs four years ago and is shaped entirely by its residents, which now totals more than 11 million.
“Linden Labs started with the gaming world and then decided to take the game out of it and have a virtual world, then give people the tools they need to create their own world,”Jarmon said. In SL she is known by her avatar name Bluewave Ogee. An avatar is the persona a person takes on in a virtual world.
“They created the ground and atmosphere and people do the rest,” Jarmon said. “We have six-hour days in Second Life and the moon is always full.”
Jarmon owns a piece of SL land with graduate student Joe Sanchez, also known as North Lamar.
Jarmon and Sanchez purchased two islands in SL for about $6,300 and started the Educators Coop, the first residential community for educators in SL. The Coop provides educators a place to explore, collaborate, teach and conduct research in SL. They meet weekly to discuss their work and host sessions that teach others how to create things in SL, Sanchez said.
Jarmon and Sanchez believe virtual worlds are the next evolution of the Internet.
“SL or other virtual worlds will continue to become more and more mainstream. I feel that eventually people will have an avatar in the same way that people now have an
e-mail address,” Sanchez said.
Jarmon sees limitless educational opportunities in SL with groups for every interest.
“In Second Life there is education and business, art and music, history, science, corporations and government. Whatever you can find here, you can find in virtual worlds,” Jarmon said.
She talks at a rapid pace when describing SL and its possibilities. She is excited about what’s taking place now and what lies ahead for virtual worlds.
“It extends the communication channels we already use into the 3-D virtual world. It’s a world like this world but we don’t have to go anywhere to experience it.”