Academics Discuss Mass Migration From Second Life

Anaheim, Calif.—Officials at one discussion session here at the Educause conference yesterday spent an hour debating whether or not they should relocate their campuses—taking all the buildings, quads, and people and carefully moving them elsewhere.

The focus of the session was virtual worlds, and the academics were discussing whether to take their virtual campuses out of Second Life in protest, after the company that runs the online environment announced the end of a generous education discount.

“We find ourselves in a critical point right now,” said AJ Kelton, director of emerging instructional technology at Montclair State University. “And that is what do we do? I’ve got this investment that I’m really invested in, how do we proceed forward? You either stay in Second Life or you get out. You stay in, or you find a way to transition and you get out.”

In addition to 20 or so professors sitting around tables here, several virtual participants joined the discussion via two different virtual worlds that were projected at the front of the room. One screen showed Montclair State’s campus in Second Life, and the other showed a campus in an open-source alternative, which looks almost identical to Second Life but gives administrators more control over the environment.

Scott Diener, associate director for information-technology services at the University of Auckland, said his institution was “very likely to move out of Second Life.” He said many longtime Second Life users are angry at the recent decisions by the company that runs the service, Linden Lab.

Moving a virtual campus isn’t easy, though. Mr. Kelton said that if he made the move, he would probably have to rebuild from scratch. Others said that it was possible to export their virtual properties, and that there were services that would do it for a fee.

Linden Lab has said it will allow current education customers to extend their discounted price if they pay their virtual rent in advance. One professor said that his university was likely to pay for a year now and use that time to research a likely move to a different environment.

Mario Guerra Jr., who works at the University of Texas at Austin’s Division of Instructional Innovation and Assessment, said that a group there that set up a campus in Second Life was discussing a possible relocation as well. He suggested that professors using the virtual environment should team up and make a move together, rather than scatter to several different environments.

“Right now we’re just trying to figure out what we’re going to do as a group,” he said. “One benefit of using a virtual world is collaborating with other people and meeting other people. If we all go together, it might be a richer community.”

The discussion is continuing on e-mail lists, such as Second Life Educators.

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