The most common questions we get when we work with educators interested in using virtual worlds to teach a lesson all start out the same way: “Can we use the software to do…”?
The answer we give is always the same: “You can.”
But then we have to quickly follow up with some clarification. Because the problem is that they’re asking the wrong question.
Technologies like OpenSim and Second Life are designed to be incredibly flexible. Any virtual world worth using will offer a robust scripting language and with good scripting, the possibilities of what you might create become nearly limitless, given enough time and ingenuity.
Educators, however, don’t have limitless time, especially educators who are just trying to get up and running, or learning to use virtual worlds for the first time. So the real question to ask is “Does what I want to do suit the medium?”
There are some things that virtual worlds do very well, and others that can be done but that go against the grain of the technology. For instance, you can surf the web from within the world. That’s pretty cool, but you are almost certainly better off using a regular web browser day-to-day.
It can be easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of what you can do in a virtual world to the point of forgetting to wonder if it’s what you should do. When planning a new project it’s always worth stopping and asking, “Would I be better off just handing out pencils and paper for this lesson?”