I 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.