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Nursing education 2.0: second life.


Have you ever wished that you took an alternative path in your life's journey? Well, there is good news. You can have a second life. You can create a virtual life in a virtual new world. * This is the second in a series about Web 2.0 tools and how you can use them to transform nursing education. According to the 2007 Horizon Report, the time-to-adoption for virtual world is between two and three years (1, p. 18). So, unless you are retiring within that window, you might want to learn more about the potential of virtual worlds in nursing education.

Virtual Worlds When most of us think of virtual worlds, we picture video games where people shoot aliens or slay dragons, or wear helmets and data gloves to participate in a different reality. But here we are talking about the virtual worlds that exist on the Internet and make use of Web 2.0 technologies to create simulated experiences. "Virtual worlds are richly immersive and highly scalable 3D environments" (1, p. 18). The most popular are multiuser spaces where many people (avatars) interact with each other in real time (1). Virtual worlds are not just for computer geeks. Real corporations, such as BMW, American Apparel, and Coca-Cola, use them to sell products. BusinessWeek Online has a good slide show of companies using virtual worlds ( 1117_secondlife/index_01.htm) on a site developed in 2006. Another website, Business Communicators of Second Life[R], provides an extensive listing of uses ( nicators/projects/index.html). Even the National Review of Medicine is talking about Second Life (2).

According to Dede, "The standard 'world to the desktop' interface is now complemented by multi-user environments in which people's avatars interact with each other, computer-based agents, and digital artifacts in a simulated context" (3). This is important because neomillennial learning styles include: "fluency in multiple media and in simulation-based virtual settings, communal learning, a balance among experiential learning, guided mentoring and collection reflection.... and co-design of learning experiences personalized to individual needs and preferences" (3). Mediated immersion is how this generation of learners will construct their knowledge (3). So, forget the idea that virtual worlds are merely games and remember that "pure virtual worlds like Second Life ... can be applied to any context" (1)--even higher education and health care.

Let's start with a description of Second Life (SL). According to the homepage (, SL "is a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents." In this case, resident refers to an end user, who is represented in the virtual world as an avatar. In case you are not familiar with the term, an avatar is a representation of oneself in a two- or three-dimensional world. Your avatar can be a character, person, or even an animal or icon. For example, I can be a Teaching Diva with purple hair if I want, or a nurse dressed like Florence Nightingale. According to Wikipedia, SL was developed by Linden Lab and is an advanced level of social network ... where "Residents can explore, meet other Residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, create and trade items (virtual property) and services from one another" (4). To get an idea of what it is like to be part of SL, a YouTube video will take you on a tour of Thomson NETg (a major publisher) in Second Life at HOmaFyk.

Relationship to Learning So, why is SL important to higher education? This particular tool represents common features of the Web 2.0 movement. First, it is an immersive environment where users interact and construct knowledge. Second, it is highly dependent on user-generated content. Remember, the web is moving from a dissemination tool to one where users create and design to add value. Third, it is a part of the social networking movement. SL is about interacting within a multiuser environment.

Perhaps the most convincing case for SL is provided on the Second Life Education Wiki ( title=Second_Life_Education_Wiki): "Second Life provides a unique and flexible environment for educators interested in distance learning, computer-supported cooperative work, simulation, new media studies, and corporate training. Second Life provides an opportunity to use simulation in a safe environment to enhance experiential learning, allowing individuals to practice skills, try new ideas, and learn from their mistakes.... Students and educators can work together in Second Life from anywhere in the world as part of a globally networked virtual classroom environment."

If you use constructivist learning theory, then SL is a good fit for you. David M. Antonacci and Nellie Modaress, who work at the University of Kansas Medical Center, describe these virtual worlds through a constructivist learning framework on their website at ESW2005/SLPresentationOutline.htm.

According to EDUCAUSE's 7 Things You Should Know About Virtual Worlds, the significance of virtual worlds in education is the "potential to foster constructivist learning, putting students in contact with others in an immersive environment that challenges them to figure out things for themselves, without explicit learning objectives and assessment" (4). A second significant feature is the ability for interactions to occur without any physical boundaries. SL is truly a global networked learning space with great potential for creating simulated environments for a variety of educational disciplines. Think about the implications for creating a global nursing community where our students interact and work together toward solving the nursing issues so apparent across the globe.

There are a few downsides to virtual worlds. The first is: "The effort to design a virtual world is not justified in terms of specific learning objectives" (5). Second, unguided exploration can be a distraction and lead to students simply goofing off (5). Third, to create these virtual worlds takes a tremendous amount of time (which for faculty on the tenure track may not be rewarded), sufficient hardware and software, and some technical comfort. If you can obtain grant funding, it is a good idea to hire some technical help.

On the positive side, virtual worlds offer tremendous opportunities for experimentation and research, particularly among doctoral students who are conducting research in higher education. The best-known research happening in this area is the work of a PhD student from Ball State University, Sarah Robbins (aka Intellagirl). To read about her research, visit www.secondlife.

Following are some great examples of the use of virtual worlds in education, with a particular emphasis on health care:

* Dartmouth College's Synthetic Environments for Emergency Response Simulation is a virtual prototyping experiment funded by the Department of Homeland Security. It is an immersive multiuser environment to train emergency responders. See www.ists.

* Institute of Rural Health Idaho State University is using a multiuser immersive environment to host virtual table top exercises in bioterrorism awareness and preparedness educational programs. See

* The Centers for Disease Control has set up its first test site for sharing public health information in an online, cyber community. Meet Hygeia Philo (lover of health), a virtual public health worker at /about/stateofcdc/everywhere/secondLife.htm.

* Genetics in Second Life is a site created just this April by Bertalan Mesko, a medical student at the University of Debrecen. Visit genetics-in-second-life/.

* The American Cancer Society's Second Life Relay For Life, a virtual relay for raising money, is accessed at docroot/GI/content/GI_1_8_Second_Life_ Relay.asp.

* Harvard University's River City Project is a virtual mutliuser environment designed to teach middle school kids about disease transmission and the scientific method. Visit

* Virtual Hallucinations Project at University of California at Davis by Dr. Peter Yellowlees, a pioneer using Second Life. See try/research/virtual.html.

* Harvard University's CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion is a course offered jointly by Harvard Law School and the Harvard Extension School at http://

By now, having seen the potential not only for nursing education but for interacting with patients, you must be inspired. If you are interested in creating new learning opportunities that will transform your nursing curriculum, this may be the right direction for you. And if you have already developed some virtual worlds or want to, please let me know at

My advice is to check out some of the great resources available online and create a second life for you and your students. You can get a land grant at Campus Life ( See the Sidebar for resources to help you get started.


(1.) New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2007). The horizon report: 2007 edition. [Online].Available:

(2.) Woodford, P. (2007, March 30). Medicine's not-so-secret Second Life: Public health education thrives in so-called virtual worlds. National Review of Medicine, 4(6). [Online].Available: www.national advances_medicine_6.html.

(3.) Dede, C. (2005). Planning for neomillennial learning styles. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 28(1). [Online]. Available: eqm0511.asp?bhcp= 1.

(4.) Wikipedia. (2007). Second Life. [Online].Available:

(5.) Educause Learning Initiative. (2006, June). 7 Things you should know about virtual worlds. [Online]. Available: DetailPage/666?lD=ELI7015.
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Title Annotation:Emerging Technologies Center
Author:Skiba, Diane J.
Publication:Nursing Education Perspectives
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2007
Previous Article:In memoriam.
Next Article:Integrative Health Promotion: Conceptual Bases for Nursing Practice.

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