Thursday, October 29, 2009

Going to College in Virtual Reality

At one of my schools, the University of Hawaii, some professors are holding classes in replicas of college settings in the Second Life online environment. The University of Hawaii island in Second Life includes four buildings around a courtyard with a view of the ocean, “as well as two floating skydecks and a treehouse.” Here’s an article, with a video:


My mind is definitely boggled. I’m amazed at how close we’ve come—in the short time the Internet has existed—to the virtual worlds we read about in science fiction. There’s a Globe Theatre island where full-length Shakespeare plays are presented. And I’ve heard of authors doing readings in Second Life, an idea that sounds really cool. The opportunities sound practically boundless (for instance, a kind of freedom for disabled people that they can’t attain in the physical world). On the other hand, interacting in virtual space is open only to the affluent; in addition to buying the equipment, a user has to pay real money for online resources. If such a realm of interaction eventually becomes commonplace, I can conceive of it as yet another barrier between the haves and have-nots.

I’ve never entered Second Life myself. If anyone here has, please tell us about the experience. For instance, how much does meeting someone in the virtual world feel like meeting a person in real life?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

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