3Dwalkthroughs.com has been finding many examples of universities building a virtual presence in Second Life. Similar to the virtual trade shows we have seen, 3D virtual classrooms are not trying to totally replace their real life counterparts, rather complement them.
Integrating 3D virtual classrooms into a universities curriculum allows the teacher to reach a larger audience in a more immersive way than just posting text and photos on a schools intranet.
Some 300 schools, with about 4,200 educators from around the world, are now taking part, said Claudia L’Amoreaux of Linden Lab (creators of Second Life). Stanford University recently developed a new Second Life site that includes a virtual library. Stanford’s School of Education and the humanities lab also have sites.
“The 3D Internet is this immersive place and it’s very different than any kind of Web-based learning,” L’Amoreaux said.
Schools such as the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill are even creating virtual school pharmacies and planetariums or interactive library catalogs and book-loaning projects.
For San Jose State, building a virtual campus gave distance learners a sense of “being present,” said Linda Main, associate director of the School of Library and Information Science and a professor at San Jose State for 21 years.
Main said the school’s virtual campus has allowed its small library program to offer more courses to a wider range of students, who come from more than nine countries. Fifty percent live in Southern California.
The virtual campus “has changed the whole concept of place – there’s no need to move here to become a librarian,” Main said.
Next fall, Main said, the department is going to make it a requirement for students to include a Second Life component.
3Dwalkthroughs.com believes that just like virtual trade shows, many new applications will be launched specifically focused on 3D virtual universities. These new applications will address and overcome any limitations existing in Second Life, and provide an even more valuable and interactive 3D learning experience.