Monday, October 20, 2008

Deja vu in SL

I've been exploring educational sites in SL the last few days, including several community colleges and libraries. I've also visited the Sistine Chapel, a Renaissance village, a timeline of earth, an Edgar Allen Poe exhibit, and the broadcast of Science Friday.

The colleges are at various levels of development, from just starting, to quite fully realized campuses, such as Winding River Campus, the SL iteration of Pellissippi State Technical CC.

Some of the content and interaction is intriguing, such as a feral cat exhibit and a Malcolm X exhibit at Monroe CC. And the Science Friday broadcast was informative and interesting, with over 60 avatars watching Ira Flatow's avatar talk on the mike and commenting about the science discussion going on.

However, I keep feeling a sense of deja vu while exploring SL. When I first began exploring the Internet in the mid nineties, it was cool being able to search for web sites and be able to pull up text and images from around the world. However, the expectation was often much greater than the reality. First off, imagery tended to take forever to load. Second, I'd often search for something only to find nothing. And when I did find web pages on a particular topic, it was often weak in content, much weaker than one might find with a five minute trip to the library.

Second Life is much like the Internet in 1996. It shows much promise, and occasionally I come across intriguing content, but more often than not, what I find is inferior to what I can find on the 2D Internet or a library. And often video or slides load really slowly, much more slowly than is the case on the Internet.

For example, I went to Info Island, a well developed Library site formed by the Alliance Library Systems and Online Programming for All Libraries (OPAL), and checked out some of their exhibits. For example, they have a movie collection that is composed of a floor in a building of movie posters:

When I click on the poster, I get a brief essay on the movie, and that from Wikipedia. No clips, no stills, no bibliographies. In fact, I found Wikipedia prevalent in a good number of exhibits, such as the Science Fiction and Fantasy display.

At Montclair College, you can find an Edgar Allen Poe exhibit. It's found at the end of a lane in a dark forest, and when you approach the house, a blood curdling scream rips through your speakers. The atmosphere set, you enter the house, hear the pounding of a heart and see a chair, a portrait of Poe and a penguin:

Click on the portrait, and it's supposed to give you a notecard that gives some "biography, citations and description." I got nothing, even after trying it several times. That's it. The total extent of the exhibit, oh, except for "The Raven," which you can read if you zoom in really close.

Also, most of the time, when in SL, your avatar is all by itself. In exploring educational sites, I've only run across two or three other people, one a very helpful instructional designer who is working on the Oregon Community Colleges island. But most of the time, it's like wandering a ghost town or like Vincent Price in Last Man on Earth:

Granted, when you attend events, or places of gathering, like a pub or radio broadcast, there is more going on. But it's an eerie feeling to be exploring supposedly active college campuses and libraries to find little activity. I do recognize that SL and virtual worlds are on the frontier of their development. But at present, sending students off to find intellectual content on SL seems premature.

In the next couple days, I plan to attend more events, to see how interaction and discussion take place. Meanwhile, I'll expect SL to develop like the web did: in a few years an avatar will be able to peruse a cornucopia of intellectually rigorous content.

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