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Thursday, March 24, 2011


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Stone Semyorka

I've been doing higher education in SL for four years with what I think are great results. I have not found 20-somethings having "a visceral and negative reaction to virtual worlds." To date, I have introduced and brought in-world more than 200 students in a variety of college courses across those years. Nearly all were intrigued, interested and excited to learn in the virtual world. I can only remember one from among all those students who resisted the concept and even he came along well when his fellow students explained it to him and helped him along the way.

Ignatius Onomatopoeia

@Stone, you don't teach anywhere like here :)

It's a universal disdain among 18-22 year-old US kids who are very careerist and use social-networking tools connected to their RL identities. It's been a hard sell to the more than 150 students I have taught or supported in other classes.

Results may vary with different student bodies, but I hear similar tales form other US educators in our SL group.

Immersive games waste time and hurt one's GPA, I'm told again and again as the lesson learned from parents, advisors, and dead-end gamer kids in their high schools.

The best results, however, have been in targeted simulations directly attached to assignments where the "take home" is clear to students. Then, with some one-on-one orientation, they really enjoyed SL. They saw the point (and they demand a point). I'll repeat that idea with OpenSim this fall.

But not one student has returned to SL after the classes end. Okay, one that I hired to help on a build.

My students have RL Spring Break and don't need an avatar for that sort of fun in the way that LL markets it. But they will use SL for classes with the right preparation, and the faculty evals show they like the experience.

Adeon Writer

Full disclosure: I am 24 years old and have been using SecondLife for 4 years coming the May. Before that, I was part of ActiveWorlds since 2004.

I love SL because of the creative expression it enables. Creating my own avatar and environment, and meeting people who have done the same are two things I find most enjoyable in SecondLife.

I can't say much about education in SL. I know the college I attended has a presence in SL and even offered free land to their students, although since I wished to keep my avatar away from my real life identity, I never took the offer or attended their events or classes.

I do not use Facebook. I do however, use Twitter. (@AdeonWriter)

A SecondLife-Loving 20-Something

Ignatius Onomatopoeia

"But using SL to teach literature or science or another subject only tangentially (if totally not) related to Second Life? Probably not so much."

Hamlet, some of the best work for students in SL or OpenSim I have seen involves science simulations. Rendering data in 3D is an awesome use of the platform.

In the humanities, it's more of a stretch unless you consider any work that might benefit from simulation. That's the case at my OpenSim "Fall of the House of Usher" simulation, one pioneered in SL until my uni refused to pay the new tiers.

I see Virtual Globe Theater as a particularly great use. That was subject of a NY Times article that--perhaps not accidentally--failed to mention the SL brand even once, even though the client is clearly visible on one of the laptops.

The key, I've found, involves presenting the platform in a non-utopian, cheerleading way and instead linking it clearly to outcomes for the class and assignment. That has been a best practice for earlier technologies in the classroom. It worked for MOOs and MUDs I used in the 90s and early chat clients and e-classrooms such as Daedalus Interchange.

Hamlet Au

Thanks, Adeon!

Iggy, I don't disagree that there are great science and humanities applications of 3D worlds for education -- after a giant, time-consuming barrier to entry is crossed. My point is that it's strange most Second Life educators aren't directing their efforts toward applications of SL that are *already* popular with 20-somethings who have facility with 3D programs and tools like Photoshop. I'm amazed at how few filmmaking, fashion, photo editing, etc. classes use Second Life, as opposed to others where the fit is not so organic.


"...there are, in fact, a fair amount of Gen Y 20-somethings who do like Second Life."

I'm afraid if you're going to make statements like that, you need to back them up with data.

I've seen big chunks of demographic data from self-identified age groups in SL. The vast majority of folks in SL identified as 40+. The 20-somethings were miniscule.

Hamlet, those examples you give are nice. But they're anecdotal. And the plural of anecdote is not data.

Hamlet Au

Pathfinder, when Linden Lab still publicly reported age demographic data, in 2008, about 20-25% of the active userbase was in their 20s or younger, with 16% being 24 or younger:


I said "fair amount" precisely because that age band isn't a majority. However, unless the demographics have changed drastically since then, it's definitely not minuscule. 1 in 5 or 1 in 4 is nothing to sneeze at. But you were with Linden Lab much more recently than me, do you have specific, more contemporary figures that say otherwise? Happy to quote you if so.

Tateru Nino

There's definitely a decreasing trend of engagement as you get into the younger age-groups, though it's only a trend, of course, and thus doesn't apply to any given individual.

Breaking things up by generations tells you about trends in populations, but not about smaller-sized groups or about individuals.

