Saturday, 18 July 2009

Newbie in Second Life

Shelly Terrell very kindly arranged a tour of Second Life's EduNation for a group of relative and total newbies last night. I went along, having missed the one she and Barbara Sakamoto had arranged the week before.

The way into Second Life is to create an avatar, which most people make to look like themselves at their very best ;). To do this, go to, and you will be guided through the process. Your avatar comes with "inventory", which includes everything from the body and clothes to any external things, like a house or a boat. The inventory is stored in files which you open and attach to your avatar. But just getting your avatar sorted out can take some time, and I was frankly pretty hopeless. Once you've got your basic avatar set up, you save it and its outfit like any set of files - and then you're ready to start out. You move using the arrows on your keyboard and, as you have probably heard, you can fly. Oh, and you can teleport to locations given on a map by coordinates.

One of the slightly disconcerting things about moving around in Second Life (SLife) to me was that I was looking at the world through the eyes of my avatar, so I didn't see what she looked like from the front - and she wasn't wearing anything under her sweater... *blush*. It was only when another avatar gave "me" a once-over that I "flicked the switch" and noticed my mistake.

So I was more than relieved to be in the company of Shelly, who has been a great all-round mentor and very patiently and kindly explained things not once but again and again as needed. I can warmly recommend to anyone interested in learning more about the potential of SLife to follow her on Twitter and find out when she's ready to do another one. Or perhaps one of the other teachers in this steadily growing support network will arrange one.

How did the appointment work? SLife has a messaging service integrated into the interface which allows the organizer of an event to send out invitations including the coordinates of the destination. This includes a file that automatically opens in your iCal or Outlook Calendar and asks whether you want to save it. I found this very sophisticated and nice. At the arranged time you simply open that file which includes the link to the meeting point and click on a button and boom! your avatar teleports there.

Why am I trying out SLife? Well, I'd like to understand more about the quality of the learning experience using tech tools. Second Life requires a combination of written and oral skills (you speak into a headset or your laptop microphone and send instant messages on screen), and the more you move your avatar through its paces, the more you feel that you are actually a part of the world. SLife provides a platform that you can ad lib in, be it outdoors on a (virtual) beach or in an elegant villa. You can use regular presentation tools there, too, so it seems that anything you can do in a virtual classroom you can do in SLife, with the advantage that SLife is more attractive. It has its own rules of social interaction as you move around the vitual world, but once you "get" the culture ... and stop running into people and walls ... it's pretty much like the real world: being polite, allowing personal space, taking turns, making gifts.

SLife has places for you to practice, called "sandboxes", where you can set up things like houses or presentations for a limited duration without needing any special rights. On the surface SLife may look like a free-for-all, but in dedicated spaces and on properties that belong to people there are scheduled events and of course rules of civilized behavior. But being open to the web, it's full of anarchic and archaic surprises. It's a playground for adults, too, which means that you are bound to encounter sex if you gatecrash other people's parties. But if you arrange a meeting at a house you can agree with the other residents to - um - "behave". There are also protected spaces in SLife reserved for children that adults can't get to unless they have special permission, e.g. they are teachers. Did I mention the dragon slayer and the dragon yet? Or the guy with the guns? Hey, this is the Internet. You need to relax and take it in stride.

Yesterday Shelly took us to the EduNation "sandbox" and gave us gift packages with all sorts of clothes and things. My package contained a boat, which I promptly landed on people in the middle of the beach. In real life I'd be sued by the families of the deceased. My SLife social abilities are in their infancy, so I wasn't even able to offer anyone a ride in the boat. Live and learn. While I was trying to unpack my new gifts, including an "I voted for Obama" t-shirt, people were admiring Shelly's cat and Aniya's dog, and then suddenly someone suggested we go to the pet shop. So off we went! Pets can be bought for Linden dollars, and real transactions mean real money. I forgot what a cat or a dog costs. After that our adventures included going to a beach, where Carollain (spelling?) aka Brooke gave me some great bikinis and a cocktail. I set out to try windsurfing on my own but couldn't click things into action. Perhaps I was stealing something, I really wouldn't know. So I gave up and went back to the group, where I found Shelly had got a sailboat on the water and we all set sail with her. A silent stranger from France joined us on the boat and we had a trilingual text message conversation. And then Anyia, I think it was, had the idea that we could go for a balloon ride. The balloon navigated us around on its own and gave us a tour of the entire area, with its beautiful houses. I'm surely leaving out all sorts of information here, things I couldn't really register, like where we actually were, because I was just following dumbly. But there will be more visits to come, and next time things will be easier.

I think you're not supposed to disclose people's real names in Second Life, so while I'd like to share the "link love" (so you can find the people involved) I'm going to be cautious and not drop names. Suffice it to say that yesterday's trip included a large group of teachers, including Shelly from Stuttgart, Aniya from Italy, Brooke from Illinois, Burcu from Istanbul, Tyler from Missouri, Michael from New Zealand, Pascal from Manchester and Marisa from Athens. If you want to find their blogs, just ask on Twitter. You'll find me at

SLife is free for starters. Aniya (aka The English Teacher), also a great mentor, explained that if you do decide to wade into SLife to set up classes, you can buy or rent a property and set up a virtual school. Or you can get together with others and rent space on a property for an event or seminar. Sounds interesting, doesn't it?


Tyler said...

Wonderful article and not only because I'm in it : D

Shelly Terrell said...

Anne, I am always fascinated by how you are willing to try various technologies. I was glad to help but happy you stuck with the process and did not decide to give up due to some frustration. I really enjoyed how you explained what you want to do with SecondLife, because I think a lot of educators do not see the value in the program. However, I have seen such wonderful sites that educators have built which really engage students on difficult subjects like Shakespeare.

Anne Hodgson said...

I think I'm trying to disprove forever the maxim that curiosity killed the cat ;)
Anyway, yep: I'll be willin' to be movin'

Thanks again! Your dedication and energy is inspiring.

Mark said...

Really insightful . I've read loads of stuff about how Second Life can be used in education and watched a fair few videos too although I haven't actually tried it out (mainly because I don't have computer that could deal with it) and I think I got more out of this post than any other.

The moodle stuff has been great too. Please, keep them coming!

Anne Hodgson said...

That's a bummer, and I can relate. I had lots of trouble on my Vista computer with many applications with teaching potential. Very frustrating and time consuming! Things will get better on your next computer. And there is always a next computer, at some point, isn't there?
Glad you're into the Moodle stuff + it works for you - that's a great investment of time!

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Aniya said...

What an interesting post you made Anne, and here I am 4 months later reading it, I must of got lost on Second Life in the meantime lol ;) It's a really interesting tale from a beginners point of view how you explain your approach to SL (most people feel the same) I coached someone yesterday evening and they found it difficult to master all the controls etc., something we all go through, I gave up 2 years ago after thinking what the hell is this SL, only to have become e permanent resident now. It takes a lot of time and dedication to use SL but using it as an alternative educational tool is great fun for both teacher/student, I hope to see you back on SL in the near future.Btw Happy Birthday!!! :)