Despite their landlocked location, students at Texas A&M University can attend courses while they lie on a virtual beach at the university’s new “Second Life” campus. The university has opened dedicated learning spaces in the three-dimensional world for instructor and student use in time for the fall semester, which starts Monday (Aug. 31).
Second Life is a free 3D virtual world where users can socialize, connect and create using voice and text chat.
There are 10 classroom areas and seven open-space areas in the Aggieland Island, including an amphitheater for larger group meetings and several smaller meeting areas, says Jim Snell, director of Texas A&M Instructional Technology Services (ITS). Several instructors from chemistry, architecture and engineering have shown interest in utilizing the program to augment their classes, and Snell says he expects more.
“For the instructors, it is one more tool in their bag of tricks for teaching,” Snell says. “The students are really going to like it because when they can’t get together face to face, they can get together (in Second Life) from home in their pajamas. Once they’re there, they can move their avatars to the beach or a camp site or wherever.”
A “learning center” provides tools and information related to teaching and learning in Second Life. An “orientation area” allows new users to learn to move and function in the Second Life environment, then residents can explore areas, meet other residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities and travel throughout the world, which residents refer to as the “grid.”
The Texas A&M island contains familiar landmarks such as the Academic Plaza, MSC Flag Room, Cushing Library, Albritton Bell Tower, Bonfire Memorial and Fish Pond. Some historical sites that no longer exist also were added, including a water tower and the train depot that gave College Station its name.
Other areas personalized for Texas A&M are an event board and an area for student organizations. Former students of Texas A&M connect on the 12th Man Island, and the Texas A&M Galveston campus has an Aggie Sea Island.
The Texas A&M areas of Second Life would probably be rated “PG,” Snell says, but participants must be 18 years old to sign up. Texas A&M doesn’t currently have a presence on Teen Second Life, designed for people between 13 and 17 years old.
To learn more about using the Texas A&M Second Life Campus, go to http://itsinfo.tamu.edu/secondlife and follow the links to visit the campus or create an avatar and sign in to the Second Life Orientation.