The Magic Circle – is not so helpful, actually.

“One of the more fascinating issues that bubble to the surface from time to time are real world legal consequences for things that happen in the virtual world.” Tech Law Prof Blog

“However this wasn’t a theft that happened on a street corner or schoolyard. This was a theft in a virtual world and the goods don’t even exist outside of this virtual world they were a part of.” The Inquisitr

Understanding the concept of digital environments seems to be so tricky for many people – in both quotes above, the authors are having trouble with the idea that things that happen in a “virtual world” can have consequences in the atomic world.

A term that is bandied about when discussing this problem is “magic circle”. In play and game theory, the magic circle is comprised of both physical and conceptual boundaries. These boundaries are intended to demarcate where real life and work lie, as opposed to play and game activity. Often, this term is applied not only to single player games like first person shooters, but also to multiplayer games (MMORPGs) and so-called virtual worlds or digital environments.

There are two major parties who, whether they use the term or not, have trouble with the size of their magic circle, and the application of the principle. Let us call them the Thompson-ites and the Something-Awful-ites.

The Thompson-ites believe that only they can see the magic circle – only they know where the boundaries between real life and virtual lives lies. Whether they think that other people are too naive or too stupid to realise that the magic circle exists depends on the individual. However, a common point seems to be that they expect people to carry rules from their gaming or virtual settings and apply those rules in their real lives – I shot you in a game, therefore it’s ok to shoot you in real life, too.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Something-Awful-ites. The Thompson-ites have a tiny magic circle – the Something-Awful-ites have an enormous magic circle, much larger than most other people. At the extremities of this idea, these folk actually believe that the magic circle encompasses the entire digital world, and that no consequences can or should escape from it into the atomic – see the second quote above. In a sense, they are violating their own principles: in trying to force other people not to take the game so seriously by griefing, they are breaking the magic circle they claim to believe in – they look to create real-world consequences from within the game world.

Unfortunately, the whole concept of the magic circle has been stretched out of all proportion in its application to digital environments which are not solely gaming environments. Dutch historian Johan Huizinga used the term first, in his study entitled Homo Ludens (1938). Huizinga describes play as “a free and meaningful activity, carried out for its own sake, spatially and temporally segregated from the requirements of practical life, and bound by a self-contained system of rules that holds absolutely.” He is thinking here of a game of chess or some other higher order play, rather than a child at play with a doll – in chess, the magic circle is much more clearly delineated. A child at play has a porous and weak magic circle – elements of real life and play may intersect or overlap each other.

Likewise, the magic circle for a virtual world is poorly delineated. As stated by  Edward Castronova, a synthetic world “cannot be sealed completely; people are crossing it all the time in both directions, carrying their behavioural assumptions and attitudes with them.” Elements of real life regularly creep into discussions in digital environments, whether they be social virtual worlds or MMORPGs or the like, and discussions flow the other way, too.

Indeed, the magic circle is almost always a bit leaky – any time you add other people into the equation, the circle becomes fuzzier and can only be reinforced by tightening and strengthening the gamespace rules. Elements of play move away from the imaginary and into the real.

The poor old magic circle was never designed for this kind of work. What kind of conceptual structure would you use to help us understand digital environments better?

SLACTIONS 2009: Call for Australian involvement

Last week I received an email from the organisers of SLACTIONS 09, an academic research conference to be held in Second Life. The focus is wider than Second Life though – OpenSim, Open Croquet, Activeworlds, Open Source Metaverse and Project Wonderland are also on the agenda.

The real-world aspect of SLACTION involves local chapters – currently those include Brasil, Hong Kong, USA and Europe. The organisers have invited Australian academic institutions or private research institutions from Australia and New Zealand to hold local physical chapters.

If you’re interested, email the organisers: info AT or check out the detail on their website.

Educators: students of experience

Ninja Bunny, one of the examples of the pets created by Judy Robertson's class.

