Expressionist Art Show in ‘Second Life’ … surreal!

Expressionistic art from SIUE students is on display, but not in this world. To see it, you must go into Second Life, more of a virtual universe than a game because there are no rules or objectives. There are just tools for 3D rendering that were turned over to the people who occupy the space with their avatars.

The author peruses student art on display in Second Life

“The College of Arts and Sciences has a very modest area on Teaching 6 Island, which is a space dedicated to educational activities,” said Wendy Shaw, professor and associate dean. “We mounted this virtual exhibit of student work. It was an undergraduate painting class that met in the summer. ”

The College of Arts and Sciences has had a little area in Second Life for nearly three years. Shaw jump-started the project after attending a lecture on Second Life at a conference. After returning from the conference, Shaw carried out her own research and then convinced the then-dean to come up with some funding for the project.

The CAS homestead in Second Life

“We have this modest space. I’ve met students there and held virtual office hours there. We’ve had discussions,” Shaw said. “This is the first time we’ve had art displayed. I don’t know how many people are coming in to see what’s going on there, but I’d like to see some other units doing something (in Second Life). I think it would be a good senior project.”

There are some barriers to using Second Life that the user needs to surmount. First, they need to download the software. It’s free, but fairly graphics intense and requires a high speed Internet connection. Then the user needs to go through Welcome Island, where they will learn how to modify their avatar and navigate in the virtual space. There’s a fairly steep learning curve, but it can be fun and there are helpful ‘citizens’ every step of the way. Then, if the user wants to learn to build or script objects, they will have to spend some time in a ‘sandbox’ to learn how to use the online building tools available to them. Furthermore, because one can do something in a virtual universe does not necessarily mean that it is worth doing.

The author, a space monkey, relaxes in the CAS virtual living room

“I think putting on public lectures, public events—those are things you can really experience,” Shaw said. “The danger is that it doesn’t replace human interaction. And we have a huge constraint on faculty time. I don’t think (it’s a case of) people aren’t interested (in Second Life) but it takes a lot of time to use it.”

Shaw holds an Interdisciplinary class in summer, World Mythology, in which students and teachers meet in Second Life. For distance learning, Shaw says it’s a lot better than Blackboard.

“I’ll be doing some traveling and be able to come in from wherever I am in the world and meet with them, and so will the other instructor,” Shaw said. “And there are some areas in Second Life that we’ll be able to teleport to and take a look at as a class.”

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