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  Canadian Colleges Make ‘Second Life’ Leap  
Posted 2007-02-16 by Tony Walsh
Canadian Colleges Make ‘Second Life’ Leap
Loyalist College on Eduisland: Six kiosks and a tower.
At least a few Canadian colleges have established a presence in Second Life over the last few months, most notably Loyalist College (Belleville, Ontario), Mohawk College (Hamilton, Ontario), and Lasalle College (Montreal, Quebec). Loyalist and LaSalle seem to disagree on which school was first to jump on the virtual world bandwagon, with Loyalist proclaiming to be "the first Canadian College to establish a presence in the social-networking simulation universe," last December, and LaSalle announcing almost two months later (after both Loyalist and Mohawk) that it was "the first Canadian school to open a campus in the virtual world of Second Life." I'm currently teaching game design courses at two Toronto-based colleges, neither of which have jumped into Second Life yet, so I thought I'd take a look at what's already been done by other institutions.

Loyalist College's Second Life presence is based on "Eduisland." A report by the college's newspaper The Pioneer indicates that Loyalist will explore how Second Life can be used in education. A visit to the small Eduisland site shows that journalism students might be the college's first to explore the virtual world. Rather than a unified campus, the site acts as a promotional center and portal to a few other areas the college has built around Second Life, such as the Parrott Centre (library), Journalism department, and Student Pavillion. The college's student government offers a "virtual tour" of its real-life campus, but not its virtual-world campus.

Last week, Mohawk College established a Second Life island (appropriately named "Mohawk College") after construction began last October. The island includes a recreation of the college's Fennel campus i-Wing, housing two photo galleries. The build is superior architecturally and aesthetically to Loyalist College's virtual facilities, but unlike Loyalist, it seems Mohawk's presence in Second Life is mainly promotional. Aside from grabbing a few real-life media headlines, I'm not sure building a Second Life island is a great promotional tool. A poll on Mohawk's main web page indicates that out of 1915 respondents, only 11 use Second Life, while 161 use Gaia Online. Unsurprisingly, most respondents use Facebook, followed by MySpace. Personally, I'd spend my marketing dollars where I could reach the most eyeballs in a relevant context--is advertising with Facebook prohibitively expensive?

Since its initial, factually incorrect announcement, LaSalle College now claims to be the first Canadian bilingual school with a Second Life campus. This may be true, but is it really important enough to mention? In a truly impressive move, LaSalle is shifting its entire distance learning system to Second Life this September, "if technology permits." According to an official announcement, "Students will attend class by means of their avatar, which they will have created previously. Led by an avatar instructor, classes will offer many of the advantages of the traditional classroom, including interaction, discussion, feedback, etc." No word yet on how the college plans to deal with the frequent service outages that plague the virtual world, whether it will seal off its campus from griefers, or why it moved into Mature-rated land amidst malls that sell virtual booze, stripper-poles, nude skins and age-play accessories. Earlier this week, interviewed LaSalle's business-development manager Jean-Francois Comeau, who explains more about the college's Second Life venture. I'm not confident in LaSalle's ability to effectively run distance learning from Second Life--the college's "if technology permits" caveat looms large, on so many levels.

In my view, Second Life is a great place to do research and conduct "field trips," but it's not a reliable service in any way. Provided institutions fully understand the limitations, challenges, and unpredictable nature of the virtual world, I see no reason why jumping in would be a bad idea. I'm not convinced the Canadian colleges in question have sufficiently looked prior to leaping. Loyalist seems to have taken the most reasonable approach in using Second Life as an investigative tool, while Mohawk has built an impressive (but dubiously-worthwhile) facility, and LaSalle is treading on uncertain ground.
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Comment posted by Marilyn
February 20, 2007 @ 3:08 pm
Hi Tony.
I'm the Web Communications Coordinator at Mohawk and just thought I'd drop a line to say that we kicked off our SL project with the photo galleries to celebrate our up-coming 40th anniversary in September of this year.

Our future uses of our virtual college will include our e-Library staff and a few faculty and students researching SL's possibilities with course work.

Mohawk College (in RL) has a large Distance Education component, and we may use SL for some Distance courses in the future; but you're right, more research needs to be done. You never know until you try.

Thanks for the plug.

Marilyn Gris
Web Communications
Mohawk College
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
February 25, 2007 @ 7:23 pm
I found another one called Great Northern Way Campus which has a Centre for Digital Media Studies in Erie;

The build is amazing, packs a lot of prims into a very sweet building.

They have a Masters in Digital Media.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
February 25, 2007 @ 9:40 pm
Prok, you're right, Great Northern Way Campus in SL has a very nice build. Crazy amount of prims, lots of interesting details. Seems like a bit more of a showroom than a functional space, although it is big enough to hold events in.
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