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Using Google Earth and Second Life for education


Virtual Worlds: Second Life and Google Earth Rome, London, California‌even the Moon. Locations that are physically impossible to travel to from a classroom in New Jersey are no longer inaccessible to students thanks to technology and the Internet. In the past, students were only able to see pictures or videos of places that they have never been. Now, however, through advancements in technology, vast interactive worlds have been developed through which teachers and students can explore all over the world – and beyond. In a matter of minutes, students can go from examining a 3D scale layout of Big Ben and the Parliament in London, to exploring craters on the moon. Two different services that both offer the virtual world experience are Google Earth and Second Life. While these are not the only options available, they are two of the larger, more developed, and more popular programs currently available – and while they are both free, the programs are vastly different in their approach and resources. Additionally, both programs have some areas where they either excel or are lacking. This is to be expected, however, since technology is ever evolving and rarely perfect. The goal then, as an educator, is to locate and utilize the best tool for the job. There will never be one perfect one size fits all solution. This booklet will take you through both Second Life and Google Earth, discussing the pros and cons of each site, and looking at 20 different examples/reviews of places you can visit in either program. These reviews will provide a beginning foundation of how you, as an educator, might use either of these programs in your classroom.


Second Life is a true “virtual world” that is accessed online. Similar to a 3D game, users take control of an avatar (or digital character representing themselves which they create) and explore generated and created content. Users travel to various islands which are owned by corporations, schools, or even individuals to experience a wide range of different content and activities. The game is more than just scenery; there are interactive scavenger hunts, guided tours, games, interactions, and a lot of other content. Users can truly become immersed in the world as they wander and explore the various islands. Another aspect of Second Life is the interaction among other users – the game is in a category that is referred to as “Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game”, or MMORPG, where users can talk to each other, travel with each other, and explore the virtual world together. This is a benefit for those who interact with people they know, but can provide for unsuitable experiences when interacting with strangers. Below are some pros and cons of Second Life: Pros    

Immersive environment Ability to visit some real places recreated in Second Life Ability to visit locations inaccessible in the real world Chat feature – ability to hold an online interactive class

Open world. There is a LOT of inappropriate content for minors that is easily accessible Not all ‘real world’ locations are replicated – sometimes hard to find what you are looking for Chat feature – random strangers can interact with your students Runs choppy on older computers

Cons

  


Google Earth, while not technically a fully interactive online virtual world (there is no avatar, no direct online interaction with other users, no chat feature), rivals the worlds created in Second Life in many areas. Where Google Earth excels, is that many cities have been authentically recreated in scale 3D models. A user simply has to type an address in to be taken to another part of the world where they can zoom in and out, explore satellite images, explore user uploaded photos, get directions, and more. Google Earth can be very appealing for a classroom setting because of its safety. Whereas Second Life has a lot of interaction between members, there is no filtering content, and there is inappropriate content, Google Earth is essentially an interactive 3D map that can be explored safely and efficiently. One additional user generated feature that Google Earth has, however, are user uploaded photos of specific areas that people have visited. This adds a very unique and personal touch to the otherwise very technical maps. Pros     

Safe – no inappropriate content Easy to navigate 3D models of most large cities, satellite photos of all other areas Ability to ‘travel’ via directions User uploaded photos

   

No chat feature Not as interactive No ‘fantasy’ locations Can freeze from time to time on older machines

Cons


International Space Flight Museum Link The International Space Flight Museum is pretty interesting in a few different aspects. I enjoyed being able to fly around the area and get a close look at the different rockets from various countries and time periods. There were also tours that visitors could take through the museum. Because of the interactive features, this location is definitely worth a second visit, and is also something interesting for students to visit as well.

Kennedy Space Center While not an exact comparison to the International Space Flight Museum found in Second Life (since that is a unique location to only Second Life), visiting the Kennedy Space Center in Google Earth does have some unique benefits. Students curious about the former space program could visit the Kennedy Space Center and examine the area, photos, and the shuttle launch zones. What may be eye opening for some of them is the distance the shuttles used to have to take to get from the space center to the launch pads. While perhaps not as exciting as some of the information at Second Life's International Space Flight Museum, the Kennedy Space Center makes for an intriguing first hand 'real' experience.


