Second Life for the Levin Institute?

Today I had a conference call with leaders from the Levin Institute, SUNY’s newest school in New York City.  Organized by Lynne Rosansky, Vice-Provost, her goal was to introduce Levin to Second Life, see if there was potential .

The Levin Institute was created by a bequest of the family of Neil D. Levin, Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York, who was slain in the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Levin has no campus of its own (yet), and their mission is globalization: “International Relations and Commerce.” So it’s natural for them to consider opening a virtual campus to reach the world, leapfrogging the cost of a huge traditional campus and its cumbersome infrastructure.  Second Life is a good place to start, since it has already been colonized by over 100 campuses.

Garrick Utley, Levin’s President and a former CNN news correspondent, cut right to the chase during our discussion. “Is there anything you can show us with a ‘Wow’ factor?” he asked. So we looked at some videos (machinima! – more about that new video genre in a later post) of Second Life, including the New Media Consortium’s “Seriously Engaging” demo, which is one of the best promos for what is possible for learning in the metaverse. Thomson Learning’s NetG campus gave us another glimpse of how a virtual campus can be arranged, with video viewing rooms, bulletin boards to post and exchange text files and assignments, and control booths behind a lecture hall.

The Levin team quickly grasped the possibilities for their mission. They imagined “negotiation rooms” where students could visit spaces dedicated to practicing different cultural styles – French, Middle Eastern, Asian, American… They asked how much artificial intelligence could be built into SL, so that simulations could run themselves. They wondered whether anyone had already studied learning behaviors in SL formally. It was a great, lively discussion. We’ll be looking at next steps. Stay tuned.

On a personal note, I have to say it’s fulfilling to see the sheerly academic exercises I followed in the 80s and 90s — when I was writing about cyberpunk, VR, and Neal Stephenson’s metaverse as sacral space — blossom into technical reality… and to be in a position to encourage the real world exploration of what once were just edgy postmodern ruminations.