As students, even when we come to education wanting to learn, and therefore are supposedly mentally prepared to take new ideas on board, we all have a tendency to balk at new and unexplored things, whether that be the course material or the tools that we are given to learn with.

But does this always have to be the case? With proper management of expectations and knowledge about our tools and material, can we not reduce the rate of rejection?

“Iggy’s Syllabus: A Student’s Take on Second Life and Education”

Joe Essid’s (Ignatius Onomatopoeia, or Iggy) last round of students benefited greatly from the experiences of the students who came through his classes previously: the most recent students engaged with Second Life rapidly and positively, having had the benefit of one-on-one orientations,  assignments that combined Second Life skill-building tasks with course content, and information about Second Life‘s uses as a creative learning platform. The earlier students were provided with far less in the way of introductions to Second Life; they were prone to wonder what the point of learning with Second Life was, and tended to finding it boring.

Back in August of this year, AJ Tan, a Cornell student working for Metanomics over his summer break, published his opinions about Second Life, and why he found it boring. The upshot of his argument seems to be that he wants to be entertained and led, perhaps even pushed, at all times and under all circumstances. He does not expect to have to ‘make his own fun’. “I do not wish to go out and find something to do, I have to do enough searching in the real world. I want to be entertained. Virtual worlds are supposed to be an escape from reality – Second Life is too close a parallel to the real thing.”

Educators will be relieved to know that while there are plenty of students out there with opinions similar to or the same as this, it’s not the only opinion out there. Generation Y may require a little coaxing, but Second Life can allow enriching and interesting learning experiences for them, if only they are taught to give it a chance.

One of Essid’s students, Bridget K,  wrote a piece in her writing journal about the educational uses of Second Life, with a decidedly positive bent. It is apparent that she was inducted effectively in the uses of Second Life, and has found the experience beneficial and engaging. All this, despite having acknowledged that her generation “sees education as ‘ineffective, irrelevant, and unproductive’ (Houck).”

Bridget notes that “Second Life provides a unique educational setting for students.  Learners become immersed in their own education and in the environment he or she is in (“National Education Technology Plan”). Second Life provides the educational tool of role-playing.” From the way this reads, she has found plenty of ‘fun’ experiences within digital environments, along with educational value.

Additionally, Bridget notes that “Second Life will benefit our educational system if used correctly.  There should be a balance between real world educational tools and virtual world educational tools,” which sounds completely reasonable. At the end of the day, Second Life is a tool that can assist us in living our lives, but is not something that should take the place of them. Therefore, it should not take over in an educational setting either.

“The snowmen armies: reflections on teaching first year computer science in Second Life.”

Judy Robertson recounts her tale of teaching using Second Life; specifically, teaching Linden Scripting Language (LSL) to her first year computer science students.

She too has come up against the boredom factor when teaching with Second Life – perhaps more students from gaming backgrounds not used to making their own fun? The class is made up of students of various ages with different academic backgrounds, and yet this attitude seems to pop up a lot. As Iggy found, those first few hours in which a student is exposed to a new idea, a new platform on which to learn, are precious and crucial to that student’s concept of how the idea or platform can be used, and their worth.

When confronted with the notion that Second Life is boring, Judy says, “In my view, this is like being given a big box of plasticine and whining “but there’s nothing to play with”. The point is – you’re meant to make it yourself!” Even more so than in other courses, perhaps – the computer science students are expected to design and implement their own creations in Second Life, so they are using a great deal of the functionality of the digital environment, being required to both build and script.

“It’s a lot of fun for me to teach, and based on the learning logs from last year, a lot of fun for the students to learn with.” Despite complaints of boredom during the term, it seems that students can and do come to appreciate and enjoy Second Life in the long run. Some of the students have found learning LSL to be easier than learning Java, which they are doing in a concurrent course. Judy speculates that this is because more rigour is expected in the design and implementation of Java applications. I speculate that despite the lack of documentation and features, that the scripting community, in addition to the course helpers, also improves the ease with which the language can be learned and used.