ARCHI21 Link ARCHI21 was an interesting area, and definitely one worth checking out more than once. The island was set up with various architectural 'marvels', some of which are physically impossible, improbable, or impractical - but all of which together in one location makes them extremely invaluable. This would be a useful island for not only architectural students, but art students as well - or even just those who are just curious about buildings and shapes.

Sydney Opera House Google Earth has its own share of archetectural masterpieces - take, for example, the Sydney Opera House. Like many of the Google Earth sites, the opera house is easier to locate than many sites in Second Life. One simply has to type in the location and they are brought to it, as opposed to having to take the time to search for an appropriate area. Like other Google Earth locations, a visitor cannot enter the location, however, users can get a good feel for the area based on pictures provided by other users.


Virtual London Link Virtual London was somewhat of a disappointment. The area was fairly small, and only some of the more prominent landmarks (such as Big Ben, but not Parliament) were present. The little bit of content that was there was developed well, however, it was not entirely accurate. I do not think it would be necessary to visit the area again, especially when there are other, more accurate tools that can be used to get a virtual view of the surrounding area.

London Visiting London in Google Earth was a much more complete and valuable experience than visiting it in Second Life. While the visitor cannot go inside any of the buildings (like you can in Second Life), there is not much of a need. The city is complete and an individual can spend a lot of time exploring the streets of London, which would be useful in many different situations. Perhaps a history teacher wants to show the students the Parliament buildings that Guy Faux attempted to destroy – he or she would be able to virtually visit the area quickly and easily.


Globe Theater Link Another area in London, though located on a different island in Second Life, is Shakespeare’s globe. Rather than just a visual replication of the globe, however, this theater actually has a schedule of events in which other members of the community recreate Shakespeare’s plays. Unfortunately, viewing these plays require “Linden Dollars”. Individuals can enter the globe and look around while there is not a play being performed, and the accuracy of the scale is pretty good. In general, though, the resource would be most useful to individuals who had access to “Linden Dollars”.

Globe Theater The Globe Theater displayed in Google Earth is fairly different than the Globe theater visited in Second Life. Google Earth would be a useful tool to show students where the Globe is located in modern day England. Unfortunately, there is no internal view of the globe, but the exterior is composed fairly well. The benefit of Google Earth over Second Life would be the ease of use and the additional pictures available for users to click. Additionally, the area is "safer" than Second Life, since one does not have to worry about any inappropriate actions or content.


Planetarium Link Interactive areas like this planetarium are where Second Life shines. While the real life recreations in Second Life are limited in their use, accessing areas that cannot otherwise be visited gives an individual a chance to view something truly unique. This particular planetarium has models of the planets and moons, and links to outside information related to them. This location would be a valuable resource for all types of individuals looking to learn more about the planets.

Moon While Google Earth may not have content on as many different planets as some of the Second Life planetariums, there is a decent amount of places an individual can visit on both the moon and Mars. After visiting both, I would have to say that while Google Earth may lack the quantity of content, it more than makes up with quality. Complete with panoramas, markers, and notations from the various moon landings, Google Earth offers a wealth of information that is worth checking out. Additionally, the moon through Google Earth could be easily viewed by all age ranges without fear of inappropriate content.


IBM Learning Commons Link The IBM Learning Commons is an example of what can truly be created in Second Life with the appropriate time and financial commitment. The Learning Commons has full-fledged lecture halls, amphitheaters, presentations, business expos, and information greater than any of the university pages that were visited. Unfortunately at the time of visit, nothing was happening at the commons. This seems to be somewhat par for the course with a lot of the areas on Second Life currently. I think that this would be an area worth visiting again, if there was something happening. As it stands now, however, there is not much to do other than look at the well-designed architecture.

Lake Mohawk, NJ While Second Life contains areas that are either not accessible to visitors (or places that do not exist in real life), Google Earth contains areas that exist in real life but do not exist in Second Life. This particular location is that of my house. While not important to anyone other than myself, it makes a valuable point. A visitor can visit ANY area on Earth through Google Earth. While not all locations contain 3D models, they are all at least accessible via a satellite view.


