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Case Western Reserve U. Debuts Private Version of Second Life

Higher education has embraced Second Life. But the marriage of universities and virtual worlds has sometimes been marred by concerns over security, privacy, and intellectual property.

Case Western Reserve University today announced a new venture with the potential to allay some of those concerns. The Cleveland university will be the first to host a private, stand-alone version of Second Life behind its fire wall. Faculty and staff members and students will have access to the fantasy space.

“I think that it’s going to solve a lot of issues that many institutions have with using virtual worlds in general,” said Larry Johnson, chief executive of the New Media Consortium, a Texas-based higher-education-technology group that is working on the project. He added, “It’s the first step in allowing universities to begin to build their own grids.”

Case Western is the higher-education test site as Linden Lab, the company that runs Second Life, develops the so-called Nebraska version of the virtual world. The concept is to provide all the functions of Second Life, but to let institutions install the platform on their own servers, in their own data centers, and behind their own security systems. The new platform is “completely disconnected from the main Second Life environment,” according to a Second Life blog.

But why would a school like Case, which already has eight islands in Second Life, want to bother with a stand-alone system?

A medical school interested in performing research involving personal medical histories could use a private environment, Mr. Johnson said. Another function would be programs that focus on both adults and kids. Right now, adults need to undergo background checks to access the Second Life teen grid. One use Case envisions for the Nebraska environment would involve the campus Hispanic club providing mentors to Cleveland public-school students in the online virtual world, said Wendy Shapiro, the university’s senior academic-technology officer.

Oh, and another thing: When you host your own universe, you get “God” privileges.

“You can control everything,” said Ms. Shapiro, sounding excited at the prospect. “You can control who comes in, who gets kicked off. You can control whether people walk or fly.” —Marc Parry

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