Iggy managed his students expectations and experiences; he took his experiences with his first groups, learned what did and didn’t work, and made changes.

It sounds like Judy’s class could have done with a little more management in the first few hours. Due to the excessively large number of students (138!) in the one class, she could not have had one-on-one orientations. However, some of the other methods Iggy used, such as distributing articles about Second Life showing it in a positive light and highlighting its creative potentials for his writing students, could have decreased the number of students complaining about Second Life boredom and vastly improved the overall learning outcomes.

Global Kids’ Curriculum – now Extended!

Jeremy Kemp, of SimTeach and Sloodle fame, and Stephen Kemp, have taken the material of the Global Kids’ Curriculum and extended the notion, reformatting the text and images into various forms that improve their usability and use, as well as adding to the already high quality and quantity of notes available.

Global Kids

Global Kids(GK), Inc. created the contents of the Global Kids Curriculum (GKC). GK uses digital media – digital presentations, digital environments such as Second Life and the Teen Second Life Grid, and so on –  to deliver their messages and their programs to the youths and adults that are their targets. GK runs intensive leadership programs for youth, with the intent that kids become “successful students as well as global and community leaders.” The material for adults covers both professional development programs for teachers and educators involved in youth education – multimedia presentations delivered via Second Life – and professional development services, such as RezEd. They also run an innovative high school, and give technological assistance to other schools.

Jeremy Kemp

Jeremy Kemp began his work teaching online in 1999; currently he is an instructional designer at San José State University and a doctoral student, focusing on educational and social issues in immersive environments. The SimTeach Second Life Education wiki that Kemp runs contains a plethora of information for educators entering Second Life and using it as an educational tool. Sloodle is the combination of the  Moodle – a content management system (CMS) – and Second Life that Kemp has created.

Stephen Kemp is Jeremy Kemp’s father.

Global Kids’ Curriculum

The Global Kids’ Second Life Curriculum is a surprisingly comprehensive set of notes, intended to teach the reader what they need to know to use Second Life, as well as being useful for teaching literacy skills. It can be used as a set of handouts or used in its entirety to teach Second Life-specific skills to either students or educators.

The curriculum is composed of nine levels, within which there are modules and then individual lesson plans or “missions” – there are 163 missions.

To download copies of this curriculum, you will need to join and the curriculum group.

The curriculum is on offer for free to all qualified educational institutions, though Global Kids do request donations be made when the material is used, so that they can continue providing and extending their services.

The curriculum was developed by Global Kids Staff and co-produced with Cathy Arreguin.

Global Kids’ Curriculum / Extended

This link points to the Global Kids’ Curriculum / Extended (GKCx) web page, which contains links to the new forms of the  GKC – the new PDF document, the wiki, the Second Life textures, videos explaining the GKCx, and original word documents from Global Kids.

The PDF contains a package of all of the notes contained within a single document. Printed, it makes a handy physical reference. It is also useful as a digital entity, as the Kemps have added a set of bookmarks, a contents page and abstracts for each level, that enable the user to navigate the material easily.

The textures available in Second Life are images of each of the PDF pages from the large package. Paula Christopher (aka Downtown Bloch) has also made these textures available on the Teen Grid.

The wiki is for the most part a replication of the PDF document and is very close to completion.

GKCx  is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0.

The GKCx is an easily navigable and highly useful set of resources that nicely extends the work done by Global Kids. It’s recommended that educators make use of the new formats.

Study: Students’ Social Systems Support Successes

Karl Kapp is an expert in the education and e-learning field. In his blog, he regularly answers questions and addresses concerns about the place of technology in educational and training scenarios. In this post, he follows up on three areas of concern that he has been made aware of in recent times. In this post, I’ll address the same questions and expand upon Kapp’s answers.

1) Kids use these “places” like Second Life, Facebook, etc. mostly for socialising.

Students are just as likely to be discussing education or school work as they are to be gossiping, chatting or otherwise passing the time socially when they are using digital social networking tools. These include mobile phones, web-based solutions such as Facebook and its ilk, and the digital environments like Second Life.