I'm a 'boomer', of course, but that doesn't actually say anything about me.

Hamlet Au

Pathfinder, I looked up an old Linden report from 2008 to double check: Then, 25% of the userbase was 24 or under, and 35% was between 25-34. Assuming half of that age band were 25-29, that's another 17% in their 20s, give or take. So in total, in 2008, about 43% of Second Life's user base was in their 20s or younger. Even assuming a 10% or even 20% dropoff in the last 3 years, the twentysomething population of SL now would still be significant.

But ya know, I did originally say "fair amount" so as not to split hairs like this. :)

Adeon Writer

Age didn't matter too much in SL as long as topics don't turn into adult nature. I've met people I've been socked to find out were only 16 (It's the minimum now, remember) given their vast knowledge and maturity (Some are viewer developers and high profile scripters) And I've seen trolls who turn out to be in their 40's. The correlation bettween age and maturity is so low in SL you're better off just seeking out maturity.

That said, I've personally never had problems seeking out people my age in SL when I want to. I guess I just know were to look. But the fact that I do know SL is also appreciated by older crowds is relieving; it's nice to enjoy a 'game' for once that isn't sneered at for being considered juvenile.

Ignatius Onomatopoeia

This is anecdotal (sample size of 16). Earlier this term, I screened Second Skin to my first-year students in a seminar about the history of Cyberspace.

They felt that the WoW players there were extreme examples of addiction, and they liked the one SLer shown in detail: a young man with severe handicaps who can drive, socialize, and "get out of his house" via SL.

We turned our talk to how they use or used virtual worlds. An odd consensus emerged: the Ultima Online, Everquest, WoW and other gamers in their group gave it up to be competitive in college.

It seems--seems--from their conversation that games and virtual worlds are toys that adults give up for social networking and RL competition to get into the best colleges and then get internships, jobs, and more.

My question would be, for this particular and affluent US demographic, will they want more escape in a decade when they have a mortgage, a spouse, and maybe a first child? We'll see.

I have no idea what the trends might be, internationally, for this same age-cohort.

Nice can of worms to open, Hamlet. Very enjoyable and worth more research, because a lot of RL money rides on the answers.

Arcadia Codesmith

College is a virtual world in and of itself, often with only tangental relevance to real life.

I don't say that to be snarky. If I had the choice, I would never have left college (and I reserve the right to go back as soon as I work out the whole lifetime cash flow issue).

But in an era when we're cutting arts programs left and right, is it any wonder that the school system is cranking out a great many bland, conformist, career-focused drones? And is it any wonder that many wonderful 20-somethings blessed with talent and vision find their way to our quirky little world?

Ignatius Onomatopoeia

Could not agree more, Arcadia. We built this RL mess for young people in the States, then ask them to be passionate about learning when nearly everything in the system rewards not creativity but hoop-jumping.

Adeon Writer

I know I *joined* SL due to my college, they had it installed on every computer on campus. I didn't have to cut back on SL until I got a real job. Am I still going to devote my free time to it? Heck yes.

Kimberly Rufer-Bach

The article would have been stronger if the figures were included. Why not use them if you had them?

"You'd probably want your machinima/introductory filmmaking class working in Second Life, for instance. But using SL to teach literature or science or another subject only tangentially (if totally not) related to Second Life? Probably not so much'", is what you said in the article. I don't know what percentage of people read the comments, but it is certainly fewer than those reading the article. It was a very odd thing to write in the article, on the heels of your piece about the success of Language Lab.

Anyway, I've seen a lot of my other clients' students do very well, most of them in the demographic group we are talking about here. For example, classrooms full of university students who would show up early to be first into the economics simulation and who refused to log off for lunch, not just one day, but until the lunch break was made mandatory.

Not sure why Iggy's students were far less excited, but most of my clients aren't in the US and are using custom-developed content created to remove a lot of the SL learning curve. I have a feeling that showing students a film that lumps SL together with games could affect their attitude about VWs as a learning environment, but haven't got solid research on it.

When I was in my twenties I was online all the time, but not usually for fun. I was more interested in going to RL parties than virtual ones. Again, no stats on hand, but I suspect that VWs are probably more attractive to people once they are tied down and at home/work more. Without an actual study on this, I tend toward this explanation rather than the fear that SL and VWs in general are doomed by an aging user base.

Stone Semyorka

By "here" I assume you mean the U.S. Sorry to disagree, I am a U.S. university professor.

I should note that my students frequently see in Sl a resemblance to Sims, rather than WoW.

Also, to the 20-something point, I assume many aren't aware that one of the most energetic and widely quoted SL commentators right now is age 20.

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