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During February 2008, Dr Ian Warren, Dr Darren Palmer and Dr Tanya King received a Strategic Teaching and Learning Grant Scheme (STALGS) Award to commence work on the Deakin University Island in Second Life. Their project involves developing a “sense of the types of behaviour that need to be regulated within this environment, and a series of regulatory mechanisms to govern this behaviour”. The culmination of their research will provide evidence to support and frame the final proposal which will be considered for adoption by the University as the working policy for the Deakin University Island in Second Life.
Second Life is one of the Massive Multi Media Online Role Playing Games (MMMORPG) which has seen a significant growth in popularity in recent years. Users of Second Life literally create for themselves a ‘second life’ where the user creates their own fantasy character which they control in the Second Life environment. The people who participate in Second Life can live vicariously through their own character and interact with others in an ever-expanding virtual world, which is both similar and markedly different to our own physical world. Islands are virtual locations within Second Life ranging from a small piece of land to a massive city or small country, and include sections which have buildings, streets, bridges, retail stores or coffee shops, as well as rainforests, imagined surfaces of planets, or dungeons. The appearance and content of each island is only limited by the imagination of its real life creator.
For the past eight months, Drs. Warren and Palmer have been working on the issue of virtual crime in Massive Multi Media Online Role Playing Game (MMMORPG) environments. The purpose of the STALGS project is to create a “regulatory model for the use of Second Life by Deakin University which stipulates the appropriate behaviours … students should conform to, identifies the appropriate roles of teaching staff in ensuring good order,” and to “develop a dispute resolution procedure to accommodate student concerns.”
In order to complete this project, Drs. Warren, Palmer and King intend to gather data from Deakin University staff, students and participants from other Australian and international Universities. University students will be asked a series of questions about their knowledge of the University’s online code of conduct, and asked for suggestions on how this might need to be adapted to cover issues which might arise in Second Life. There will also be a series of focus groups with University staff over how the code of conduct should look. The intention of the final focus group session, which will take place in the Deakin Island in Second Life and also involve some people external to the University, is to finalise the content of the code of conduct. Soon after this final session, Drs. Warren, Palmer and King will report their findings to the STALGS committee. The whole project will be completed by the end of 2008.
Several factors complicate this project, such as “the enormous diversity in the levels of regulation within Second Life, the absence of any coherent model to draw from, the lack of agreement about broader legal issues associated with this platform and limited guidance on the best approach for Universities to take in developing their regulatory structure”. Drs. Warren, Palmer and King intend to overcome these problems through multiple research methods of research which ensure the input of staff, students and other experts in the field of virtual worlds. Drs. Warren, Palmer and King believe their project “could have implications for the ways other educational providers develop their own regulatory structures in the new wave of interactive virtual-reality media.”
Second Life will be beneficial to Deakin University staff and students as it presents great educational potential in both simulated and immersive learning in a variety of areas, from dance and art education to crime prevention and dispute resolution. Second Life is different to the internet because it is three dimensional and allows interaction between people through text, voice and gestures. Through a combination of student, staff and external expert input, this project will allow the chance to “develop a systematic and informed policy which will ensure the environment is safe, user-friendly and non-threatening to all users.”