This study, completed back in 2007, provides compelling evidence to support this idea. Over a thousand 9-to-17 year olds, a thousand parents and 250 school district leaders who “make decisions on Internet policy” were polled in the study. It revealed that 59% of students discuss educational topics, and 50% of students discuss their coursework when using the wide variety of digital social-networking tools available. Apparently, this academic discussion is performed off their own bat to a large extent, rather than being a required part of their schooling.

Students today have a multiplicity of such tools to choose from when wanting to communicate with their fellows locally and at a distance. Students who would otherwise be somewhat isolated except for family after school, at the time they are doing their homework, and who would be limited for the most part to communication with people who are geographically proximate, are now able to easily contact and communicate with people who are not only from all over the world, with wide-ranging backgrounds. Students have plenty of educational reasons to reach out through these channels. Socially, there is less call to do so, as students are able to communicate with their fellow students  and friends face-to-face and on the phone. What is the likelihood that students are talking about the same stuff they’ve always talked about, and are just using digital tools to do so?

Despite the wonderful news that students are eager to further their own education and support themselves in their coursework through external communication, there is the continuing problem that services available to 9-to-17 year olds are quite restricted. This is in part to protect kids in this age bracket from “adult themes” which are not appropriate for them, and in part to prevent misuse by students. Preventing misuse of services requires greater supervision of kids in general than most educational institutions have the resources to maintain. Nonetheless, educational materials and tools have always been at risk of problematic use – should the majority of students who would use them responsibly be denied because of the actions of the minority?

2) Currently, it seems that much of the Second Life work is more about SL itself — how to use it, what you can do, etc. — rather than the actual educational effectiveness.

Essentially, it is common for new technologies to take in the order of a decade or more to become sufficiently well understood that they can be used as educational tools on a grand scale, unless they have numerous and active advocates. Digital environments and their capabilities are as yet poorly understood, even by the majority of current users, and there is as yet a paucity of data available that gives us any idea as to how effective digital pedagogies have been to date.

3) Much of educators’ enthusiasm falls short of the mark by deferring to what could be called the “You can…” syndrome. That is, the endless possibilities inherent in a system are the source of excitement, but get nailed down in very few instances.

Some of the excitement is bound up in misunderstandings about how tools can be used – it’s exciting to imagine that a new tool is the solution to many, many problems. It’s possible to let the imagination reign, up to the point at which you discover the limitations of the tool you are working with. At this point, some of the excitement fades, and it’s difficult to maintain the same enthusiasm once the hard work begins. Additionally, as with the point above, more testing and trials need to be performed and more data needs to be gathered before solid instances and use cases begin to appear.

If students are let somewhat looser in digital fields than they have been, it would be interesting to gather information on how the students leverage these technologies to further their own education – students make great teachers and leaders.

Taking our biases with us into virtual environments.

Light skin or dark skin - it makes a difference even in virtual environments.

People are using the same cognitive tools in their social interactions within virtual environments as they would in the physical world. A recent study has confirmed this happens even though our avatars do not necessarily represent a clear picture of the people behind those avatars, with regards to gender, race, and all those other things that we have biases against.

The study’s co-investigators are Northwestern University’s Paul W. Eastwick, a doctoral student in psychology, and Wendi L. Gardner, Associate Professor of Psychology and member of Northwestern’s Center for Technology and Social Behavior. Eastwick’s past contributions revolve around romantic relationship development, and the use of speed dating and virtual environments to test psychological hypotheses. Gardner’s interests focus on the social aspects of the self, and the sorts of evaluation that are performed in the human brain that are unconscious.

Eastwick and Gardner performed the study in, which is billed primarily as a fantasy environment – it is social, and the interactions are with real people, but there are no programmatical constraints on how people represent themselves within those interactions. The management at showed significantly more interest in having the study performed in their virtual environment than did other services like Second Life.

