First, I have to say that Second Life is a great Web 2.0/massively multiplayer environment. I respect the ability of people to make money in Second Life. I respect the ability of people to "hang" in Second Life. I think it is great that companies are prototyping visual and structural designs in Second Life. I suggest everyone listen to the Business Week podcast.
Having said all of that, Second Life, as is, is not a teaching tool. It is content free. It is closer to a virtual classroom tool, or even a real-world meeting room or water cooler (without the actual water). Any content has to either bubble up from spontaneous conversations (great when they happen, but not predictable or scalable enough to provide an intellectual payoff), or be "brought in."
From a teaching perspective, it is like grabbing a bunch of employees, putting them in the middle of Times Square, each with a laptop and Internet connection, and maybe a box of Lego, a pad of paper, and some crayons. Will magic sometimes happen? Absolutely, as Jay Cross will point out. Will it be a program that is continued and expanded over the years (my own primary metric of success), either bottoms up or tops down? No.
And mostly, I worry that educational simulations will be lumped together with Second Life. When the "Second Life as Teaching Environment" fails due to randomness of value and experience, people will say, "Ah, avatars! Not so good after all."
The reason for my Simword series here is to highlight that the opportunity for educational simulations, and even perhaps subsequent versions of Second Life, to help people rethink
- their own interface with the world,
- their own situational awareness,
- where they are versus where they want to be,
- and nurture a greater awareness of patterns.
Only by thinking in this new way do we realize why our ability to teach the most important skills, like leadership, relationship management, stewardship, and innovation has been unnecessarily hobbled by an invisible context of linear content.
Having said all of that, maybe the best of all models will be a structured educational simulation front end experience to drive more focused behavior in the virtual worlds. Now that would be blended learning!
P.S. Speaking of Web 2.0, someone showed me Virtual Leader on YouTube! I don't know who put it up, but freaky!