Learning on virtual campus

Metro students create worlds in interactive Web community, Second Life

Life on Roadrunner Island is good.

Other than the perpetually perfect weather, there are loads of reasons to visit Metro’s virtual campus at Second Life, the interactive Web-world where you can go anywhere, do anything and create a unique and endlessly entertaining learning environment.

Growing popularity and comfort with the program (created in 2003 by Linden Labs) has encouraged Metro students and professors to contribute to the increasingly thriving virtual community.

“The whole foundation of Second Life is based off of the creation of its users,” said Assistant Professor of Technical Communications Chris Jennings. “Community development makes [Metro’s] island stronger.”

Metro student Helen Star developed an interactive lecture about the Holocaust using the Web-world program, Second Life. Metro launched thier virtual campus, Roadrunner Island, through Second Life in 2007. Photo by Luke Powell

Jennings, along with fellow Roadrunner Island Steering Committee members, Associate Professor of Technical Communications Lisa Ortiz and affiliate faculty member of Technical Communications Shawn McNary (who is also the creator of Roadrunner Island), were the first on campus to explore the program’s applications and possibilities for interactive learning.

At Metro, Second Life is used in social contexts as a creative forum for diverse education, as an environment for online conference meetings, and a platform for sharing and displaying media, art and an enormous array of interests.

Launched on campus in 2007, Roadrunner Island acts as an enhancive learning tool that allows students to foster and transform their skills, build new ones and practice new techniques using an approach that deepens cognitive ability and masters visual learning.

“If there’s a need for students to see a nuclear reactor, you can go into a virtual environment and see a recreation of a nuclear reactor without getting radiation poisoning,” Jennings said.

Students not taking courses on Second Life can still create a profile at secondlife.com to socialize with other members and watch fascinating virtual exhibits made by students and volunteers.

The first exhibition on Roadrunner Island was created by Metro student Helen Star, 50, who developed an interactive lecture featuring her mother who is a Holocaust survivor.

The presentation focuses on diversity and includes pictures, clips and stories from the World War II era that are displayed behind her avatar as she discusses her experience and answers questions from audience avatars.

“It was developed for the next generation to come in and educate about diversity, tolerance and hatred,” Star said. “The responses have been amazing.”

The exhibit is an instilment in a much larger digital media project of Star’s called the Diversity Tolerance Footprints which combines user-supplied anecdotes from stories and pictures with uploaded theatrics and art in order to compile a base for interactive humanitarianism.

“I use [Second Life] all the time, every day,” Star said. “I connect, talk business, connect for social interactions, for the art gallery project — everything. It’s not just a game, there are several realms being developed for digital art and for educational purposes.”

Multilingual cafés and bars are also hotspots for virtual discussion. In these particular rooms, the “chat” button will translate everything being typed in the conversation. For more specialized interpretations, students can “order a translation” by inviting their instructor or another guest into the discussion.

A full integration into computer labs would ideally happen no less than a year from now. Members of the Roadrunner Island Steering Committee plan to install the program in a few computer labs first to test its efficiency and fix early bugs.

“You can reach a world of people in a matter of one hour; it can span from Colorado to Israel to Scotland to New York to the Philippines in an hour. That’s amazing,” Star said. “And you’re reaching a group of people that use it regularly and want to study this technology.”

Author: Megan Mitchell

Megan Mitchell is the managing editor of The Metropolitan. She has worked for the paper since spring 2010 as a reporter, assistant editor, Metrospective editor, and editor-in-chief respectively.

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