Two classic social psychology experiments were performed within the realm of an avatar controlled by the study group attempted to influence an avatar controlled by a member of the native populace to fulfill a request. The door-in-the-face (DITF) gambit, in which a ridiculously large request is followed by a much more reasonable request, and the foot-in-the-door (FITD) technique, in which a small, reasonable request or statement is made, followed up with a much larger request, were used. Then, observation occurred to see how people reacted to a) the request in general and b) to the appearance of two different avatars in acquiescing to the request.

As in the physical world, the most successful technique was the DITF as performed by a light-skinned individual, with an increase in compliance of 20% over a simple request; compare this to only an 8% increase in compliance for the dark-skinned individual for the same technique. Less successful was FITD, which returned a result of only slight more compliance for either skinned individual.

Research has shown this disparity in the physical world for decades. DITF relies on a person’s perception of the person making the request: is this person worth impressing, and do I feel that I can risk offending them? FITD relies more on self-perception: how do I feel about my own reputation, and do I care how I appear to the person making the request?

Interestingly, many people seem to share the opinion that virtual environments are exempt from social influence. This idea possibly stems from the anonymity of having an avatar with which you do not identify, and which has no connection with your real identity. Or perhaps from the idea that virtual environments are in essence games in which anything goes and no-one can be harmed. Or even from the perspective that virtual environments are easy to leave, and therefore there need be no social ties with them. Nonetheless, it would appear that most people using virtual environments are heavily socially invested in them, to the extent that they apply their everyday social biases to the appearance of the avatars of those they interact with, and that they are just as susceptible to social gambits designed to increase compliance.

Source:  Real-world Behavior And Biases Show Up In Virtual World

Wendi L. Gardner’s professional page.

Paul Eastwick’s entry at the Department of Psychology, Northwestern University.

Social Influence Journal article.


The EDUCAUSE Review for September/October 2008 was released recently. For those unfamiliar with the publication, it is an “award-winning magazine for the higher education IT community”. It is published bimonthly in print and online. EDUCAUSE itself is “a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology.”

Below are three features from the EDUCAUSE Review, précised:

1. Virtual Worlds? “Outlook Good” AJ Kelton (“AJ Brooks”)

AJ Kelton poses this question: Are Virtual Environments (VEs) viable teaching and learning environments?

Kelton’s perspective is that Second Life is the current reigning champion, having both multitudes of educational folk working within it, and having brought the concept of VEs to the mainstream. He goes on to list many of the other VEs in the educational domain, and points out that there has been interest in the educational value of VEs all across the globe.

Kelton mentions Media Grid and its Immersive Educational Initiative, and their continuing work in forming standards and best practices, and creating interoperability for VEs with an educational bent.

Under the challenges and drawbacks section, Kelton lists:

  • Perceptual: VEs are still treated as ‘games’ by those with no personal experience; ‘fun’ is not expected to be a part of education, so anything that could be construed as being enjoyable is suspect.
  • Technical: Collaborative tools (especially for working with text) and interoperability will be the greatest challenges we will face; other technical considerations will work themselves out over time as broadband services and hardware become cheaper and more accessible.
  • Operational: The learning curve for VEs is steep. There are often technical difficulties with VEs, especially those that are more ‘experimental’. With younger age groups particularly, there are legal restrictions.
  • Pedagogical: Each institution must decide for itself whether the tool is appropriate for them, and whether they can sort out methods of assessment.

In conclusion, Kelton seems to think that VEs have a solid future in education – but that the extent of their involvement is as yet unknown and unforeseeable.

2. Higher Education as Virtual Conversation Sarah Robbins-Bell (SL: Intellagirl Tully)

Sarah Robbins-Bell turns a deft hand to answering the question: how can we increase student involvement? She feels that emergent social media are key in turning “passive, knowledge-receiving students into active, knowledge-making students.” The more conversations we can get going, the more student involvement there will be. As levels of participation increase, students’ knowledge will increase in active ways.

On the topic of why there has been a slow increase in the use of social media in education: “I think the problem is that our pedagogy often isn’t ready for an increase in conversation.”

