anybody use second life for teaching sociology?

I am posting this on the request of Daina Harvey at Rutgers —

I was curious if anyone has used second life or any other social network/community building sites for teaching and if so, what was the overall experience like?

Author: andrewperrin

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

7 thoughts on “anybody use second life for teaching sociology?”

  1. A professor of mine did use it by holding one seminar in Second Life. It was a grad class focused on community. I wasn’t in that class that semester, but he told me later that it was… meh, and yet interesting because it exposed a lot of people to something they had no idea about.

    Everyone had to prepare for weeks by getting an account, figuring out how to use it, making sure they had the appropriate graphics card etc. Then the actual experience of it was awkward and somewhat confusing for a variety of reasons.

    My uni is not exactly full of bleeding each technophiles, though, so maybe you would have a different experience if yours is more toward that end of the spectrum.

    This is, of course, a second-hand half-remembered account. Feel free to ping me if you’d like me to connect the two of you or at least get a better description of his experience (kristinabarnett at gmail).


  2. In social theory, I use second life to illustrate the idea of simulacra and more generally, the post-modern claim that media/electronic culture has reached new heights of importance. I have never, though, actually had students participate in 2nd life.


  3. Most college students have never heard of Second Life, very few will have used it. Kristina’s account sounds realistic. The instructor either needs a TA who is very knowledgeable about SL or needs to set aside considerable time to deal with technical issues. Note also that SL is pretty resource intensive and it may not be best to assume that all students have access to the latest and best gadgetry. (In such a case, library machines may not work as they likely don’t have SL installed and students don’t usually have install-privileges on such computers.)

    Before going this route, I’d think about the reason for wanting to use SL and what may be the alternatives.


  4. I don’t mean to be an old man shaking his fist at the world, but my gut reaction is that Second Life is, well, kind of dumb. I recently heard a talk about how SL is a fundamentally lonely experience because the primary thing that users do on SL is look for other people to talk to.

    Generally, I have a pro-tech attitude, but I think that technology has to suit the course. I struggle to see how SL would be of use in any course. Then again, I’m still deeply opposed to the ubiquitous technology of Powerpoint.


  5. I have a ‘Media, Technology, & Sociology’ course that teaches students how to use technology, but also the ways in which technologies are used in the discipline (PowerPoint, digital recording and GarageBand, Photography and YouTube, etc.). As a part of that class last term, we had two days of Second Life, the first was to get adjusted to the world, and the second was to explore and interact. (A very low bar to hurdle.) We used a computer room for the entire semester and didn’t expect much technology outside classtime. It took a fair amount of energy to get everyone on board. Right now there is a lot of potential for /thinking/ about how technology changes our perceptions of self and sociability (and alternative economies, etc.), but not much in the way of interactive, out-of-class experiences just yet. I am a big fan of getting students’ ‘first contact’ of materials outside of class, and feel that Second Life is a few iterations away from becoming a place students can meet up to have video conferencing to talk about issues. I second Fabio’s Second Life comments: I found students to be profoundly preoccupied with Presentation of Self and issues of Simulacra, which allowed for some conventional and less conventional discussions. For more thoughtful discussion on Virtual Lives, check out Danah Boyd’s work. My overall advice: Check back in a year.


  6. I just took an “Advanced Ethnography” course in World of Warcraft. It was pretty fun.

    It was a seminar course that was focused on developing skills in ethnography, interviewing, surveys, etc… I learned far more about certain kinds of methodology in that class than I did in any my other methods courses.

    There might be a joint anthropology/sociology ethnography lab at Colorado State soon dedicated to virtual ethnography. They’re discussing whether to make an undergraduate version of the class which would be useful for introducing a lot of different principals in social research.


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