Writing Improvement for Success & Empowerment
Clark Atlanta University’s Quality Enhancement Plan
Why and How Second Life is Used in WISE Classes
By Dr. Sandra Flowers
As members of WISE classes during the 2009-10 academic year, you are the first WISE students to explore Second Life (http://secondlife.com) as a tool for writing and learning. Second Life was first introduced in the WISE “hi-tech” composition classes in fall 2009. While these classes used all the software mandated in Clark Atlanta’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), the same software used in standard WISE English, they also incorporated additional Web 2.0 technologies not in common use at the time the QEP was written.
According to an April 2009 article in eSchool News: Technology News for Today’s K-20 Educator, “the top three reasons [K-12] districts are adopting Web 2.0 technologies are to address students’ individual learning needs (54 percent), engage students’ interest (41 percent), and increase students’ options for access to teaching and learning (33 percent). These are exactly the reasons WISE is expanding its technological base. Using Web 2.0 technologies as a means of furthering your writing skills should help you become confident enough with contemporary technologies to hold your own throughout the CAU curriculum, in graduate school, and as a job applicant and member of the workforce during and beyond your CAU years.
With the addition of Second Life and WordPress this year, WISE now uses all seven of the Web 2.0 technologies which eSchool News lists as being prevalent in contemporary learning environments. By far the most ambitious of the WISE technologies, Second Life is a classic desktop application for “virtual reality,” defined as “an artificial environment that is created with software and presented to the user in such a way that the user suspends belief and accepts it as a real environment.”
While best known for its use in entertainment and games, virtual reality is also used for “[t]he simulation of a real environment for training and education” It is for this second type of virtual reality that WISE turns to Second Life.
The Second Life assignments undertaken in WISE classes bring a new dimension to learning and writing. WISE freshmen will have the opportunity to use Second Life in researching and writing about subjects they are studying in their linked history classes, but they can also create their own virtual environments or experiences that illustrate the knowledge they are acquiring. Sophomores will use the platform in the same way in their WISE Culture and Society class, but they will also be doing more exploring of Second Life as a social networking platform.
For instance, a favorite Second Life site among WISE students is The Museum of the African American Experience (http://slurl.com/secondlife/WISE%20at%20CAU/103/217/26). Avatar Winn Wellman, creator and curator of the museum, will work with WISE students and their instructors in researching and writing about the hundreds of displays in this incredible place. The resulting work can be published in the museum for visitors from around the world to read and learn from. Assignments such as these provide exemplary practice in writing for specific rhetorical contexts, audiences, and purposes, thus helping WISE students successfully communicate in all their university courses and co-curricular activities.
WISE at CAU
Among the dozens of institutions of higher education with “islands” (also known as “regions”) in Second Life are Princeton, Harvard Law School, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Vassar, Emory, Stanford, Purdue, and all 16 of universities and colleges in the University of Texas System of higher education. While Clark Atlanta does not have a university island, the WISE program maintains a virtual campus known as WISE at CAU. During the spring 2010 semester, the island is under development and not, strictly speaking, open to the public. Your instructor will give you the “slurl” (Second Life URL) to reach the island.
Among the features of WISE at CAU are the Museum of the African American Experience discussed above and already open to visitors. Other features and activities provide opportunities for WISE students to not only learn about historical objects, practices, and events but also to create virtual replicas of historical and contemporary sites of importance.
At the sophomore level, students enrolled in Culture and Society will acquire a more insightful understanding of societal institutions and practices by studying and taking part in their Second Life adaptations. Also at the sophomore level, speech teachers can use speaking and performance areas such those located on the roof of the Museum of the African American Experience, the WISE at CAU Arena (which can also accommodate concerts and theatrical productions), or conventional class and conference rooms in the WISE at CAU Activity Center. There will also be student-built and run museums on various subjects, as well as boutiques and other student-run businesses operated by WISE students in varied majors. And, yes, it is possible to earn money in these businesses!
As with any Internet site, you should exercise good judgment when using Second Life. Specifically, you should adhere to the following basic guidelines of Internet safety:
- Never give your real name to strangers online. Instead, always use your Second Life avatar name while “inworld.”
