At any given moment, thousands—maybe even millions—of people across the real world log onto a virtual world called Second Life. One of those individuals is Ronald Lee, professor, Decision Sciences and Information Systems in the College of Business Administration.
For Lee and a group of five doctoral students, Second Life is not just a place for casual social networking conducted from behind the anonymity of an alternate personality or avatar. Instead, it offers a potentially promising environment for collaborative work and cross-cultural understanding—two arenas of vital importance to the business school.
“We are exploring how Second Life—a three-dimensional, highly interactive, Internet-supported platform—can enhance these efforts,” Lee said. “With our university’s multicultural emphasis, our position as a gateway to Latin América, and our leadership in expanding online learning across borders, we are interested in exploring the contributions Second Life can make.”
Welcome to FIU Ryder Island.
Ronald Lee, professor, Department of Decision Sciences and Information Systems, meets with his Systems Management (In a Changing World) students, represented by their avatars, on FIU Ryder Island on Second Life.
The college has purchased an area on Second Life—FIU Ryder Island—on which students have undertaken a number of collaborative building projects. Among the constructions: the “Musketeers” clubhouse, where the doctoral students gather for weekly meetings; a facsimile of the new building complex (under construction at both Modesto A. Maidique Campus and on FIU Ryder Island), a hotel, a container ship, and a cruise liner, all in progress.
Katherine Franceschi, a PhD student in management information systems (MIS), is researching how virtual worlds like Second Life might provide a sense of group presence and cohesion for group-oriented e-learning, aspects not well addressed by current e-learning technologies.
Second Life has role to play in business education and in business.
Because Second Life is so popular, with more than seven million members, it has an easy-to-learn and use interface. Last semester, Lee taught a group of 45 undergraduates how to use the site and said that “many were remarkably talented in picking up the skills.” He also involved them in a competition to construct the Musketeers clubhouse, an example of learning by doing through which students do not merely chat but make things together . . . from remote locations.
Lee sees opportunities for expanding the use of Second Life in both educational and business settings.
“Working in teams is the missing link in e-learning, and Second Life may be able to provide it.”
—Ronald Lee, professor, Decision Sciences and Information Systems in the College of Business Administration
“E-learning is growing in both environments, but the format is still dominated by online textbooks and email,” he said. “Working in teams is the missing link in e-learning, and Second Life may be able to provide it. Also, much of the project work that takes place in face-to-face business school courses involves collaborating in groups—an important learning aspect that is difficult to replicate in the online versions of these courses. ”
In addition, because Second Life enables visitors to travel virtually to other sites, some of them replicas of real places, “they can gain insights into other cultures, which is an important angle for international business,” according to Lee. “Beyond these ideas, we are looking at several specific industries, including hospitality and travel, to uncover ways Second Life could support their activities, such as marketing across cultures.”
He will be extending his use of Second Life in his classes to mimic various real-world business challenges. One project will require the integration of independent stores the students have created, which will raise supply chain issues for them to solve.
“Lots of technologies come and go, but people who recognize their best uses early emerge as winners,” Lee said. “The college’s leadership in innovative uses of technology in business education is reflected in our multi-faceted exploration of Second Life.”
To take a tour of the new business building complex on FIU Ryder Island, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLuHCbDUjCE. To view a video about how Second Life can be used for business purposes, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=synxFmQJ_0A (a company called Text 100 in Second Life).