San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

May 4th, 2009
Texas State gets a 'Second Life'

STAFF REPORT

You don’t have to physically be at Texas State to be at Texas State anymore, thanks to its virtual campus in the popular game Second Life.

Second Life, a virtual reality game developed by Linden Labs, is created and maintained by real-life users with online personas. Linden reports that more than 200 virtual campuses and educational groups use Second Life.

The Texas State virtual campus, called Bobcat Village, under the supervision of Texas State’s Instructional Technologies Support staff, is a replica of Texas State’s actual campus. The IT support staff has been building and improving the virtual campus since 2006.

“I noticed that other educational institutions were making the leap into Second Life, then its educational benefits got some media attention and everyone got on board,” said Emin Saglamer, a member of Texas State’s Instructional Systems Design team.

Saglamer designed most of the campus himself, and it has been called one of the most aesthetically pleasing in the game. Many campus landmarks, such as Old Main, bear a striking resemblance to their real-life counterparts.

In 2008, Bobcat Village was listed as one of the top 100 destinations to visit in Second Life in a guide by Quo Publishing.

Some Texas State faculty are already using Second Life in tandem with online or face-to-face courses. As students are able to design a character to represent themselves, they are able to meet in Bobcat Village for real-time lectures or group meetings.

David Caverly and Carol Delaney, professors of instruction and curriculum at Texas State, conducted a study to test how graduate students’ learning was influenced with the use of Second Life. Neither of them have ruled out its use in the future.

“The interactive nature of the study provided us with insight as to what may, or may not, be effective instructional tools,” Caverly said.

Said Delaney, “We talk about it [as a possibility] from time to time, but none of our plans are definite at this point.”

Bobcat Village features a virtual library, two art galleries featuring highlights from the Whitliff Collection and student work, a large auditorium for classes and events, an amphitheater and a replica of the San Marcos River.

Unlike other Second Life campuses, Bobcat Village is not a static environment. The “sandbox” is an area where users can build items and explore using in-world tools. It is a frequent stopping point for users. Many users unintentionally find Bobcat Village via the “sandbox,” according to Saglamer.

“One of the most educationally beneficial things about Second Life,” said Saglamer, “is that it’s not just real life simulated in a 3-D environment, but its unique aspects allow us to change the way we interact.”

Bobcat Village can be visited here, however, viewing it requires the latest version of Second Life.

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