second life ruminations #1

Readings from ETEC 648D – Computer Authoring – Virtual Reality

Virtual or Virtually U: Educational Institutions in Second Life
Nancy Jennings, Chris Collins

2007 study looked at an overview of how institutions are using Second Life. In particular it examined as many institutions that could find — about 170 and looked at Onhow they structured the environment, the types of spaces that were located there in the kinds of activities that were being held.

The lit review was okay, although I do appreciate the inclusion of both Gartner’s trend analysis and a definite effort to include Roger’s work in diffusion of innovations. This is probably the most provocative piece in the article, as the authors quote an article by Moore from 1991 that applies Rogers work with diffusion to technology adoption, in particular defines characteristics for each of the steps of technology adoptions innovators, early adopters, etc.
The research questions for the article were to look at what institutions are using Second Life, what are the characteristics of spaces, and how institutions are using Second Life.
The authors then go through and list the main characteristics that were found in a variety of institutions, and used two particular institutions as case studies: INSEAD and Ohio University. Interesting comparison between these indicated a different vision for each one. The authors define different visions of virtual learning institutions: the operative and reflective, the difference being that operative environments exhibit characteristics of vision and self sustenance that stands apart from any brick-and-mortar institution, whereas reflective institutions mimicked the design of space in their bricks and mortar operation of the institution, and appeared more concerned with being an extension of their existing footprint.

Probably the thing that is most missing from this article in my mind, is the need to address the bridge between what early adopters have taken on in Second Life, who by Rogers analysis comprised 13% or so of the population and early majority who comprise 34%. The authors do a nice job of explaining that there are fundamental differences in the behaviors of these two groups, most notably that early adopters are risk takers and early majority are risk adverse, and early adopters are willing to experiment whereas early majority want proven applications. This is a very important lesson in Second Life adoption that I think is not being viewed as critically as it should. As an example, the Gartner article that the authors quote states the half by 2011 the early adopters, early majority, and late majority will have presence in Second Life (80%). I don’t see this as a remote possibility, given the behaviors of even the early majority, who need and want the technology they use to be invisible, by that I mean easy enough to use that it doesn’t require a few hours or more to understand. Immersive virtual worlds have incredible strengths and complex abilities to do things that are not possible face-to-face, but they are difficult to use, the requirement of high bandwidth and computing power, and a lack of added value are going to be main roadblocks to a higher adoption level in the immediate future (3 to 5 years). It could be that a common Gateway that allows all virtual worlds to become more powerfully enabled and interconnected may provide the opportunity, but it certainly doesn’t seem that this is going to be happening anytime in the near future (1 to 2 years). So for now, I believe we are looking at something on the order of 20% maybe 30% of technology users over the next 2 to 3 years. Another example of this, it is the number of students in my high school that I see who are Second Life users — relatively few. If this digital generation, comfortable with Facebook and virtual games does not yet see themselves as members of a community online in an immersive virtual world, I think Second Life for the time being will still be a novelty.