Visual Communication course held in Second Life virtual world

April 6, 2012 | Features, UToday
By Paul Webb

For the first time, The University of Toledo is offering a class taught on the beach. Only this isn’t your traditional beach. This one is located on Cheshire Island, where students can fly or even teleport to it.

Dr. Sumitra Srinivasan, assistant professor of communication, has her own avatar in the Second Life Visual Communication class.

Obviously this beach is not in Toledo or Ohio. It is located in Second Life, an online virtual world developed by Linden Lab, where users create online avatars they use to explore the world, meet other residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade virtual property and services with one another.

UT’s campus on Second Life is located on the educational Cheshire Island, which is also used by Cheyney University of Pennsylvania and Aurora University in Illinois. UT students have the opportunity to interact through voice chat, group chat and instant messaging with students from these universities and other users of Second Life.

All of the participating institutions are part of the “Teach From the Beach” experiment.

“Teach From the Beach allows students to loosen their tongues. They ask more questions and make more comments. Classes are limited to 20 students so saying something dumb is a lot easier than saying it in a real classroom in front of 80 people,” said Tom Layton, owner of Cheshire Island and creator of the Teach From the Beach concept. “Blackboard and webinars can make students feel isolated and not connected. After a webinar, you can’t go to the beach to continue the discussion. In Second Life, you get much more interaction and, on top of that, you can go to class in your bathrobe.”

UT’s Second Life class is Visual Communication taught by Dr. Sumitra Srinivasan, assistant professor in the Department of Communication. It is an eight-week class that began March 12.

“I’ve been informally testing the waters with Second Life for about two years now. After some initial trepidation, I think that students and I are now ready to use this technology,” Srinivasan said.

She said students in Second Life have access to a variety of educational material, including e-books, class lectures, artwork, workshops and presentations.

“This particular course deals with the use of design software and the creation of diverse multimedia artifacts such as photo albums, posters and websites,” Srinivasan said. “Second Life provides an apt environment for such a class and opportunities for experiential learning as well. Students can now teleport to a digital media exhibition in Australia and interact with designers and experts there. They can go to the Louvre or Sistine Chapel, which are available as meticulous 3D reproductions in Second Life, to appreciate the digital displays there and come back inspired to unleash their creativity.”

Srinivasan’s Visual Communication class is scheduled to meet every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but she plans to have students sometimes meet in Second Life without coming to the classroom.

“I feel brave enough to experiment with Second Life for this class, as it primarily meets face to face so students will have the comfort of a familiar classroom setup while we all learn to leverage this new virtual world experience toward achieving course goals,” Srinivasan said. “While I am cautious not to let the hype of technology overpower me, I also believe in its immense potential for higher education. Incorporating technology in a seamless and relevant fashion is key to its effectiveness.”

Srinivasan said the current college student population, known as Generation Y and the Millennial Generation, thrives in using technology in a variety of environments, and she is excited to see how this experiment shapes up.

At the end of the semester, the students will host an exhibition of their class projects on Second Life.

Click to access the login or register cheese