Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Virtual Worlds and the Future of Business Education

I attended an informative 3.5 hr conference yesterday in Second Life (SL) titled "Virtual Worlds and the Future of Business Education." I was curious because I've been seeing more signs on campuses in SL lately for MBA programs. Here's the link - it was a very good conference, well worth my time (day off). The speakers were excellent and the backchat and tweets were valuable too. There were 80 inworld avatars attending and the conference was also streamed live on the 2D web.

Pathfinder Linden (of Linden Labs, the company behind SL) even answered a question I asked on when SL will allow for shared applications (it's coming!). As a librarian this would increase the usefulness of using SL with students. Not all educators see why this request is important but for librarians it can matter as we demonstrate to students how to use specific databases. If you are a prof who is using SL to teach students it probably wouldn't be important as SL already allows for collaborative work using Google docs inworld.

A couple of points that stood out for me were by Anne Massey, Dean's Research Professor and Professor of IS at Kelley. One was on the hype cycle and where SL is now and if you click the snapshots here to enlarge you will see the chart. I recently read an article on this, which came to the same conclusion. The other point was on the seven sensibilities of SL. Things that all who spend time in SL understand, but which can be difficult to explain to those who have not experienced SL much themselves. Briefly the 7 sensibilities in which she referred - sense of self, death of distance, power of presence, sense of space, capability to co-create, pervasiveness of practice and enrichment of experience.

Another point made by Anne Massey and Sarah Robbins (aka Intellagirl) had to do with how the usefulness of SL is what's going to drive adoption and what will get people over the ease of use hump. That really resonated with me as in my early days of SL my realization of how powerful of a tool this virtual world could be, especially for higher education, was what kept me going at times. And of course the usefulness of SL is growing almost daily. This is partly due to the innovative work being done in SL by very creative and talented educators and technologists.

Of course there was specific focus on business education here, though I found most of what was shared would be applicable to many disciplines. One reason I heard that business education makes sense in SL is because of the need to connect globally and the ease in which people can do that in virtual worlds. Also businesses are finally figuring out how to use virtual worlds. Here's a link to a 2008 O'Reilly Radar Report titled "Virtual Wordls: A Business Guide" for those who are interested.

Bottom line, Second Life and other virtual worlds are here to stay. Forward thinking universities and colleges who understand this will reap the benefits of being early adopters of these platforms. Especially institutions that are struggling with tight budgets, this a way to benefit greatly for minimal cost.

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