Minnesota College Offers a Degree in Second Life

Little Saint Paul College in frosty Minnesota is about to go global. The liberal arts school in Minnesota recently launched a program to teach the essential Metaverse programming and scripting skills to students via virtual classrooms. A just-released article in Finance and Commerce sheds light on Saint Paul's plan to immerse its students in the skills of the future.

The college is offering two new two-year degree programs. The Metaverse Application Design program provides training in graphic design, animation and art for the 3-D realm. The other program, Metaverse Application Development, is based on the college’s computer science curriculum and features courses in 3–D computer graphics and Java programming, among others.

Because the technology renders geographical distance irrelevant, the college has been able to form virtual learning collaborations with universities in Germany, Switzerland, England and Australia, along with the University of Oregon.

Talk about a cheap way to expand your college into something groundbreaking. Now, for the cost of a few dedicated computers, Saint Paul College can connect with universities across the country and across the planet in educating young Metaverse consultants-to-be on the ins and outs of the business.

This isn't SPU's first venture into the virtual world. They already offer a course in Second Life fundamentals, and SPU recently funded a program to create a virtual library that serves as a hub for virtual worlds and technology discussion.

I know I belabor the term by using it so often, but this really is nothing short of shrewd business. As Metaverse entrepreneur like Aimee Weber shows in her recent partnership with big-time automaker Peugeot, there is big money in virtual worlds for those who can create quality content. A college that provides a formal education in scripting and content creation will produce graduates with a competitive advantage over humble liberal arts grads like myself.

Visiting and writing about a world like Second Life is one thing. Having content creation skills is another, greater thing, as it allows the avatar (and the player) to physically alter the universe around them. Content creation is an entirely new level of immersion, a level to which unskilled visitors like myself are not privvy.

Will these graduates be the ones responsible for a boom in virtual worlds? Could Saint Paul serve as the Mountain View or Silicon Valley of the content creation world? One can hope.

NATO, Sweden, and the Problem of Security in Virtual Diplomacy

As Joshua Fouts over at Dispatches from the Imagination Age reports, NATO is stepping up plans for a commanding presence in Second Life. This comes on the heels of our report on the Department of Energy's supercollider-iffic island development, and while the Department of Energy will play a large role in U.S. politics over the next few years, NATO is, well, NATO.

Thank the pork-filled budget for this beauty of bureaucracy. NATO, in partnership with the U.S. government, released a thick project funding announcement titled "Development of Virtual Worlds" which promises to award a "large, fixed-value contract" to any company capable of filling out all of the attached paperwork without falling asleep. Best thing about it? Like all government funding opportunities, the project is entirely tax-free.

In case you were planning on submitting, this ain't your grandmother's virtual world. From the announcement:

  • must run fully behind or through firewalls using a single open port of choice

  • should be able to run SSL encryption if desired for increased security

That rules out Second Life, as Massively reported, which leads one to ask – who, exactly, is qualified to take on this project? Looking at the promising work done in Second Life by the brilliant minds who designed the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, it's hard to believe Second Life couldn't support possible sensitive operations.

Which brings up another question – why doesn't NATO merely produce its own virtual world, to its own specifications, where it can control access? This is going to be the big problem over the coming years. When Sweden opened a virtual embassy in Second Life, the Swedish government had no expectation of conducting sensitive business in-world. Apparently NATO desires this.


Sweden may have an elegant answer. By building a virtual embassy in Second Life (pictured, right), the Swedes improved their public relations and public awareness campaigns on the internet. The story made big news. But it was little more than a place for cultural exhibits and links to Swedish tourism websites. Unsurprisingly, the Swedes use a private government intranet for actual embassy communications.

Until technology increases and allows a currently unavailable (on a massive scale) level of selectivity and background screening, NATO will have a good deal of trouble finding someone to meet its standards.