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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Music Professor Ventures into Second Life with Online Class

David Patterson is an educational technology pioneer. One of the first UMass Boston professors to teach an online course through the Division of Corporate, Continuing and Distance Education (CCDE), Patterson, a professor in UMass Boston’s Music Department, developed and taught MU 248 (Universe of Music) in the fall of 2001. The course has been enormously successful ever since.

This summer, Professor Patterson offered his MU 248 students an option to create a project in Second Life in lieu of the usual course paper. He was given a small grant to hire a teaching assistant, Tim Lee Chuvala, to help with the Second Life experiment. Ten students opted to give Second Life a try.

Second Life is the most successful and well known of several existing virtual worlds. Created by Linden Labs in California, it has become the focus of research and experimentation by educators from around the (real) world. Information about Second Life is at http://www.secondlife.com, and descriptions of some of the educational work being done in Second Life can be found at http://sleducation.wikispaces.com

This spring CCDE bought a Second Life island (address umb ccde) and offered land to its online faculty interested in experimenting. Patterson decided to take the plunge and was given a small piece of land on the island for his course use.

Use of Second Life was an option rather than a requirement in the course because the free Second Life software requires a recent model computer with a good graphics card and a lot of memory. There is also a fairly steep learning curve to download the software, set up an account/avatar, and learn to function in the virtual world. Learning how to build and create in Second Life requires additional time and effort. Six out of ten MU 248 students-all UMass Boston juniors or seniors- opted to create some musical objects.

When asked about student response to using Second Life, Patterson said, “Students really enjoyed the opportunity to link technology with music. They had heard of Second Life and were very happy to get their hands on it.”

Over the course of the summer, students had technical help from Tim Chuvala in building and using sound scripts. The ten students did final presentations together on the CCDE island, which were filmed using the Web 2.0 tool Screencast-O-Matic. The resulting video will be available on the MU 248 course description page in the CCDE website.

“Students responded enthusiastically to the opportunity to work collaboratively and creatively using this amazingly multi-functional, flexible technology,” Patterson summed up. “I was totally thrilled with the work of all ten students. They found themselves thinking about music in new ways and stretching their imagination with flutes, pianos, drums, a shofar, even singing and dancing dolphins that could only exist in Second Life.”

David Patterson plans to use Second Life again in his fall course. He admits that using Second Life requires a lot of extra time on the part of instructor and student, but so far the results and the student satisfaction are worth the effort.

David Patterson will be speaking about his experience using Second Life in an online course at the Regional University Continuing Education conference in late October in Woodstock, Vermont and at the NERCOMP Second Life conference in January ’09.