Monday, February 2, 2009

Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds

Second Life (SL) has been a part of my life for some time now and I've been reflecting on my experiences. I evaluate the use of this technology more critically than most people who know me may realize. Regularly questioning the benefits and challenges of virtual world technologies to find where the value lies is an ongoing project. Is the cost/benefit worthwhile?

Virtual worlds are growing at an exponential rate. As a librarian/educator I follow virtual world developments seeking to understand this phenomena and how these technologies are affecting education and educators worldwide.

For now I'll say this- If virtual worlds were used for nothing more than the purpose of enabling people to connect and communicate in ways not possible or extremely difficult in real life, then they would be worthwhile for that reason alone.

There are some amazing educational builds of truly immersive learning spaces in SL. I would have loved that type of engagement as a student. Many, but not all, may agree with me on their value. But no one can disagree with my experiences.

I've made some wonderful connections inworld and I'm building relationships on a global level. This is most valuable. I do not have the time nor the resources to travel the world. And I'm not sure I could create the type of bond with others made possible by virtual worlds. This may partly be due to their anonymity aspect.

The culture of Second Life is one in which there is a sense of being there for each other, at least amongst educators and those in SL desiring to grow, learn and give. The kindness and helpfulness I've seen demonstrated inworld has been heartwarming. There is much I've learned and will continue to learn from others in SL.

Second Life has enabled me to lead discussions on Infolit iSchool Island founded by a faculty member from the University of Sheffield, Sheila Webber. In three weeks the class I'm teaching as an adjunct instructor will tour that island and interview Sheila. A week later we will tour International Schools Island in SL and interview another educator in Thailand. Next week we'll interview a medical professor from Ohio State University and examine an amazing build he created. Library Science graduate students have interviewed me and in two weeks a class from the Univ of Hawaii will visit my university's skydeck to explore what's been created there and ask questions. I'm collaborating on a project with their professor, whom I met while presenting on virtual world librarianship. These are just a few examples.

My experiences are not nearly as profound as those depicted in the video below. Hopefully the examples and the videos will help in understanding the potential of virtual worlds for education, community building and more.

"Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds:
Collaboration, Culture and Community"

For further information on this project please see The Understanding Island Through Virtual Worlds Program website by The Carnegie Council.

And lastly, here is a related video titled, Dancing Ink TV: Understanding Islam, The Imagination Age