For all of you tech-savvy art educators out there in internet-land, allow me a moment to shamelessly promote Utechtips, a technology edu-blog run by my friend Jeff Utecht. I have recently begun posting there as well, on issues of art & technology in education.

In one of his recent posts, Jeff linked to the “Second Life headquarters of ISTE” (The International Society for Technology in Education). I can’t visit them there, because I don’t have a second life. My friends tease me about this. They say, ‘Hey Gran! Get a (second) life!’. Well, they don’t use the word “second”, but I know what they mean.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, Second Life is an online 3D virtual world where you can pretty much be anyone (or anything) you want. You can create anything, and interact with other virtual people. This is the realm of Cyberpunk, as imagined by authors like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson more than 20 years ago.

I’m not writing this post from a position of authority, or even basic knowledge. I've read a bunch of sci-fi books, but that's about it. The truth is that I’m a bit daunted about getting a second life. Partially this is because I’m not always sure I’m doing enough with my first one, and don’t want to have to split the responsibilities.

The problem is this: once I started my second life, could I stop? I tend to get too involved with computer games. No really, but I’m almost bored with ‘Pong’. However, second life isn’t really a game. It’s a “second life”, and I’m starting to feel like a real-world loser for not having one. There is a lot going on in this virtual world. So much so that Reuters has a Second Life Correspondent there. Authors (like Larry Lessig and Kurt Vonnegut) give book talks – and sometimes, they are even happy to sign your personal virtual copy.

However, it was other recent events in this world that prompted me to write this post: It seems that a far-right political party in France (that’s a place in the real world) has set up shop in Porcupine (that’s a virtual place online). This caused a huge virtual protest that included not only your typical placards and T-shirts, but a “holographic attack” and a pig grenade attached to a flying saucer.

The protest was so big, that they were able to shut down the party’s second life headquarters – not with pig bombs and holograms, but with server lag.

Reading about this event has got me thinking. As an educator who works in both art and technology (and has a more than passing interest in social activism), there are a lot of interesting possibilities and raises a lot of interesting questions. The biggest one of for us as educators, of course, is "what does school look like in a virtual world"?

I was surprised to find that the answer to this question is already being answered. In fact, I was shocked at the impressive list of schools that have registered virtual communities (including Stanford, can I get a virtual degree?). It is interesting to consider some of the concepts of “School 2.0” in the context of a virtual world. What does an art class look like when you have total control over your environment and cost is not a factor?

Students and educators can be anywhere in the world and be in the same classroom, making connections across continents. Beyond that, think of the possibilities for a class in which students get together to build their own virutal community. Its almost like a Paolo Friere dream come true.

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. I don’t know to what extent all of this is possible in the current state of Second Life, I haven’t exactly thought this through in the practical sense. To be honest, I’m still processing the implications.

In her book, The Dialectic of Freedom, Maxine Greene used the words “open spaces” to describe classrooms which are guided by student initiative. Now (because I’m a pretty literal thinker for an artist) I can imagine a literal (if virtual) open space for the students. And speaking of imagining a better tomorrow, Martin Luther King was honored this week with the appearance of a second sun in the virtual sky, which contained his image.

Pretty cool.

Well. I’ve rambled on long enough. Maybe it’s time I got a (second) life.


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