February 21, 2014 | Academics, Research, Student Feature
First-year Guttman student Austin Ochoa has created and engaged in Second Life since October 2013 as part of an undergraduate, independent research project. Facilitating this work is Instructor Chet Jordan, who prompted Austin to write an ethnography (research designed to explore individuals and cultures) by talking to different people in Second Life and has allowed him to make this project his own. Austin has researched Second Life and its uses, specifically how it could be incorporated into Guttman classrooms.
Second Life, created by Linden Lab, is an online environment where users create virtual representations of themselves, called avatars, and interact with other avatars, places or objects. More than just a chat room, this adults-only virtual world allows users to communicate with one another in many different environments across the globe, including at concerts, press conferences and in classes at other colleges. Users can create their own buildings or ask permission to enter other users’ spaces. Additionally, users can buy land and shop for clothes and gadgets just like in real-life.
Austin and Chet both see great value in exploring Second Life to enhance learning and envision future technology will integrate with face-to-face interactions in education. Not only does Second Life allow students to travel to places within the world to study different cultures, it also allows students to think differently. For Austin, this research project has been very insightful. “I like the unknown and finding what to write about,” Austin commented. “This project has improved my writing by allowing me to decipher my thoughts and has influenced me in what I want to do in the future.” Aside from residing at the Chelsea Hotel, one of Austin’s favorite Second Life experiences thus far has been visiting San Francisco’s Alcatraz prison. He got a sense of how the justice system works in Second Life, which he found to be surprisingly similar to real-life.
Austin is set to finish his research by the end of the Spring I session and is currently creating tutorials on how to use and navigate through Second Life. He hopes that in the future all Guttman students will have the opportunity to engage in digital humanities research through Second Life to study the culture, politics and economies of the world. He also believes Second Life offers good potential as a mechanism for experiential education.
Chet has recently applied for a PSC-CUNY grant to obtain funding for a research study to examine whether a multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) impacts student learning in an experiential course assignment. The results of this study will be presented to the college’s Center for College Effectiveness.
To learn more about Austin Ochoa’s virtual journey, visit his ePortfolio.