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Texas State establishes virtual campus in Second Life

By Lauren A. Lamb
University News Service
April 29, 2009

Second Life campus

Visitors can explore a virtual replica of the Texas State campus on Second Life.

Students the world over can now visit Texas State University-San Marcos without ever setting foot on campus. All they need is a computer and a little help from the virtual reality known as Second Life.

Second Life is a free 3-D virtual reality created and maintained entirely by real-life users with online personas. Linden Labs, the company that owns Second Life, reports that the online community is home to more than 200 educational groups and virtual campuses, including Texas State.

Some universities like Texas State use the tools provided in Second Life to build exact replicas of their campuses. The Texas State campus, called Bobcat Village, has been under the direction of the Instructional Technologies Support staff which has been building and improving the campus since 2006.

Emin Saglamer, a member of the Texas State Instructional Systems Design team said the decision to create a campus and allow faculty and staff to use Second Life as a learning tool was a group effort.

“I noticed that other educational institutions were making the leap into Second Life, then its educational benefits got some media attention and everyone got on board,” Saglamer said. The campus has been a work in progress and bears a striking resemblance to some of the landmark buildings on the physical, such as Old Main. Saglamer designed the majority of the campus himself, and it has often been called one of the most aesthetically pleasing in the platform. The campus was listed as one of the top 100 destinations to visit in 2008 in a guide by Que Publishing.

While some professors see Second Life as nothing more than an interactive videogame, some Texas State faculty are using the platform in tandem with online or face-to-face courses. Since every student develops a character to represent themselves, people are able to meet on the Second Life campus for real time lectures or group meetings.

Professors of Instruction and Curriculum David Caverly and Carol Delaney conducted a study to test how graduate students’ learning was influenced with the use of Second Life.

“The interactive nature of the study provided us with insight as to what may or may not be effective instructional tools, said Caverly.

Neither Caverly nor Delaney is ruling out the possibility of using Second Life in the future.

“We talk about it [as a possibility] from time to time, but none of our plans our definite at this point,” said Delaney.

Bobcat Village features attractions such as a virtual library, two art galleries featuring highlights from the Witliff collections and student work, a large auditorium for classes and events, an amphitheater, a replica of the San Marcos River, and much more for visitors to explore. The Texas State ‘sandbox’ is an area where users can explore and build items with in-world tools, is a frequent stopping point for users from all over the world. Unlike other campuses on Second Life, the Texas State campus is not a static environment. Many users find the Texas State campus unintentionally because of the sandbox, according to Saglamer.

“One of the most educationally beneficial things about Second Life is that it not just real life simulated in a 3-D environment, but it’s unique aspects allow us to change the way we interact,” said Saglamer.  

Visit Bobcat Village at http://slurl.com/secondlife/Bobcat%20Village/129/66/26. The latest Second Life client application is required to view the campus and is available for free www.secondlife.com.