WWU Uses Virtual World to Enhance Learning, Engage Students

WWU's first-ever virtual lectureIt doesn’t look like your traditional classroom, but it’s one that William Woods University is now utilizing.


Second Life is an Internet-based virtual world imagined and created by its users. Participants in Second Life discover a fast-growing digital world filled with people, entertainment, experiences and opportunity.


Now, thanks to Dr. Linda Davis, professor of management information systems, WWU has brought this new learning environment to students, taking them beyond the boundaries of the campus, the city, the state, the country and, even, the world.


An online 3D virtual world, Second Life enables its users, called residents, to interact with each other through avatars (online replicas of themselves). They can meet and socialize with other residents, participate in individual and group activities or travel throughout the world.


“Second Life is a good educational tool—first, because it appeals to students and, second, because it engages them in a way that they have never been engaged before with a textbook,” said Davis. “Their avatars are actually in the environment, interacting and receiving pictures, videos, text and voice. It hits all realms of learning.”


Across the country, universities are now signing up to use Second Life where individuals can visit prominent educational institutions and organizations, participate in distance and flexible education, view presentations and discussions, and watch historical recreations.


The first-ever William Woods University virtual lecture took place in Second Life on Jan. 27. Students in Davis’s Introduction to Computer course met in an outdoor arena on the island of Information Society for Technology Education. After student research, they discussed technology issues and various uses of Second Life in education and business.


Throughout the semester students will visit the Sistine Chapel and Virtual Harlem. Recently, students visited Camp Darfur. The camp showed a realistic simulation, complete with readings, true-life accounts from survivors and videos and sounds of the horrors of Darfur. Students then met in the camp to discuss their experiences.


Beyond exploring places around the world, Second Life has seen companies such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and IBM use its environment for various business & educational adventures. Fortune 500 organizations are beginning to recruit from Second Life. 


Rebecca Cooper, a senior from Red Bud, Ill. and a student in the Introduction to Computer course, sees Second Life as a whole new way to learn.


“Second Life gives students the opportunity to interact and connect with the world outside of where we live. We can have discussions and lectures as a class and then go out and experience what we have learned in Second Life. It really helps me to understand and remember all of the information we are learning,” she said.


According to Dr. Sherry McCarthy, vice president and dean of academic affairs at WWU, the use of Second Life as an educational tool connects students to the course information in a unique way that allows them to participate in their learning rather than just receiving information.


“This is student engagement in learning at its best,” she said.


At any one time, Second Life has approximately 15 million people from around the world logged on.



During WWU’s first-ever virtual lecture in Second Life, Dr. Linda Davis fields questions to the students about the value of Second Life for education and business.