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The First Class in Second Life

Last night we had our first official class in Second Life. The 40 students enrolled in our class came to Berkman Island in two groups, half at 9pm and half at 10pm. When they arrived on the island they gathered in the outdoor meeting space in front of Austin Hall. We further split them into two groups and Gene took one group into Austin Hall and I took the other over to our Library. (By the way, our library is quite an amazing construction by Ansible. At our library you can view the videos of each of the lectures as well as all of our assignments!) After making sure that we all knew how to sit down and stand up, we started a simple introductory activity. I would say something like “Stand up if you became a resident of Second Life for this class” and they would stand if it was true for them and sit otherwise. A simple exercise, but with great results. Here’s an except of the conversation in our first group that says it better than I ever could:

[18:23] You: stand up if you’ve ever edited an entry on wikipedia.
[18:24] You: That’s a lot of you!
[18:24] You: great!
[18:24] You: stand up if you don’t think of yourself as a techie
[18:24] You: how about this one:
[18:24] Yvette Kumsung: that’s a hard one
[18:24] You: yeah, for me too.
[18:25] You: how about this one:
[18:25] You: stand up if you think this is real.
[18:25] Yoyo Mah: What’s real??
[18:25] USA Brody: In a limited manner this is real
[18:25] stylefeeder Newbold: still pondering that one
[18:25] Yvette Kumsung: hey, no standing up on second thought!
[18:25] Constanza Corleone: this time I stood up out of convinction and not for error
[18:25] You: this one sparked a lot of discussion!
[18:25] Hollywood Muldoon: it is as real as we are making it
[18:25] You: it is a very difficult question.
[18:25] USA Brody: Because if you fell from a cloud in life, you would more than likely die… 🙂
[18:26] You: sure, we’re all just watching screens.
[18:26] Yvette Kumsung: Of course it’s real, I’m talking and I’m real
[18:26] stylefeeder Newbold: USA, I’ve sky dived and fell through a cloud. Still alive 🙂
[18:26] You: in real life we all know how to stand up and sit down.
[18:26] You: but we are all real people having a real discussion.
[18:26] USA Brody: yes
(At this point USA Brody flies into the air to a great height and crashes to the ground. He is unharmed.)
[18:26] Yoyo Mah: lol
[18:26] USA Brody: yes
[18:26] Constanza Corleone: think of this.. as we get conectted daily on msn or Skype we feel it real
[18:26] USA Brody: this is a real medium
[18:26] Yvette Kumsung: It’s like a video teleconference only with avatars
[18:26] Yoyo Mah: I don’t think it’s more real than say a text chat room.
[18:27] Constanza Corleone: some people dont even write letters to each other,, just emails
[18:27] Constanza Corleone: some don´t even call each other , they just chat
[18:27] Marty Mehring: Yes, this seems more like IM with smileys than RL
[18:27] stylefeeder Newbold: yoyo, that is interesting in that you don’t consider reality a binary value. real or unreal.
[18:27] You: would you say IM with smileys is real or not?
[18:27] Yvette Kumsung: i think the surreality makes it more real, but not real like in real-life real
[18:27] Frappe Lapointe: but would you be able to see yourself move on IM
[18:27] Constanza Corleone: exactly!!! instead of emoticons but better, becaouse you are actually interacting and getting INTO
[18:27] Constanza Corleone: this
[18:27] Marty Mehring: IM with smileys is a proxy, which I dont feel is real.
[18:28] You: We’ll be exploring this question more this semester
[18:28] Hollywood Muldoon: well, as someone taking other online classes, i feel much more a “part” of the class here
[18:28] Marty Mehring: I would be willing to go as far as its “life like”
[18:28] You: Of course there isn’t an answer.
[18:28] You: But it is worth thinking about what aspects of it make it feel real and what things you think would have to be added to make it more real .
[18:29] USA Brody: hmmmm….

Following the stand up/sit down exercise, we did individual introductions. Each person learned to use the private conversation feature of SL by introducing him/her/itself to a partner. Then the partners introduced each other to the group. This simple exercise really brought home what I think is one of the greatest advantages of Harvard Extension School: the huge diversity of background and experience among the students. We had a journalist in Seoul, a high-school student in Houston, a Canadian professor, a political science student at Harvard, several entrepreneurs at interesting technology companies, and on and on and on.

In the midst of our introductions my father walked into the Harvard Extension School computer lab where I and one Extension School student had come in RL (real life) to participate in class. Although he’s very new to SL, he managed to get to Berkman Island and Ansible brought him to say hello to our group. I took the picture of us below after our group returned to the meeting area in front of Austin Hall. Although my father can sometimes be frustratingly unable to control the technologies he uses, he is brave and he is willing to give it a good try. He will not learn that he is stupid (see his brief comments on this phenomenon in last Tuesday’s lecture video) just because a technology is new and challenging to him. I think I got pretty lucky in the dad department!

