Thursday, January 24, 2008

Second Life is Hype

Although I have a Second Life account, I rarely use it (I am Unh Oh in Second Life). To be honest, I have been quite underwhelmed with education's embrace of Second Life. Most of it consists of "virtual classrooms", unfinished experiments, or things that people won't really use on a regular basis, because Second Life as a whole can be sluggish, it requires specific thought to install and run (I have to go to my computer, open second life, log in, wait) -- it doesn't sound like a hassle, but given other lower-threshold tools at my disposal for communicating -- it is simply too much of a time drain.

I can (and will) write quite a bit about Second Life in the next couple of months, for it illustrates well some of the problems we face when trying to fit analog space into digital space. Assumptions about hierarchy. Assumptions about economy.

This MarketPlace story illustrates one of these critical points -- that it appears that companies are beginning to pull out of Second Life, after the gold rush. As one person succinctly puts it:

"Second Life is a world in which you can fly just as easily as you can walk. Maybe the idea of building a store doesn't make much sense."

I will extend that argument to educational institutions. Assumptions about hierarchies, how economies can work, gender roles, cultural assumptions, power structure. Wow. It is like a mirror at times that illustrates the flaws in these assumptions. It is a magnifying glass that illustrates some fundamental, underlying, bad assumptions about the role of technology in education.

I think (but have no evidence) that Second Life's population numbers are grossly inflated. I believe that not there are not that many people who use it regularly, compared to much broader services -- including myspace, youtube and facebook. It may not seem fair to compare these -- they are different things indeed -- but the cost of time -- what can I do in the next 3o minutes - I can wander around Second Life, or a I can create a blog post, update my Facebook account, check my email. It is an easy decision. One is a big blob, takes a while to load, and can take time to do stuff -- the other things -- specific, task driven, efficient.

All of this illustrates some bigger lessons about digital learning. I believe that we are seeing in Second Life can definitely be applied to LMS systems (WebCT/Blackboard, Moodle, etc). But more on this later.