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November 9, 2009, 10:00 AM ET

Second Life Duty Is Now Required for Penn State's Online Advisers

Denver -- Plenty of colleges have a presence in Second Life. Pennsylvania State University is taking that a step further. Academic advisers at the university’s online campus are now required to be available for meetings with students in the virtual world every week, a Penn State official said during last week’s Educause conference here.

Students on the real campus get to chat with their advisers face to face. Now online students who never set foot there can do the “exact same thing,” says Shannon Ritter, social-networks adviser for the Penn State World Campus.

Almost the same thing, anyway. Second Life requires users to choose avatars, or graphical representations of themselves. So students who want to meet with Rachel Zimmerman will find themselves chatting with a character called RachelM Snoodle. Looking for Karen Lesch? The adviser goes by KarenM Magic. All advisers are required to cover at least two hours a week.

Ms. Ritter, whose job involves using emerging technologies to build community with online students, says there hasn’t really been any resistance to the requirement – just adjustment to a new technology.

“Second Life has been a completely new thing to almost all the advisers,” she says. “And so at the beginning they aren’t really sure how to do anything. But we schedule training sessions and work with them on the basics. And once they're in there, they really enjoy it.”


1. 11342016 - November 09, 2009 at 05:29 pm

Don't know if this will help in the conversation tomorrow or not.

2. alpern - November 10, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Second Life is a for-profit business. You can join for free but most people end up getting upgrades, some of which are pricier than others. If I were a student there I would definitely resist being asked to sign up for Second Life just to get advising.

3. micala - November 11, 2009 at 09:09 am

Students studying with Penn State's online campus are not required to sign up for Second Life to receive academic advising. We do require that our advisers have office hours in Second Life to provide coverage for students who are there and interested in speaking with an adviser, but we also advise students through email, phone, and Skype. We're using Second Life as a way for online students who never visit campus to feel more connected to the university and their experience, and have a way of interacting with their fellow students and other staff members as well. :)

4. orowans - November 12, 2009 at 07:07 am

I've been a 'resident' of Second Life for more than two years, taking part in many professionally oriented activities (I am a librarian). I have not found it necessary to go beyond the 'free' level. Second Life offers great opportunities for people to reach beyond their local 'real life' environments and meet and interact with other professionals or students internationally. Penn State is to be congratulated for seizing this opportunity.

5. eelalien - November 14, 2009 at 01:19 pm

This "virtual interaction" can be accomplished just as easily using a chat function in any number of online venues - only without the idiotic 2nd Life avatars and equally ridiculous monikers. The only cool part of 2nd Life is being able to suddenly turn away from the "person" you are conversing with and walk into the ocean... so much for advising!

6. micala - November 16, 2009 at 09:31 am

@eelalien We certainly do use Skype and Elluminate for some events and for advising, but Second Life and virtual environments can really provide some interactions in a much different way. Penn State is home to the largest student-run philanthropic event in the country - The Penn State Dance Marathon (THON) where students all dance together for 46 hours to raise money to help fight pediatric cancer. By using Second Life, our students all over the world can also 'dance' together and be part of this event. We also use Second Life during our graduation receptions so that our students who may not have been able to attend in person can attend together and watch a live webcast from the event on campus being streamed into Second Life. We also have other events with live video feeds like our homecoming parade on campus. Bringing these events into Second Life and giving students the opportunity to experience these things together, in a group of people is much different than doing those things alone.

Again, students are not required to create a Second Life account, nor are they required to obtain academic advising in Second Life, but for those students that prefer that environment and are interested in feeling like part of a community and participating in events with other students, Second Life provides that option.

7. katie222 - November 16, 2009 at 04:40 pm

Two additional hours of assistance for students is very reasonable for online advisors. While true that other online forums for classroom interaction exist and the idea of graphical characters might seem silly- if it provides assistance to students for minimal charge it's worth utilizing. However, I agree that a service such as this, should be free to all students.

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