The University of Texas system has purchased land in the online world Second Life, betting the investment will improve teaching and research at all of its institutions.
The university system, made up of nine universities and six health centers, doesn’t have concrete plans for how each school will use Second Life. It hopes that administrators, faculty members, researchers, and students will take advantage of the virtual real estate over the academic year.
In Second Life, people create avatars that interact with one another. The avatars, which look like three-dimensional figures, can make friends, pursue hobbies, conduct business, and even practice religion.
The university and Linden Lab, which operates Second Life, say that the University of Texas is the first statewide educational system to make a concerted leap into the virtual world. Hundreds of universities use Second Life to some degree, according to Linden Lab.
The Texas system has bought 49 pieces of land for $700 apiece and $147.50 a month in maintenance fees, which covers the costs of running and maintaining server space.
Leslie Jarmon, the principal investigator for the project at the University of Texas system, said that Second Life encouraged collaboration between people across departments and campuses that would be too costly otherwise, in terms of time and money. For example, departments have limited money to send faculty members to conferences and workshops. Events on Second Life can allow professors the same experiences without the expense, she said.
Second Life is “going to help anyone involved with education and research because it helps us work together faster,” Ms. Jarmon said.