First of all: thank you to all participants who took part in the lively discussion about my last post. This brought up another point of Second Life I haven’t had on my list before.
However before I start to give you my final point of view about SL I think I need to explain what my intention was writing the first post. Interestingly it attracted a whole new group of readers to this blog. The first post was written from the perspective of an edupreneur (me or anyone else) who hears: “There are so many students to teach on Second Life, you have to go there.” As you can see this was a totally business driven decision, no fun involved. But the post brought in SL evangelists, not other teachers.
I really appreciate the input they gave me on Second Life itself but it was basically not my intention to poke in a hornet’s nest and start a discussion about the general use of Second Life. I just wanted to show other online teachers that
1. they are not alone with their first impression of Second Life and
2. there is a problem of how most of us see Second Life.
There are obviously some issues about Second Life and Linden Lab that lead to what I experienced yesterday and maybe I will give you my thoughts on this, too.
Judging someone by the first half of a two part blog post, start a “riot”, tell the person that she is basically to dumb /ignorant to use the search, should have RTFM read the Wiki, does not know how to have fun, is not well prepared, does not know how to use Google etc is not very helpful either. I can understand their intention and I can also understand that they are fed up with douche bags who just want to bash SL users as useless people who don’t have a first life. But still I think it would help them more to inform themselves about the writer of the post or, even better, to wait until the second post before getting “berserc” ;). If everyone who has doubts / a question about SL has to experience this I can understand a part of the problem.
So without further ado, here is my corrected view on Second Life as an edupreneur.
As I said, after about a month of running around in Second Life, talking to the few people I met about how empty SL is etc I came to the conclusion that SL is dead wood. Then I remembered a website I visited a couple of months ago. It was an English school on SL and they had a schedule with their different classes online that was very full. So I checked my bookmarks and there it was: LanguageLab.com.
In the meantime they changed their design and the schedule was even more filled. They were on to something though. What was their secret? After reading their website it finally made click.
First revelation: Islands need to be seen as closed, detached environments
All teaching and learning activities of LanguageLab take place on their island called English city. To avoid the Vanilla Sky effect they have a permanent staff of different residents in English city so that there is always someone to talk to. Because of the closed environment of the island you will also meet fellow students all the time. And there are tasks to fulfill. The different characters of English city even have a background story. The waitress for example is a struggeling actress and this story is woven into the exercises. This attaches the students to the different characters emotionally and will bring them back to talk to them even outside the regular English city lessons.
As you can see, English city covers all the problems I was mentioning in my first post. No Vanilla Sky because of a closed environment and permanent residents to talk to, storyline woven into the characters talks, controled world, no need to teleport to other islands, focus on the community not consumption.
I then had a chat with Shiv of LanguageLab and he explained me how they came up with the model, why they chose Second Life as environment and how successful their company is. They will even enlarge their team.
Second revelation: Second Life is not a game, it’s a platform
If you try to see Second Life as an online game like World of Warcraft you won’t get far. To understand Second Life you have to see it as something like Google Android, iPhone SDK or Java. It is a platform that allows people to construct islands (applications) and run it on SL. Nearly all of the clients of LanguageLab come from outside SL. They download SL as they would download and install Skype, TweetDeck or MSN. It is just the application to connect to the English city community. As with Skype and so on you could also leave your group and explore other groups but the main reason is to connect for a purpose. In this case the purpose is to learn English on English city. And if LanguageLab would use another platform, people would download this one.
If you have a look at the ELT groups on Second Life you see the same pattern. Most of them first meet outside SL. One of them will then tell the other one to try it out and join the community (the same as outside SL). They use SL as enhanced chat, Twitter, Skype, forum environment. SL gives them new possibilities to connect and express but the community itself was already existing. They are in a closed environment. No Vanilla Sky.
Third revelation: There are native Second Life residents and there are settlers
This third revelation came to my mind yesterday, it was delivered to me to be correct. There is a group of native SL residents who see much more in it than most of the people who log on to SL. For them using SL for business purposes or as an extended chat is simply not enough. For those people the possibilities are basically endless, like in the real life. They can be compared to the avantgarde in the arts sector, I’d say. They are the Studio 54 of the digital age, pushing the boundaries, trying out what is possible. And as all artists before becoming part of the pop culture they stand before a giant group of people “who don’t get it” and who see them as weirdos or even worse.
On the other hand they see companies using SL to make money, leaving out the creativity, delivering only a thin, safe and sugar coated version of what SL could be.
For me there is no doubt that virtual worlds, may it be SL or another platform, will become part of the mainstream. This is only natural if you see the evolution of the internet and the use of Social Media. The settlers will gain more and more space and the boundaries between them and the natives will diminish.
Therefore my conclusion as an edupreneur: Second Life has definitely a huge potential to be part of an online teaching business. If you invest enough time to build a closed environment for your students or if you use an already existing one you can bring your teaching to another level, especially if you have students only on the internet. SL can provide you with a near real life experience. As I said, it takes some time and a good planing but I think it is worth trying.
And to open your personal horizon you should get in touch with the SL natives. To start with have a look at Perfect World Productions of Paisley Bebee, The islands of Jokaydia, Avatars in Wonderland and Second Thoughts. Yes, there is definitely business on SL but there is much more to discover.
I will also write a blog post about LanguageLab and yesterday I did an EDUKWEST interview with Shiv which should be available this evening.