Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Class Teaches Students to Navigate Second Life

By David Staudacher, Rio Salado College PR Manager

On Saturday at 10 p.m., Murray Inman met friends at an education conference in Berlin while his wife was at a jazz dance club in San Francisco. At Midnight, the Inmans met at a cafe in Taipei, Taiwan, to do some people watching. To most people this sounds impossible. But to the 16 million users on the social networking site Second Life this is completely normal.

Second Life is a virtual world where people don avatars to meet other residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, create and trade goods and services with one another, or travel throughout the world. Unlike other social networks, Second Life is much more in depth and hands on.

“Second Life is much different than Facebook, Twitter or other social networking sites,” said Inman, a Systems Application Analyst and adjunct instructor at Rio Salado College. “All the other sites are quick little one or two-line status updates. You can reconnect, but you are not part of their lives. Second Life is much closer to being face-to-face. You get to know someone better through activities. You share more experiences, which you don’t get in other social media sites.”

Inman understands the difference between social networking sites well. That is why he developed the Current Topics in Computing course that focuses on Second Life, which Rio Salado recently launched. The class is for people who are new to Second life and teaches them how to explore the virtual world.

“We have several classes in development that will be taught in Second Life,” said Inman. “We started to realize that the more we start to use this, the more we need to train people in the basics. This course is an introduction and assumes that you are brand new. However, it offers opportunities to learn and explore to all levels of users.”

In the class, students maneuver through an obstacle course, which teaches basic movements and camera control use. They also learn how to fly, use pose balls, which allow avatars to sit, dance or swim. The class progresses to where students eventually learn how to build scripted items that can be interacted with. Toward the end of the class, the students are asked to question what it means to be an avatar.

“I have students go in and change their avatar to something that is not them,” said Inman. “For some people, it may be changing their ethnicity, their weight and height, or even becoming something non-human like an animal or robot. I have them interact with people to see what reactions they might get back. It really helps them question what their attitudes are toward other people, and how other people might feel about it. It’s fascinating in a philosophical way, too.”

According to Inman, there is a vast learning experience to discover in Second Life, and, while students will learn the basics, he wants people to get more out of the class.

“I hope students will take away a little bit more about themselves,” said Inman. “If you let it, Second Life can give you a reflection of who you are.”

To learn more about Rio Salado College and its Current Topics in Computing class, visit http://www.riosalado.edu/schedule/Pages/schedule.aspx?prefix=CIS.