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"A virtual world is a computer-based simulated environment navigated and experienced by one or more users. Over the past several years educators have begun exploring virtual worlds as a powerful medium for instruction."

The Digital Convergence Lab is currently focusing on two virtual world platforms, Second Life and OpenSim.

NIU eLearning entered virtual worlds in 2005 after attending a presentation on Second Life at the Games Learning and Society conference at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Soon afterward NIU built one of the first university campuses in Second Life. We named this virtual campus Glidden.

Glidden Campus was designed so that students and alumni would find our virtual campus familiar. In an attempt to accomplish this goal we replicated part of NIU's oldest buildings, Altgeld Hall.

In addition Glidden Campus currently hosts several student projects like the "One Room School House" built by Pam Wicks, a doctoral student in the College of Education and various art installations. Glidden Campus is a place for NIU students to experiment with the capabilities of Second Life.

Orientation to Second Life

After you have registered and downloaded the client, you need to click on the Second Life application on your desktop. When you log into Second Life for the very first time you will land on Orientation Island. Spend some time there learning the ropes. When you feel ready to move on, click on the "Search" button located at the bottom of your window and a search screen will come up. Click on the tab marked "Places" and then type NIU in the "Find" box, and click on the “Search” button. Once it locates Glidden Campus, NIU, hit the "Teleport" button and you will be taken to the NIU virtual campus.

Glidden Campus is open to the public, so if you want other residents to know you are from NIU you will need to tell them. What you tell others about yourself is totally up to your comfort level, much like using instant messenger or Facebook. What this means is you can be as open as you want about your real life or as anonymous as you please.

Second Life can be compared to the videos, music, and blog content people create for the internet, because everything in the environment is built by its residents. While Glidden Campus is centered on learning and on creating student community, there are areas of Second Life that contain adult content. So be forewarned. Just like the internet, Second Life must be navigated with caution. If you are uncomfortable with anything you see or hear, move on.

OpenSim

While Second Life has grown into a fairly robust platform for adult virtual learning environments, it also has some limitations. One of those limitations is age requirements. So in 2008 NIU started to explore open source virtual world platforms and installed OpenSim on a server so that we could support doctoral research with K-12 students as well as development of more controlled learning simulations.

If you have questions, contact Ali at aclick@niu.edu.

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