The final conference session was on the use of Second Life in Education, drawing on experiences from University College Dublin. With 16.6m residents, a currency linked to the US dollar exchange rate and almost totally user generated content, it is more than a game - but will it ever become mainstream? It's at a stage that the web was in in the mid 1990s and it will be interesting so see what happens to it over the next few years. Certainly if you look to analysts like Gartner they show it on the downward slore to the "trough of disillusionment" on their hype cycle. But in Education there are some interesting uses for it. You can fly up to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and examine the frescos on the ceiling, learn how to give emergency first aid, and walk though the Saltire Centre in Glasgow. 70% of UK universities have a presence of some kind in SL delivering classes, seminars, skills sessions and conferences.
UCD have a library in SL - it has no walls, no doors, and doesn't try to replicate real life. They've hosted lectures and tutorials in it, and provide information for prospective and new students. The future remains uncertain, and it was interesting to hear a technical view of some of the issues surrounding the use of SL. It requires high internet speeds and high spec PCs, not all operating systems are supported, and there is a steep learning curve to use it properly. I must admit I find it very difficult - my avatar seems to have a mind of her own, and I find it hard to navigate the environment properly.
The conclusion was that virtual worlds offer a lot, but Second Life might not be the right environment - other toolkits may provide a better user experience. We perhaps need to look in more detail at it with our academic colleagues who are already using it. I'm also keen to get the IC in there - especially as the Saltire Centre is there already! Can't beat a bit of friendly rivalry.
Speaking of the IC, nice to see that Google Earth have just updated their images of Sheffield, and it is now clearly visible, rather than a car park.
Edit: Just had a fly round the Sistine Chapel in SL - it's pretty good - for anyone with a Second Life account it's here: http://slurl.com/secondlife/vassar/165/91/24