Second Life (SL) is a virtual world developed by Linden Lab that launched on June 23, 2003 and is accessible via the Internet. A free client program called the Second Life Viewer enables its users, called Residents, to interact with each other through avatars. Residents can explore, meet other residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade virtual property and services with one another, or travel throughout the world, which residents refer to as the grid.Already quite early, Second Life attracted training providers, universities and other educational groups, and already more than a year ago, a World Café had been organized there. Yesterday's conference wasn't really a World Café but rather more a classical conference, with the following components
- Panel discussion on using virtual worlds for stakeholder engagement
- Field trips to interesting sites in SL for stakeholder engagement (I went to a project of Tufts university for citizen engagment in urban planning and the Centre for Virtual Native Lands, an education site about Native Americans)
- small focus groups discussion about the potential of virtual worlds in stakeholder engagement (this came as close as it gets to a World Café setting).
The conference went over six hours, quite a real and exhausting experience!
So, what are the pros and cons of virtual conferences/workhops in Second Life?
- Second Life facilitatates the use of either voice or chat technologies to interact. The quality of voice transmission is rather good, so the experience is quite close to meeting people.
- People identify with their avatar so it feels like "being there".
- Through integration of other media such as videos, embedded websites, information notes, etc. one can create an environment that supports different learning styles
- The barrier of entry is quite high, in particular for people who are not technology savvy.
- Creating the environment for a learning/meeting experience can be quite time and money consuming. However there are some places which are open for use to the public, in particular for non-profit organizations (Such as Squirrel Island). The organizers of yesterday's conference had quite a large support staff on site.
It goes without saying that Second Life conferences/workshops, like real life workshops need skilled facilitators to create an environment that is conducive for meaningful conversations.
I wonder what it takes to organize an Open Space Technology workshop in SL.