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UW-W set to study in Second Life format

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Kayla Bunge
May 7, 2010
— Chris Calvert-Minor wants to change the face of online learning.

The philosophy professor at UW-Whitewater is offering an introduction to philosophy class in Second Life, an three-dimensional virtual world on the Internet in which people interact in real time.


“If it’s between doing the class in real life or doing it in Second Life, I’d say it’s better if it’s in real life,” he said. “But if it’s between doing it in Second Life or doing it in another online format, I’d say it’s better if it’s in Second Life—hands down.”


Second Life allows its users, called residents, to talk to others via voice or text. They can travel throughout the virtual world, participate in group activities and trade virtual goods and services.


Second Life mimics real life.


Students, each represented by an avatar, gather in a virtual classroom filled with colorful virtual couches and chairs. Calvert-Minor, also represented by an avatar, stands at the front of the virtual room. Concepts are displayed on a virtual screen.


The teacher talks. The students ask questions. Their mouths, arms and hands move.


Calvert-Minor said Second Life is unlike other online classroom formats because it doesn’t require people to change their learning habits. He said they can interact with the teacher and other students like they would in a real classroom on a real college campus.


“I’m trying to simulate a real kind of classroom experience and take off from there,” he said.


Calvert-Minor thinks Second Life might even elicit more participation and discussion among his students.


“If people are in a regular classroom, they might be scared to say anything. But if they’re in an online class, they might be more willing,” he said. “No one is seeing who they are in reality. They’re sitting behind their representation.”


Calvert-Minor is opening the class to anyone who is interested—students, community members and others. He also has invited people he met on Second Life, including a woman from China and a man from Germany.


“We have the potential for a real diversity of perspectives in this class,” he said.


Calvert-Minor said this class is just an experiment but could be the start to a series of other classes offered in Second Life.



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