University of Texas’ major move into Second Life

University of Texas

Colleges and universities are experimenting with ways to use Second Life to enhance their educational offerings and recently this column featured the program at Texas State Technical College that allows students to earn an AA degree with classes taken entirely in Second Life. Now the University of Texas has announced a worldwide first – the move of a state-wide university system into Second Life.

Current planning calls for all 16 University of Texas campuses to be represented in an archipelago of at least 49 islands in a one year experiment, the Virtual Learning Community Initiative (VLCI). The goals include creating a "virtual learning community of students, faculty, researchers and administrators," and transforming "the learning experiences and opportunities for individual undergraduate students." The University expects to allocate three islands per campus, and four islands for collaborative use.

Among the goals for the project are to enrich the learning experience while reducing brick-and-mortar costs, improving energy efficiency, and developing a model that will be useful for other state-wide systems. The University will be working closely with Linden Lab to develop the new program and to collect data on successful ways of using Second Life that will be shared with educators and similar systems, and has announced eleven objectives for measuring its success.

You can learn more about the University of Texas Virtual Learning Community Initiative at

Going to college in Second Life

"I was only browsing colleges, nothing serious, when I found out you could take the classes in Second Life… . It was going to enable me to go to class with professors in Texas while I stayed in Montana! It was going to give me the real time interaction with a real professor without having to go out of the home. I was sold!" Indasky Boa – her Second Life avatar name – was describing how she reacted when she first learned about Texas State Technical College‘s virtual education vTSTC program in Second Life. The program offers certificate and AAS degrees in Digital Media and Digital Signage.

Last week, on August 21, 2009, Indasky graduated from the vTSTC certificate program. An indifferent student in her previous educational experiences, her vTSTC experience gave her an enthusiasm about education that she had never known before, and she now plans to continue studying for her degree.

Indasky Boa graduating from vTSTC
Indasky Boa’s graduation address

The program is still new; Indasky is only the second person to get a certificate. Chris Gibson, Associate VP of Educational Technology at the college, said that the program, in which students take all degree and certificate courses entirely in Second Life, is stressing creating a quality program over initially enrolling large number of students.

The projects in pictures shown in this article were all created by four students working together: IndaSky Boa, who lives in Montana and was self-taught in computers but felt a need for classroom instruction to learn design; Hector Ohmai, a resident of Mexico who is also a student at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico; Teiko Moxi, a stay-at-home mom in San Antonio Texas; and Ushao Murakami, who dropped out of college ten years ago and who has lived with Teiko for nine years after meeting online.  (These are the students’ avatar names).

A common experience that all four students have experienced is that other people think it’s an easy program because their classes are conducted entirely in Second Life, but the students said it really is just the opposite. They are working much harder than they would in a traditional face-to-face class. Indasky said, "It’s cool, but it’s a lot of work!"

Informational vTSTC kiosk that students created
Kiosk created by vTSTC students

The projects they’ve been working on are new ways to promote vTSTC, and include:

  • An informational kiosk, shown on the left;
  • Redesigning the vTSTC website;
  • A wearable virtual student desk, complete with a laptop computer that gives information about the college;
  • A virtual billboard
  • A story board that tells about vTSTC from a student perspective.

For more information about Texas State Technical College’s program in Second Life, visit the vTSTC website,

Talis Sci-Fi and Fantasy Portal

Ursula Leguin reading in Second Life

Are you a sci-fi, speculative fiction, or fantasy enthusiast? If so, Second Life’s Talis Sci-Fi and Fantasy Portal is for you. Founded in 2006, it is one of Second Life’s older institutions, featuring informational displays, author appearances, and discussions. Current displays include "Look into the Liaden Universe", about the series of books authored by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, and displays about speculative fiction written by Asian-American and African-American authors. Other displays include Nebula and Hugo award winning novels, and displays of books featured in upcoming author appearances and discussions.

One notable event was the February 2009 author appearance by Ursula Le Guin, who was reading from her novel Always Coming Home at the Potlatch 18 conference in Sunnyvale, CA and simultaneously viewed by avatars gathered in Second Life, who along with members or the Potlatch audience were able to ask her questions.

The Talis Sci-Fi & Fantasy Portal

Two upcoming events are scheduled for this month:

  • Book of the Month Discussion: We will be discussing Neal Stephenson’s 1991 novel Snowcrash, which inspired much of what we see in virtual worlds today. It will be held on two separate days, Wednesday June 17th at 6:30pm SLT for those in the Americas, and Saturday June 20 at 1pm for those in European time zones.
  • Meet the Author: Professional geologist B Billy Marse will discuss his book H2onE2, which deals with the exploration of the universe, Earth’s climate, geology, and climate, folklore, and ancient structures, and he’ll discuss "Glacial Respiration" and how it affects climate change.

This month’s Film Discussion, already held, was about the new Star Trek film.

The easiest way to learn about upcoming events is to join the Second Life group "Sci Fi & Fantasy Portal", which runs the Portal and sends all members notices of events. If you have ideas for events or displays you would like to see or lead at the Portal, contact Franja Russell in Second Life.

Inside the Talis Sci-Fi & Fantasy Portal

The Portal got its start in 2006 when a group of avatars that included Floria Hand, Franja Russell, Michael Maitland, Grizzy Griswold, Chris Reitveld, and myself (in the form of my alt avatar Hawk Lightcloud) met to plan what we hoped would be a resource both for fans and reseachers in these forms of fiction. The Portal became reality when the Alliance Virtual Library provided the land, Talis provided the funding, and Chris Reitveld designed and built the Portal building. Today the rest of us have shifted our focus to other activities, but Franja Russell remains dedicated to the Portal, putting in long hours managing displays and events. Without her hard work, there would be no Portal.

Second Life members can teleport to the Talis Sci-Fi and Fantasy Portal by clicking