Continuing on in our Education Week, The SDSU Collegian reports that South Dakota State University is tilling the ground in preparation for using Second Life as a classroom enhancement tool. The administration at SDSU is taking a deep look at the myriad uses for Second Life's adaptability and interactivity:
"Examples of simulations that would be used are medical simulations in which students can take the position in a virtual world as a medical professional…They would do things like checking on patients and routine things like the avatar always washing their hands before seeing a patient."
Other examples of possible simulation include mental health simulation in which students would practice doing counseling consultations. [Vice President for IT Mike] Adelaine said Second Life provides various systems unavailable in a classroom.
SDSU would join over 500 institutes of higher education and a pitifully small percentage of America's public schools that have adopted Second Life as either a tool to augment classroom teaching or as a vehicle for completely replacing the physical classroom.
He suffers from dead pixels
It appears to me – and I could be wrong – that the greater leeway provided to higher education practitioners is a huge incentive for the addition of virtual worlds to the curriculum.
As we reported yesterday, the tighter bureaucratic restrictions on public schools may act as a damper on innovations that jeopardize local political careers.
The Collegian notes previous problems with adapting Second Life to the SDSU campus atmosphere:
Previously, SDSU tried a pilot program of Second Life in one of the nursing courses, but they came across a few problems.
"The class was completely wireless, and it really needs hard wire in order to work fast enough…When you have all those students trying to use it with wireless, it just doesn't work properly."
If the only problems are connectivity issues easily solved through in-dorm wired connections, the forward-thinking scholars at SDSU have a relatively small hurdle to leap in order to get expansive virtual education up and running.
What I find especially interesting about the rise of Second Life and virtual worlds in higher education is where these innovations tend to take place. Take a peek at our reporting earlier in the week about Minnesota's Saint Paul College and its new certificate program in Second Life studies. Look at SDSU. These aren't Ivy League institutions, and that may be the reason for their innovation.
A school like Saint Paul College faces less national scrutiny for adopting a forward-thinking program, and stands to gain much more if the program succeeds. With more high school students graduating than ever before, colleges are in the position of providing courses that give students an edge in the job market as well as teaching novel and emerging skills.
If Princeton Review ever makes a listing of the Top Virtual Campuses, SDSU will certainly make an appearance. That could make all the difference.