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ISU management information systems professor Brian Mennecke taught an E-commerce course through Second Life last summer. Photo by Bob Elbert
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College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to explore Second Life in Nov. 15 symposium
AMES, Iowa -- There seems to be daily news on Second Life®, the 3-D virtual world created by Linden Lab® in San Francisco that now has nearly 10 million users.
Last week, a Baltimore Sun story reported how many firms are seeking profit through simulated businesses in Second Life. CBS featured it in an October episode of "CSI: New York," as Detective Mac Taylor chased a killer into the virtual world and SL users were able to join TV investigators in solving murders. Last month, The Chronicle of Higher Education documented faculty increasingly using Second Life as a teaching tool.
And now the latest -- Second Life has been slapped with a lawsuit this week over a virtual theft.
So while Second Life may afford business, entertainment and educational value to some, its content has generated legal and ethical challenges from its critics.
That's why Iowa State University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is exploring the new virtual world in an upcoming symposium, "A Second Look at Second Life," which will be held at 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 15, in the Campanile Room of the Memorial Union.
Michael Whiteford, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, will host and serve as moderator of the panel discussion.
"There is obviously enormous potential with Second Life as it relates to educational entities in general and Iowa State University specifically," Whiteford said. "But there are also some areas of concern that our faculty, staff and students should be aware of."
Iowa State has been on the front lines of the Second Life debate. Management Information Systems Associate Professor Brian Mennecke taught an e-commerce course through Second Life last summer. Then in September, Michael Bugeja -- director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication -- published an opinion piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education that was critical of Second Life's increasing use by colleges and universities. He has written a follow-up piece (for the Chronicle's Nov. 12 issue) that explores further legal issues associated with Second Life.
Bugeja and Mennecke will be part of the Nov. 15 symposium panel, which will also include Steffen Schmidt, University Professor of political science; Barbara Mack, associate professor in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication; Jim Oliver, professor of mechanical engineering and director of Iowa State's Virtual Reality Applications Center; Carla Espinoza, associate vice president of human resource services; and Paul Tanaka, ISU's University Counsel. Linden Lab has also been invited to send a representative to the Iowa State symposium.
"When it comes to technology, we in academe usually only see the positives, often without assessment data to justify our expenditures," wrote Bugeja in his Sept. 17 Chronicle article, which was also titled "Second Thoughts About Second Life." "Now many of us are exchanging taxpayer dollars for 'Linden' ones, extending the boundaries of residential campuses and with it, our liabilities.
"When it comes to Second Life, however, we're not only talking about money," he wrote later in the piece. "We're talking about whether you as a professor or administrator will be held accountable for introducing your students and/or employees to a virtual world that accepts little responsibility for anything that happens among avatars, including online harassment and assault."
Mennecke accepted that responsibility during his course in Second Life. He says Second Life is a powerful business teaching tool, since it offers real-world business opportunities for online entrepreneurs -- with transactions of nearly $2 million daily.
"Second Life is trying to simulate the real world, so you get all the facets of the real world," said Mennecke, who is ISU's Deans Faculty Fellow in Management Information Systems. "You get the breadth of human activity. It presents opportunity for people to make money."
While he admits that some of the adult and violent content found on Second Life can be problematic, Mennecke considers it to be a further reflection of its real-world properties.
"It still offers a no-harm environment within which you can observe business," he said. "You see the same behaviors that are manifestations of the real world."
And on Nov. 15, Mennecke and his fellow experts will explore the real issues created with this virtual world.
Iowa State's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is exploring the new virtual world of Second Life in an upcoming symposium, "A Second Look at Second Life," which will be held at 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 15, in the Campanile Room of the Memorial Union. The event is free and open to the public.
"There is obviously enormous potential with Second Life as it relates to educational entities in general and Iowa State University specifically. But there are also some areas of concern that our faculty, staff and students should be aware of."