Second Life should be approached with caution by academic institutions as there are numerous ramifications to consider. Second Life is not always a peaceful, quiet place – it is filled with sex, gambling, and griefers and depending on personalities, one may become addicted to the virtual world. We can control spaces we own in Second Life but we can not prevent students from leaving our space and entering more virtually dangerous areas. As academics, we must consider what it means to bring a student into this atmosphere. This is not the first time academia has encountered this muddy area though. The Internet’s birth is similar in a number of ways – it started out clunky and often with sex and gambling as a major portion of content. As with Second Life, the Internet can be an addictive space. We have since learned to work in this space and to use it effectively. In fact, many of us cant imagine working without it. Perhaps we will be the same with virtual worlds in the future.
The Chronicle of Higher Education recently had an article cautioning academic use of Second Life. I think that it is important to consider what it means to bring students into Second Life, what are the ethical concerns of this virtual world? That being said, I don’t think that that should scare us away from exploration. We need to caution and educate students as to what it means to be in a virtual world – what are the protocols, how can we behave in a virtual world. One of the important parts of exploration is discussion and we should have a discussion at all levels – departmental, administrative and campus wide. Consider what it means to you and your students to be in a virtual world and approach with caution.