Robbins-Bell states that the best way to integrate social media into education is to take one form at a time: she begins with ‘Virtual Worlds’. She then lists the characteristics of Virtual Worlds, and why they work for educational purposes.

  • Persistence: A virtual world can be used at any time, whether or not other avatars are there.
  • Multi-user: Communication exists between users synchronously.
  • Avatars: Avatars with a flexible appearance allow play with identity (roleplaying). Cultural literacy can be studied and learned from them.
  • Wide Area Network: Students can reach out and communicate with students and teachers at a wide geographical divide.

She goes on to caution that instructors will need to come to an acceptance of the lessening of control that they have in this environment, but notes that this can produce useful results: more communication and less sterility.

3. Looking to the Future: Higher Education in the Metaverse Chris Collins (SL: Fleep Tuque)

Chris Collins examines the place of higher education within the arena of VEs.

Collins follows the development of VEs with regards to major corporations (IBM is working towards people coming together virtually to save them from having to be geographically congruent), industrial giants (Seimens and the University of Cincinnati are working together to allow models created in 3D software packages to be able to be imported into VEs), and governmental departments (simulations of weather phenomena, natural disasters, and workplace training scenarios carried out in VEs).

Collins’ expectation of higher education is that it will produce people ready to become employees in this virtually aware workplace.

Collins then covers the typical obstacles faced by educational facilities in attempting to provide sufficient learning resources for their students, whether they be learning on campus or by distance education.

She finishes by stating that the optimal goal is for students to have fostered within them an interest in lifelong learning, which can possibly be achieved through the technology of VEs – education through this format create more personal autonomy and a greater sense of personal investment.

The other two features from this edition, also worthy of note:

Educational Frontiers: Learning in a Virtual World Cynthia M. Calongne (SL: Lyr Lobo)

Drawing a Roadmap: Barriers and Challenges to Designing the Ideal Virtual World for Higher Education Chris Johnson (SL: ScubaChris Wollongong)


September/October 2008 issue of EDUCAUSE Review

EDUCAUSE Review: Back to (Virtual) School (Chris Collins’ original post).

A match made in Second Life.

Fighting the forest fire.

Public services.


What do these two things have in common? Typically, people outside those fields would consider them to be necessary but uninteresting. Many people have experienced the rough ends of these services. You’d think it would be difficult to create a useful and engaging experience in a virtual environment that combined the two fields.

In this case, you’d be surprised to find that those challenges have been faced and overcome.

The Ontario Ministry of Government Services has worked in concert with metaverse developers TheSLAgency to produce that most remarkable of things: a fun and educational experience about careers in the public service. No, seriously.

The Ontario Public Service Careers Island is situated in Second Life. At first blush, the build is pretty, the scenery extensive and attractive, and the main building contains web links for a whole variety of pertinent information regarding career choices with the Ontario Public Service (OPS). Look a little further afield, and you find that outside the main building (that also comprises the landing point), each section of the island has an instructive purpose that is not just interactive but also interesting and fun! For each career path available with the OPS, there is a representative display, with an activity that gives prospective employees some idea of what their job might be like.

Teleportation options board.

I visited the OPS Forest Fire Simulation first. You are given a hose to attach to your avatar to fight the fire, while in Mouselook mode. You also get a list of instructions to assist you in fighting the fire. It includes information about evaporation of water from the hose impeding your ability to put out the fire, the spread of fire, and letting you know where to concentrate your efforts. Our attempts to put out the fire were laughable in their futility. I suspect greater persistence is required in training water on the flaming parts. I spent a great deal of time taking photos during the process, too – photojournalism and firefighting do not mix.