- Never provide identifying information to people you don’t know. Remember, anyone with a computer and Internet access can gain entry to Second Life and compromise your privacy, security, and well being. This does not mean that you should be afraid while in Second Life or that you shouldn’t feel perfectly safe going there alone. However, use common sense about your contacts with others.
- Set your Second Life home to a “safe” place, such as the WISE at CAU sandbox, a class location your instructor will provide, or a Second Life site you’ve found to be nonthreatening and peaceful.
- Do not give credit card numbers, phone numbers, or e-mail, campus, or home addresses to strangers in Second Life. If you want to buy something inworld, do so with “Linden dollars,” which you can purchase through your Second Life account.
If You’re New to Second Life, Learn Teleporting Right Away
Although Second Life, unlike the Internet in general, is a regulated environment from which offensive people and predators can be barred once their identities are known, there are still tens of thousands of people from around the planet inworld at any given time, day or night. For example, 71,851 avatars were inworld around mid-afternoon on August 29, 2009, when I wrote the first version of this document. Earlier this week, the week of January 18, 2010, over 74,000 avatars were inworld one day when I logged on.
With this level of traffic in one place (even though it’s a huge place) and the variety of site types inworld, you might sometimes find yourself in the company of people you’d prefer to avoid or in some other uncomfortable situation. For times such as these, keep an inventory of landmarks to which you can instantly “teleport” without being followed. If you make one of these places your “home,” you can vanish from an unpleasant environment and reappear in a pleasant one in a matter of seconds by pressing CTRL-SHIFT-H.
One other word of caution: As you may have heard or as you may soon learn, almost everything that humans do in real life (called “RL”) can be made to happen in Second Life through the use of scripts and just plain human interaction. This means that, just as in RL, it’s up to you to set limits on what happens to you and whom you hang out with. And remember, if all else fails, you can always close your laptop or click the off button on your computer. It is, after all, virtual reality, not actual reality, though many virtual experiences definitely feel real.
The Best Way to Learn Second Life
Jump in and get started. When you create an avatar, you’ll be taken to an orientation site where you can learn how to navigate your avatar and camera (the avatar’s “eyes”) and where you can learn basic Second Life etiquette. Don’t worry if it takes you a while to catch on and to stop feeling self-conscious. Second Life has what’s called a flat learning curve: It’s fairly easy to get started and figure out the basics, so you won’t feel like the learning curve is totally vertical. But once you’re past the newbie stage, the learning curve quickly flattens and stays that way for a long time as you discover that you’ve only just begun to learn the platform.
To help you survive this and more advanced stages, Secondlife.com provides an excellent “knowledge base” (press F1 while inworld) as well as instructional videos and links to user forums and wikis. Additionally, the better land and online bookstores have numerous books (including Kindle versions) on Second Life if you want to develop expertise beyond what’s in the Second Life sources. For the purposes of your WISE classes, however, you don’t have to become a Second Life expert. Not everyone needs or wants to build or create scripts to automate actions,  for instance, and you don’t have to make avatar clothes unless you want to. So start out slowly. Give yourself plenty of time to become comfortable with the platform before your first assignment by exploring the world at the level you feel comfortable.
Above all, enjoy yourself. WISE is using Second Life as a tool for learning. However, once you have an avatar, you also have a convenient way to interact with interesting people who share your interests or to educate or entertain yourself on a tight budget.
 Meris Stansbury, “Survey Shows Barriers to Web 2.0 in Schools.” Web. 29 Aug 2009.
 Stansbury identifies these technologies as “1. Student-generated online content; 2. Teacher-generated online content; 3. Online social networking used as part of instruction; 4. Online learning games and simulations; 5. Student use of virtual learning environments; 6. Digital multimedia resources; and 7. Online communication tools for parents and students (outside of school hours).”
 “Virtual Reality.”
 The Second Life Viewer must be installed on the computer you are using and you must have a Second Life avatar to enter this museum or any other Second Life location.
 Anywhere in Second Life. You may also see this written “in-world,” but secondlife.com spells it as a single world.
 Note, however, that students in hi-tech English may need to develop more skills than required in standard WISE English or the sophomore classes in order to complete their Second Life projects.