Educators Explore 'Second Life' Online

Educators Explore 'Second Life' Online

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The classroom of the future isn't on a college campus. It's in the virtual world of "Second Life."

In "Second Life," virtual residents -- cartoonish-looking characters controlled via keyboard and mouse -- create anything their hearts desire.

Also known as avatars, the residents start up businesses, stage their own concerts, sell real estate and design fashion lines. Reuters news agency even has a correspondent based in the cyber community.

A growing number of educators are getting caught up in the wave. More than 60 schools and educational organizations have set up shop in the virtual world and are exploring ways it can be used to promote learning.

The three-dimensional virtual world makes it possible for students taking a distance course to develop a real sense of community, said Rebecca Nesson, who leads a class jointly offered by Harvard Law School and Harvard Extension School in the world of "Second Life."

"Students interact with each other and there's a regular sense of classroom interaction. It feels like a college campus," she said.

She holds class discussions in "Second Life" as well as office hours for extension students. Some class-related events are also open to the public -- or basically anyone with a broadband connection.

Since opening in 2003, "Second Life" has experienced strong growth. Now some 1.3 million people around the world log on to live out their second lives.

The growing adoption of broadband Internet connection has helped drive that trend. Some 42 percent of Americans have a high-speed Internet connection at home, up from 30 percent last year, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Besides improving the quality of distance learning, educators are finding "Second Life" is a good way to introduce international perspectives. In Nesson's course, students as far away as Korea engage in the classroom discussion and work on team projects.

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