Laboratory entrance

The second stop was the Water Testing Facility. You receive a HUD in the form of a vessel to contain water. You search the island for a body of water, and if you are close enough to the water when you click on the HUD, you will obtain a sample to take back to the laboratory. We found a small puddle of water out behind the airfield, and brought that back to be tested. Here is what the Water Analyzer CK-225 had to say about its quality: ‘This water suffers from heavy lead and hydrocarbons levels, petrol derivates, synthetic oil in quantities that makes its potability virtually impossible. This water is definately dangerous for health, and measures should be taken to clean up the area and limit its accessibility.’ Not a surprising finding, given the test sample’s location.

Traffic Media

The effort put into the project, and subsequent success of it, have not gone unnoticed or unrewarded. The ‘OPS Virtual Career Fair on Second Life’ received a merit award in the innovation category at the 2008 Showcase Ontario awards. TheSLAgency Managing Partner Joe Mastrocovi states, “Our innovative government work in virtual worlds has produced a lot of successes, and we’re honored that the Ontario government feels that our work is award-worthy. We’re proud that beyond awards, this engagement brings our client real results with increased job seekers, applicants, and final hires!”

Overall, it’s a neat idea that has been well executed. Other government and educational services would do well to take a look and incorporate some of these ideas into their own virtual environment projects.

PacRimX, Skoolaborate and Global Challenge merger: the beginning of an Education Grid?

Bakamatsu region, Kyoto, on the Second Life Main Grid

PacRimX (Pacific Rim Exchange)

Stan Trevena, director of technology for Modesto City Schools, is the man responsible for the PacRimX project, developed in 2007. The idea was that kids from Modesto and their counterparts from Kyoto Gakuen in Japan would be able to interact with each other in a virtual environment, prior to an international student exchange in which 20 Modesto students traveled to Japan, and vice versa with 50 Japanese students.

Due to time-zone issues, video-conferencing was ruled out as a solution early on. Instead, Trevena bought an private Island on the Teen Second Life Grid. He fitted it with some basics, including a welcome centre, but noted that “a lot of the innovative use of the island will come from the kids.” The number of islands has now expanded to four. Trevena describes the facility as “a place for our students to communicate and collaborate with each other in building a place where they can share their interests, cultures and languages.”

Students from Kyoto arrived in Modesto on June 24, 2008.


Westley Field, Director of Online Learning at MLC School Sydney, founded the Skoolaborate Project in 2007. Skoolaborate works with junior high schools around the globe to foster students collaboration, involving the use of digital technologies: wikis, blogs, virtual environments and other online learning tools. The Skoolaborate learning space, also on the Teen Second Life Grid, is a private, secure area with an invitation required to access it. “Skoolaborate now has 14 schools from Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore and the USA.”

Global Challenge

“In the Global Challenge, teams of US high school students collaborate with international counterparts from October to May to address global climate change and compete for prizes and scholarship awards.”

Approximately 2,000 students have already participated in their program.

The merger

Kyoto Gakuen has been working with both Skoolaborate and PacRimX independently since the genesis of each program in 2007. This is how a relationship developed between the directors of the programs, which ultimately led to the merger between the two. The Global Challenge program was brought in separately, to complement the work of the others.

The resulting merged program, featuring input and participation by 17 schools from across the globe, is now the world’s largest virtual environment project, designed for kids of junior high school age.

“Schools collaborate using a variety of online tools and environments to share experiences, thoughts and ideas from around global understanding, social and environmental education.”


Having a private project on the Teen Second Life Grid could have been a great way to ensure that students encountered a slow-moving, sterile environment, with great homogeneity of culture, opinion and thought. However, this partnership should bring together a rich and diverse mix of folks, students and educators, which should create a varied, stimulating environment in which to learn.

Linden Lab is in flux, and the cause is not at all clear: speculation is rife and rumors abound, and the Lab has all but cut off communications with it’s residents. The Millennial Generation does not seem to be the target audience for the Second Life “platform” – this indicates that there is unlikely to be an “Education Grid” any time soon, or perhaps at all. It looks like the program developed by the combined force of PacRimX, Skoolaborate and Global Challenge will be the one of the largest contenders for an alternative.

The question is: will the Teen Second Life Grid remain active for long enough for any of their goals to come to fruition?

