Second Life: Challenges, Issues and Cautions for Educators
There are a range of challenges, issues and cautions which need to be considered when using Second Life, particularly in educational settings, including:
- High-end technology requirements – requires a relatively fast computer with a good graphics card and fast internet access.
- Steep learning curve – there is a lot to learn to use the platform proficiently (although not as steep for gamers and the Net Gen).
- Poor introductory experience – problems with Orientation Island, Welcome Areas and a lack of effective and obvious search tools make it difficult to find places, experiences and people of interest.
- Cost – although basic accounts are free, the cost of paying for land – which is required for permanent structures – and ‘rent’ may be prohibitive for some.
- Accessibility – as yet no technology to allow vision impaired people to enter.
- Second Life is a “walled garden” as opposed to an open platform like the Web, and does not currently run on open standards (although there is talk of moving to open standards).
- It is not possible to host your own worlds on your own servers (like you can with the web).
- “Prim economy” – there is a limit to the number of prims – the basic building blocks of Second Life – provided per parcel of land.
- There is a limit to the number of avatars that can cohabit an area at one time.
- Assets aren’t portable – they can’t be exported or taken into other virtual worlds under the current terms of service.
- No backup – you can lose everything – either as a result of technical issues or conflict with Linden Lab – with very little legal recourse.
- Limited tools for importing from other 3D software programs.
Technological & Performance Issues
- Updated client software needs to be downloaded and installed regularly
- Problems with scaling as the population increases rapidly – infrastructure has difficulty handling influx.
- Grid stability, reliability and performance problems, including lag (sluggish performance) and downtime.
- Other performance issues resulting in inventory loss, problems logging in, difficulty teleporting, search not working etc.
Social and Legal Issues
- Although Linden Labs allow a lot of creative freedom and take a hands-off approach to governance, residents must still abide by the Linden Lab Terms of Service and Community Standards. Residents cannot make up their own rules.
- Linden Labs can cancel accounts – and any money in those accounts – at any time without reason or legal recourse.
- Residents have few legal rights and very little legal recourse if things go wrong (money lost, inventory lost, locked out of accounts).
- Griefers – the flexibility and freedoms that Second Life affords also allows residents to disrupt the experience of other residents.
- Institutional barriers – administrative (e.g. seen as a game and not suitable for teaching) and technological (network security).
- Legal issues for institutions – indemnity, intellectual property rights.
- Second Life is a proprietary service – this is an issue for some educators, but it’s worth noting that platforms like Blackboard are proprietary too.
- Authenticity concerns – how do we know it’s the student behind the avatar? (although same issues can apply to any type of online learning).
- Students can be exposed to inappropriate content, although no different from the web.
- Privacy and safety issues.
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