Category Archives: Second Life


Snapshot_002I have been playing around with a program called Sim-On-A-Stick which allows you to create virtual worlds on a flash drive. These can then be shared with a class, to give students a virtual space to learn in. You have to download OpenSimulator as well, and a viewer which will allow you to connect to your sim-on-a-stick! All of this is not for the faint-hearted, but there are step-by-step guides to help you navigate all of this geekiness!

Once installed properly you can begin building a virtual world. This also has quite a steep learning curve, but I had my teenage son on hand to give me a few pointers. Again there are plenty of how to videos to help out if you don’t have a teenage son spare! A few years ago I explored Second Life to see what value it might have for me as a teacher. I was impressed by the obvious benefits for language teachers in particular, but underwhelmed by the experience. For language teachers surely Skype offers more chance to get together with students or distance lessons.

The cost also put me off as did the proscription against under 18 year olds! Using Sim-On-A-Stick, however, age concerns go away. Although one use of a virtual environment is to display material via links to websites, or create physical worlds to explore as a virtual museum, if you like, to my mind the most exciting option is to use the virtual world as a space to allow students to construct representations of, say, the Colosseum in Ancient Rome, or a typical Medieval town! It thus has similar properties to Minecraft. You could even get students to build a large walk inside computer!

I have to say that at the moment the technology is such that I think the benefits for education are limited, but it does make for an interesting idea for a project, and gives students something different to do, which is always a plus!

It is great fun using Sim-On-A-Stick, and I would certainly recommend playing around with it.

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Posted by on July 31, 2014 in Second Life, Virtual Reality


The XBox Kinect

I was at a very interesting presentation at the ICT Conference in Johannesburg yesterday, about how the XBox Kinetic had been used in a small rural primary school near Vryheid, and how effective the staff felt that it was in uplifting English language and Mathematic skills. The Kinect, formerly known in typical Redmond fashion as Project Natal, introduces gesture-based computing to the XBox.

The following video explores how this is being used in the school:

What is clear is that this has enormous potential! What is not so clear is how it can be used in the classroom. One point to be made is that the XBox itself is an Internet connected computer in its own right, and can therefore double up on purpose.

Will it enable immersive virtual simulations? A kind of Second Life where you and your avatar are kinetically connected? These are fascinating prospects, and open up huge possibilities. Only time will tell.

In the short-term, I’m not about to rush off and try to convince my principal that this is the most vital piece of kit that I need! On the other hand, it might be something for the school games club to get, and share with teachers willing to try it out!


Teaching in your Second Life

Second Life is a free to join 3D Virtual Environment in which “players” may explore 3D Worlds using their avatar, a kind of Runescape for adults, if you like. It was launched amidst much hype and many jumped on the band-wagon hoping to make a fast buck. Many of the commercial virtual entrepreneurs have since abandoned the site, but one of the groups to embrace it enthusiastically has been the teaching profession. Many schools and Univesities have virtual campuses on Second Life, and teachers conduct classes in virtual classrooms. Language teachers in particular appear to be using the site to make use of the role-playing possibilities that the use of avatars encourages.

The immersive and engaging nature of the platform is often quoted as a reason for teachers to be excited about embracing 3D Virtual Worlds. Explore the solar system in 3D glory! Get inside the human body and explore its structure! the possibilities seem endless, and really exciting.

Furthermore, Second Life offers integration with Virtual learning Environments like Moodle. Called Sloodle the module allows students to enrol for online courses offered on Moodle platforms directly from Second Life, submit assignments and so on to their Moodle course and have all transcripts archived on Moodle. Students enrolled on Moodle, conversely can use their VLE to enter the 3D platform from their Moodle course.

While this functionality appears quite seductive, and the potentials are enormous, after about a week on Second Life I began to feel that the technology is not quite there yet. Sure, I was able to take virtual tours of museums, work my way through biological scavenger hunts, attend conferences as my avatar, even join a free language conversation class. But the primitive quality of the simulations did not provide truly immersive experiences, for me anyway! Nor did I really learn a great deal. Seeing the cell up large, being able to walk around it, zoom in on organelles and receive notes telling me about them was great, but not really more than a good illustration would have achieved. The loss of graphic quality in the 3D world off-set the advantages of the third dimension!

The potential for learning, and therefore teaching, though was clear. By providing an environment which students can explore at their own pace, and in their own way does offer new possibilities for extending what schools do. And the affordances of the platform for foreign language learning was immense! Because you can use your avatar to talk to others, you can set up authentic communicative opportunities which encourage students to converse in the target language. I certainly believe schools and teachers should be exploring the possibilities and using the platform in their teaching.

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