Students vs Second Life

Average Gen Xer? Maybe not?

When I started thinking about education in Second Life, and the reactions of students of university/college age to it, I rather naturally turned to think of my own experiences, and of ideas and prejudices I held as a student of approximately the same age. It took me a little time, and the reading of an article by Joe Essid and Lee Carleton, to realize that that particular approach was never going to work. Today’s students are, for the most part, not of my generation (Generation X), which typically includes folks born between 1964 and 1982. Instead, they tend to be those folks born between 1982 and 2002 or thereabouts – the Millennial Generation.

Why make this distinction? Each generation has a tendency to differ greatly from the generation directly preceding it (which is precisely why these otherwise seemingly arbitrary groupings are made). Ideas, political notions, morals and ethics all have a tendency to change, as the younger generation both learns from and rebels against the previous one. As Generation X rebelled against the strictures placed upon the Baby Boomers, so the Millennial Generation rebels in its quiet, refined manner against the excesses of Generation X.

In Second Life, the gap between Generation X and the Millennial Generation comes sharply into focus, in the two ways that I will discuss further:

1. Second Life is primarily filled with Generation X’ers, unintentionally creating a socially unwelcoming environment for Millennials;

2. Generation X’ers know how to play in the freeform manner that Second Life requires, whereas Millennials typically do not display that skill.

First, the social and political atmosphere of Second Life. Statistically, more people from Generation X participate in Second Life than from any other generation. The ramifications of this are two-fold. It’s harder for Millennials to make contact with other Millennials in this scene, since they constitute a minority of the population. Millennials no doubt feel somewhat uncomfortable interacting socially with folk outside their own generation, whether it be because they sense the cultural disconnect between themselves and older folk or for some other reason. Second Life is chock full Generation X’ers, and they have filled it with their own fashion sense, outlooks, learning styles, and politics – what an intimidating world to enter for the Millennials. Generations X’ers are the Millennials’ parents, and also those strangers their parents warned them about. Add to that the fact that the Millennials are much more likely to have many friends with whom they communicate face to face and then organize those friends and their own lives using technological gadgets and the Internet, rather than meeting people over the Internet. Second Life is simply an unfriendly place for you to go, even if you are not a typical, timid Millennial.

Second, Second Life is an environment in which you need to be able to set goals and tasks for yourself in order to get anything out of it – it is a non-directed playground in which to let the imagination run free. The Millennial Generation has not learned to play this way. They are not used to “making their own fun.” Throughout their schooling they have been given regimented tasks, with pre-determined goals; time outside school is often dominated by a flurry of parentally- determined activities. They are more likely to play games that are directed than to come up with their own games – a Millennial is more likely to play Guitar Hero than to spend time noodling about with a guitar.

The Millennial Generation has an overwhelming sense of ‘busyness’ that pervades their lives, so that not only is learning in a directed fashion a habitual thing for them, it’s also a way of doing things more quickly. Targeted exercises speed up the process of transmitting and garnering information. Additionally, students are looking to do close to the minimum of coursework required to pass, in order to spend more time socially with friends, a priority in this generation.

The educator who uses Second Life as a learning tool will be teaching an additional subject – how to play in a freeform way. The concept and practice of freeform or open-ended play was easier for Generation X, in a way – we were rebelling against another world entirely. Difference and imagination was embraced. It was like a little Renaissance. Even though our schooling focused somewhat on directed study, by university age we had hopefully been weaned off it – by the system. The Millennial Generation, however, needs now to be taught to play this way. They need to be drawn out of their risk-averse shells gently – they need to be led, not pushed. They are not bold.

Second Life is a place where the adventurous prosper and creativity is king – and being able to play in an open-ended way is a necessary skill. Educators need to accommodate their students by creating a somewhat directed environment for them to learn in, and then wean them off it and release them into the open.

For further information on this topic, check out “A Playful Pedagogy for Second Life“, Dr Joe Essid and Lee Carleton, 2008, to be published later this year.

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