Ohio State University Reproductive Organs Tour Link Ohio State University put together an interesting and informative island covering a microscopic level of both male and female reproductive organs. The tour, as shown in the picture, guides you through the reproductive organs, and visually displays and describes the processes. Visitors need not move, the tour itself is completely automated. This island is one of the aspects of Second Life that makes it really stand out - through this island an individual is able to witness, virtually first hand, something that cannot otherwise be experienced. The university's site would be a great resource for students or educators in a sex education course.

Blarney Castle – Scale Replica Link

The Blarney Castle is a full scale replica that was constructed by a user on one of their private islands. While not part of a "virtual Ireland", the Blarney Castle is an interesting visit. For me particularly, I never knew that the castle was so small so in that, it was perhaps a worthwhile visit. Individuals can go into the castle itself, which includes an interactive Blarney Stone. I do not know, however, if there would be any need for me to visit the location a second time.


UC Davis Virtual Hallucinations Link UC Davis put together an interactive room on their island to try to shed light onto mental illnesses with hallucinations. Before attempting the interaction, you are given a warning that some individuals find the content disturbing - afterwards, you download a file and walk through a house. During this time, certain things move that shouldn’t, notations describe certain hallucinations, and an audio track repeats and whispers that you are worthless, nothing, and you should kill yourself. It is extremely creepy and disturbing, but also eye opening. While I would not recommend it for everyone, this is definitely an interesting and informative visit for those that could handle it. It is important to note, however, that if you do not remove the badge required for the interaction, the audio hallucinations will continue even after you leave the island.

Genome Island Link I will be honest by starting this review by stating I have little to no knowledge about genomes. That aside, this island in Second Life was pretty unique. Again, this was one of the areas that stood out on the site because it displayed something that Google Earth could not: interactivity and the physical display of something that an individual would not be able to visualize in real life. Particularly, the pictured genome was a molecule displayed of Lysozyme. Visitors could click on buttons to change the status of the molecule to "Charged", and see how the molecule changed. This would be worth visiting for students learning about molecules and genomes.


Eiffel Tower, France One of my biggest complaints and concerns about visiting the Eiffel Tower in Second Life was the inappropriate content that was visible almost immediately entering the area. Granted, the content was there as a list of rules that were not allowed in the area, it still was written in a way that would prohibit a class from entering. Visiting the Eiffel Tower in Google Earth, on the other hand, is completely different. While a visitor might not be able to climb a flight of stairs, they are still able to get a sense of the scale of the tower - which is recreated fairly accurately. Teachers would be able to use this location without worry, which is something that cannot be said about Second Life.

Epcot; Disney World While some locations in Google Earth are not that accurate (or rather not that detailed), it is amazing the extent to which others are detailed. The attached picture is for the Epcot theme part in Disney World - specifically the World Showcase. What could be useful about using this particular location in a classroom is that while the buildings and structures are replicas of actual foreign architecture, they are created with fairly strong accuracy. Therefore, a teacher could access this site in his or her classroom, and quickly scroll through various "countries" showing his or her students different types of architecture from multiple countries in an extremely time effective manner.


Assisi, Italy Assisi in Google Earth is like London in Second Life - disappointing. Assisi was one of the most beautiful and unique places I have visited in my life; the tight winding roads, the hills, the medieval buildings. Google Earth does not capture any of these things since none of the buildings are actually 3D (though you do get a slight feel for the hills). This is a prime example that while Google Earth does have some amazing features, not everything that you find on it will be worthwhile. Even still, with the disappointing 3D models, you still have the opportunity to view people's photos of Assisi, so it is not completely worthless.

Interlaken, Switzerland Even though Interlaken does not have 3D models of the buildings, the scale of the neighboring mountains (one of the most stunning views from the city itself) are still worthwhile. If cropped correctly, the image from Google Earth could easily be mistaken for a tourist photo. An interesting use for this location would be to compare the image of the mountain with images of other mountains in other countries - useful for a geography class.

Virtual Worlds  

Second Life vs Google Earth

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