So you’ve convinced your administration that creating a home in Second Life is a good idea. Faculty, staff, and students are excited. Maybe you’ve even purchased an island.
As part one of a series of how-to articles here on the SL-Ed blog, we’re hoping to help you answer this burning question and perhaps learn from the insights of those who have virtually trail blazed before you.
Though you may have spent months investigating Second Life, done presentation after presentation to get campus buy-in, the purchase or rental of a piece of land may only be the beginning of your journey. In the past few years I’ve been to many campuses who are right at this point. Lots of enthusiastic people not quite sure where to start. It’s a super exciting step but one that can be fraught with politics and more decisions than you can shake a stick at. In my opinion, the best place to start is with a list of questions. Whether you’re part of a committee of planners or one lone soul in charge of creating a space, I think these questions help make basic decisions. They might seem a bit obvious but bare with me.
1. Who is going to use the space?: Some campuses have the fortunate problem of having many faculty who are excited to begin experimenting in Second Life. A shared, campus-wide island may be the first time that instructors and staff from different departments may have been expected to share a resource. On most campuses, funding and spaces are assigned to specific departments so sharing might be a new concept. But don’t think of it as a hurdle. Think of it as an exciting opportunity for inter-disciplinary collaboration. Make a list of all the folks who are eager to use the space. Ask them to define what they’d like to accomplish but be sure to let them know that you’re not asking because you want to evaluate their plans (that will just stifle their creativity), instead, be sure that they understand that you’re just trying to allocate resources.
2. Who needs to know about the space? What rules do they need you to follow?: Most campuses have a marketing department or some kind of brand management body (in K-12s it’s often the school board or a superintendent). They usually have a set of rules about how the name, logo, and brand of the school can be presented. It’s best to know this up front (even better to know this before you purchase and name the island). It’s best not to ignore these kinds of influential groups on campus just in case they have requests about official use of campus branding.
3. What’s the purpose of the space?: Form really should follow function. Is your space intended for recruitment of future students? Purely class-related activities? A student hang-out for distance learners? Perhaps you have a combination of motivations for the space. Having a list early on will help you decide on features and design. For example, a space intended purely for recruitment might need to be a detailed recreation of the campus for tours etc. However, to accomplish the same purpose you might choose to create areas that reflect the attitude and values of the school rather than the physical architecture. Also remember that there may be conflicting purposes depending on who you ask and you may need to create a plan that will appease all involved with one space.
4. What’s the time line and budget?: Given infinite time and resources we’d all have perfect spaces but this is almost never the case. Inevitibly, a semester is about to begin, budgets are tight, and expectations are high. If you have a larger budget but shorter time, you might consider hiring out the more complicated bits of the development. If budget is low but you have a bit more time, consider teaching students and faculty to build their own spaces so they’ll have an increased sense of ownership. If both time and budget are at a minimum, which so often seems to be the case, develop a plan that will happen over time. After all, the space doesn’t have to be finished all at once. Create a list of priorities first and do what you can when you can.
5. What do you want people to do in the space? How do you want them to feel when they’re there?: Most of the best qualities of Second Life center around socializing, people doing things together, having fun. Fun spaces encourage people to feel fun. Serious spaces encourage…well, you get the point. Be sure to match your plans, not just to activities, but also to tone/mood.
If you’ve been through the planning process are there other questions that helped guide you? Leave them in the comments!
Tune in soon for Part II: Digging Into Design