When class was finished, Ansible made sure that everyone had received some Linden Dollars from us as well as the instructions for their assignment this week: they will be exploring interesting places in Second Life. Students will

  • select from a group of shopping areas where they must go buy something of their own choosing,
  • select from a group of popular meeting spots where they can go dancing or to listen to music,
  • select from a group of architecturally or environmentally interesting spots to go see some impressive Second Life building and take a “vacation snapshot” of themselves, and
  • go to a place or an event of their own choosing.

Do you want to try too? If you don’t have an avatar yet, you can create one for free. Follow our tutorial. You can read the assignment here or in the library on Berkman Island. If you IM Ansible in-world, she will give you a notecard with the whole assignment on it. Buy yourself something awesome!

— Rebecca Nesson


  1. VRider

    September 24, 2006 @ 2:26 pm


    Dear Rebecca,
    Thanks for sharing your teaching experience with us, as well as your reflections. It’s really a unique opportunity to get an open window to your SL experience via your CyberOne blog. Learning can be engaging and meaningful at the same time, and your course is a fine example of that.
    Could we use these kinds of virtual environments to bridge over culture differences?

  2. Stephanie Booth

    September 26, 2006 @ 3:03 am


    I’m really sorry I couldn’t attend this week. I’ve been having pretty bad RSI lately, and in addition to that, I’ve been swamped with administrivia. I’m travelling right now until Oct. 4th, and I really hope I’ll be able to participate more actively in the course after that.

  3. Norm Platt

    September 26, 2006 @ 10:21 am


    The Rodney King video is very moving, and I am not surprised that most of it still resides in my memory bank since the initial TV Broadcasts of 1991. Charles Nesson’s presentation and further explanation of the confrontation has opened my biased mind to a greater understanding from the police officers’ side of the confrontation. Though I consider myself a fairly tough individual (ex college football player in what is an “organized sport”), I have never delt well with “street type fighting”, which requires instant reaction to the “disorganized and spontaneous” stimuli. I’m sure every police officer is struct with this type of fear when they confront an unruly citizen such as Rodney King who exhibited “animal behavior”. Mr. King could have been “shot” and we may never have heard more about this case. Oh, there may have been a few riots and “torched cars” in the Watts district of LA, however, within a week or two, all would have been quiet. This is the nature of such a confrontational and reactionary group of people. Just my personal opinion.

  4. Things get busy in Second Life » Mathew Ingram:

    September 28, 2006 @ 11:51 pm


    […] Professor Charles Nesson of Harvard Law School recently held his first class in Second Life as part of an online-only course called “Law in the Court of Public Opinion.” […]

  5. Course Notes - The Best Courses Online » Blog Archive » Virtual Learning Experience

    November 14, 2006 @ 10:46 pm


    […] Since the revolutionary world wide web took center stage, everything has become possible. Through the Internet, virtual learning environments were put up to bring together people from different cultures with similar interests. Rebecca Neeson, in a blog posted at, expressed the advantages of joining in an extension school. Not only do online courses serve as comfortable ways of schooling, but also create opportunities among students by dealing with the diversity of personalities enlisted. Like anyone new at school, you can get nervous, but not as nervous when you are facing other students in actuality. Virtual environments, created as a venue for learning, is a helpful way of letting the person inside loose without sacrificing much in return.            Navigation […]

  6. Intel® Software Network Blogs » Blog Archive » High Tech Marketing in a Virtual World

    February 6, 2007 @ 2:27 am


    […] In addition to pure commercial interests, other organizations are leveraging the virtual interactions that are possible in Second Life. Harvard Law School is offering a course called CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion with participants from Second Life. I suspect that marketing is a side benefit, but Harvard seems more interested in leveraging the community aspect of Second Life: “The Second Life environment for Harvard Extension School participants permits us to foster a sense of community among students taking the course at a distance. It provides a rich medium for students to interact directly and satisfyingly with their instructors and their fellow students.” […]

  7. Intel® Software Network Blogs » Blog Archive » High Tech Marketing in a Virtual World

    February 6, 2007 @ 7:16 am


    […] Inaddition to pure commercial interests, other organizations areleveraging the virtual interactions that are possible in Second Life.Harvard Law School is offering a course called CyberOne:Law in the Court of Public Opinionwith participantsfrom Second Life. Isuspect that marketing is a side benefit, but Harvard seems moreinterested in leveraging the communityaspect of Second Life:“The Second Life environment for Harvard Extension Schoolparticipants permits us to foster a sense of community among studentstaking the course at a distance. It provides a rich medium forstudents to interact directly and satisfyingly with their instructorsand their fellow students.” […]

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