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Teleporting with Student Avatars — CUNY Matters

March 1, 2010 | General

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Over the last few years, millions of college undergraduates have signed up for Facebook and MySpace, the popular social media websites. But like many Web phenomena, large online networks often splinter into local groups that serve the needs of more specific communities.

At CUNY, for example, a group of students at City College recently launched a social-networking site called InYourClass.com. Founded by Arber Ruci, a senior management major, InYourClass offers bulletin boards for most of the 23 colleges and professional schools where members can post and reply to messages in 16 categories, including activities and events, tutoring, jobs, research opportunities, book exchange and “couch crashing” — where students can “find out where the fun is.”

Ruci began working on the concept of InYourClass a year ago, when he participated in one of the initiatives of the CUNY Leadership Academy. He describes the website as a combination of “Craigslist and a more sociable Blackboard,” which allows students to connect with their classmates, not just access information about their classes. The site, which launched earlier this year with the support of CCNY President Robert E. Paaswell, currently has more than 300 members.

Meanwhile, at the New York City College of Technology, other groups of students have been creating their own social networks within the huge virtual world of Second Life (www.secondlife.com). Launched by Linden Lab in 2003, Second Life enables its 9 million users (“residents”) to interact with each other through online alter egos, called avatars, that can socialize, participate in individual and group projects, build virtual environments and “teleport” to different places created by other residents and institutions.

City Tech purchased an island on the site (at a cost is $1,000, plus $150 per month leasing fee), where students from several classes have collaborated on projects using 3-dimensional modeling tools and “scripts” that can control the behavior and functions of virtual objects. Students not only work with City Tech classmates, but can talk to other residents of Second Life to gain resources and knowledge about how to do things on the site.

“I saw social networking as a great tool for modeling 3-D environments,” says City Tech Entertainment Technology professor David Smith, who introduced the college to Second Life. In addition to Smith, other City Tech faculty using Second Life in their classes are Isaac Barjis and Walied Samarrai (biological sciences); Reneta Lansiquot (English) and Jenna Spevack (entertainment technology).
So far, students have created an eclectic assemblage of projects on City Tech Island, including a museum that houses photos of artwork created by the “Brooklyn is Watching” Project. (You can do a video walkthrough of the museum on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCHY3N4OrCo.)

Students from several disciplines are involved in the 3-D biology tour, where avatars can “ride” through a cell, taking on the identity of various organelles. By learning to identify with an organelle, people can then figure out what it needs to do when things get stuck in the cell’s biochemical process.

As technology becomes “more immersive,” Smith says, “we’re seeing really major changes, from a 2-dimensional to a 3-dimensional web. We’re leaving the classroom completely behind and moving into space, exploring what we can do with it.”
CUNY Matters – Spring 2010 (this article appears on pg. 6)
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