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Virtech & Second Life

Virtech & Second Life

SecondLife (SL) is a Virtual World.  Virtual Worlds (VWs) are immersive 3D environments, typically rendered on a traditional flat screen, and where the users are represented by personal avatars controlled by the users.  They are universal platforms that can be used for gaming, social activities, and various professional purposes, including education and training.  VWs are not games, but some games are VWs; examples include the World of Warcraft, the Sims, EVE Online, the Minecraft, the Fortnite, and many others.  Most VWs are intended to be used with the traditional, flat-screen devices, but some can be also accessed through the VR headsets.  Some can be accessed through the standard Web browsers, but most, including SL, require a special browser.  In Virtech, we are using SL as a social and educational venue.

To learn more about VWs, check out the Wikipedia page, and Virtual Worlds Survey Report.


The reason we chose SL rather than other possible platforms are:  a higher quality of the graphics and functionality, especially the avatars, than any other VWs available today (not as good graphics as some of the best modern games, but they take huge resources and years to develop), and a rich variety of the pre-existing 3D content and activities.


An essential feature of the VWs is that they are inherently social, and can easily lead to collaborations and a formation of social groups and communities with common interests, since the same virtual environment is shared by multiple users who may be physically separated and be anywhere in the world.  Another important characteristic is that the users begin to identify with their avatars, the so-called Proteus Effect (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proteus_effect). This is what creates the subjective sense of presence, which both improves the cognitive outcomes and also facilitates the formation of the interpersonal relationships. The ease of forming friendships and mutually supportive communities with a shared background, interests or goals, coupled with a sense of safety (it is easy to escape any situation in a VW by "teleporting" away or simply logging out) is what makes VWs superior to most other social media platforms.


Our first goal in creating Virtech is to provide an attractive and effective online venue for the Caltech students, incoming Freshmen in particular, to socialize, network, make new friends, collaborate, and learn together.  This does not preclude the use of other online media, and we'd like to build a seamless environment where the people can easily combine or use in parallel different platforms as they interact.  In the times of the pandemic and social distancing, facilitating such interactions is an essential task.  The friends you make here will be your friends in RL as well. Role playing and quest games are also very popular in SL.


We are currently using Virtech to experiment with various combined technologies for online learning, and virtual teaching labs in particular.   There has been a considerable exploration of the use and effectiveness of VWs as an educational platform, and there is a substantial literature on the subject. A general consensus seems to be that VWs can lead to better learning outcomes, as the students find the lectures and demonstrations more engaging and more memorable than those delivered through a standard video (e.g., YouTube) or conferencing (e.g., Zoom) platforms.  At the same time VWs provide a channel for the human interaction component of the learning process (both student to student and student to instructor) that is clearly superior to other online mechanisms such as the discussion threads, social media posts, or video conferencing, and that is their major strength. While such interactions are obviously not as good as those in the physical reality, they can be pretty close, once the participants get used to the platform and identify with their avatars.


Finally, VWs are a great platform to express one's creativity, through building new 3D content, art, role play, and exploration of new technologies.  Let your imagination run wild!

There are many things to do, other than study.  Go and explore!

Virtech is *your* space.  Use it as you see fit, and make it better.