Dr. James Cook is a Senior Engineer for Linden Lab on the virtual world Second Life. He is a former physician and Fellow in Medical Informatics from the University of California, Davis, where he worked on the "Virtual Hallucinations" simulation of schizophrenia. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine, holds a master's degree in computer science from Caltech, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in computer science from the University of California, San Diego. His interests include user interface design and applications of virtual worlds to medical education.
Brace for Impact: How User Creation Changes Everything
Highly flexible virtual worlds are starting to allow content created by one user to be experienced immediately by other users. This "user-created content" has the capacity to significantly change how games can be used for learning. Technical limitations have traditionally limited the creation of educational games to professional game developers, as they were the group with access to the game-building tools. Second Life is a unique digital world that puts the tools in the hands of its residents. Through a scripting language, embedded 3D design tools, an easy-to-use character creation system, and methods for exchanging data with the real world, Second Life allows highly interactive learner-to-learner and amateur-to-amateur creation and education. Of equal importance, Second Life residents retain the intellectual property rights to their creations.
This symposium will begin with a brief overview of Second Life's features and technologies before moving into specific examples of resident learning and research. Specifically, the ability of residents to teach other residents within Second Life will be examined, with a focus on the broad adoption of the scripting language and the use of classes to drive new technologies and fads within Second Life. In fact, amateur-to-amateur education is a core component of the social framework in Second Life.
The second area will be the use of Second Life for medical research. This will cover the virtual hallucination experiment; the Brigadoon project and the impact of bringing autism and Asperger's Syndrome patients and family members into Second Life; Wilde Cummingham and the experiences of cerebral palsy patients in Second Life; and, the Live2Give project. In addition to specific details about these projects, this portion will focus on how Second Life residents were able to leverage Second Life's technology and business model through only modest investments in time and money. Second Life's research policy and the reasons why it created one will also are covered.
The third subject will be the use of Second Life as a platform for education and social exploration. Multiple college classes have been using Second Life since early Beta in 2002. Game design, architecture, fashion, urban planning, dispute resolution and online world design have been taught so far, but this is clearly only the beginning. In addition, experiments in entrepreneurship, sociology, and direct democracy are also being undertaken. Like the medical discussion, this section will also highlight how schools are able to use Second Life easily and cheaply.
This portion of the symposium will feature Dr. Megan S. Conklin from Elon University Dept. of Computing Sciences who will describe how she and other faculty has used Second Life in their own unviersity classes, highlighting "101 Ways" to use Second Life in such contexts, including sample assignments, essay topics, discussion topics, and in-world activities (scavenger hunts, building tutorials) that she has developed for use by her students
Finally, the symposium will conclude with a look into the future of collaboration, user creation, and digital worlds. Innovation and commoditization, often the bane of conventional online games, are strongly positive forces within Second Life. When combined with a fluid economy and the freedom to convert digital currency and goods into real-world wealth, it is clear the potential application space of digital worlds is only beginning to be explored. For educators and researchers, a clearer understanding of the possibility space is an important first step in learning to harness these new products and technologies.