There in a virtual world, students' avatars from Kim Gregson's Qualitative Research class sat in a virtual amphitheatre on the side of a hill while Uhrmacher presented them with real-world information. After the presentation, the students typed in questions and Uhrmacher responded verbally.
Second Life is an Internet-based virtual world that enables its members to play, do business, and otherwise communicate with each other through avatars. Second Life has its own economy, through which members can purchase land and create a virtual island, monitoring who is allowed on the island and what kind of activity can take place there.
"This is a great opportunity for the students; they get to meet people they never would otherwise on a regular basis. They don't just hang out there -- this is education so they need real life experiences, and for a virtual world that is as real as you can get," says Gregson, pointing out that Uhrmacher won the Young PR Professional of the Year Award.
What's the educational result? "They are definitely more engaged with the topic and their papers are better; they seem to do more thinking about different questions and they spend more time on the class," says Gregson.
And that's not all. After class they invest more time blogging about theclass experience. For some there is also a language benefit. "They are talking to people from all over, not just the U.S.," says Gregson, noting that not only is it a diverse experience but also, "I hear things like, 'O.K. I can do this in Spanish' or 'Does anybody speak Italian?'"
Gregson, assistant professor of television-radio in the Roy H. Park School of Communications and a leader in the use of the Internet/alternative media, explains that that these virtual islands in Second Life amount to a server that allows those who purchase space to create a virtual island and monitor who is allowed on that island.
Gregson is currently designing and developing two islands; one island, complete with palm trees, a hill and a building that looks a lot like the college's own Park School the Ithaca College campus; this island allows those who enter, such as Uhrmacher or prospective students, to experience the Park School. The second island will be the Center for Independent Media, which will focus on media outside of the traditional means, such as blogs, podcasts, and Second Life, created by individuals.
Are there more of these virtual presentations to come? "Absolutely," says Gregson, who plans to bring a speaker from Los Angeles and one from North Carolina to the island for her Audience Research class. Beyond that, Gregson is currently working with an experimental film class who will show their work at an experimental film festival on the Ithaca College island.
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