How to put SecondLife to good use: plan and run emergency drills on your virtual campus

August 28th, 2007 Karine Joly No Comments

Lately, I’ve read more and more negative comments about SecondLife. Many inside and outside of higher education have questioned the return on investment of SL campuses for universities and colleges as Jeff Young from the Chronicle of Higher Ed wrote a few days ago in the Campus Wired Blog:

More than 100 colleges have set up some kind of presence in Second Life, according to officials at Linden Lab, the company that runs the environment. But are those campuses attracting enough visitors to make the investments worth it? Earlier this year we published an article and a video tour of Case Western Reserve University’s virtual campus, which it used to give tours to prospective students. But during more than a month in which Case Western students were on hand to show folks around, only 40 people wandered by, according to college officials.

Perhaps that’s enough to make it worth the effort — they did get some news-media coverage, after all. Are any college officials working in Second Life starting to have second thoughts?

While I don’t think institutions should bet all their marketing (or academic) dollars on SecondLife, I definitely think SL offers a very interesting and rich platform for distance learning, but also for any types of learning that can’t take place easily in the real world.

As regular readers know I’ve been following the latest developments in crisis communication for a while. I just wrapped up a feature article about the topic for University Affairs to be published in the October issue of this Canadian magazine.

Thanks to UA editor Peggy Berkowitz, the article will also include some reporting about an emergency training exercise that was conducted on August 15 at The University of Western Ontario – that was 2 weeks after I submitted my final draft.

At Western, the exercise had some consequences for the campus community: University Drive was closed during several hours.

This is one of the reasons why these drills can’t be run too often on real campuses.

But, what about on virtual campuses?

If your campus has already been replicated in SecondLife, it wouldn’t take much (ok, you’d have to train your emergency team to move around in SL) to schedule these trainings there.

I knew emergency response training was already taking place in SL when I started to write this post, but I stumbled upon a great initiative by Idaho State University while searching for a couple of examples.

The Idaho Bioterrorism Awareness and Preparedness Program (IBAPP) and the Institute of Rural Health at Idaho State University launched a few months ago Play2Train, a virtual “playground” to run emergency response exercises

This virtual environment spreads over two islands Asterix and Obelix (65536 x 2 sq. meters), with one island dedicated to a virtual town and the other a virtual hospital. The design of this virtual environment is influenced by dioramas frequently used by emergency services to support their tabletop exercises. A diorama is a partially three dimensional full-size replica or scale model of a landscape typically showing historical events, nature scenes, cityscapes, etc. for purposes of education or entertainment

What they are doing is really great (I’m embedding below the 16-minute video where Ramesh Ramloll, the project manager of Play2Train, explains what it is and what it can do):

Now, if it were possible to “unpack” — on any SL university campus — special crisis/emergency scenarios leveraging what has been done on the Play2Train islands, this would provide the next best thing to these emergency drills that have become so crucial for institutions after the Virginia Tech Tragedy.

Don’t you think so?

Got a question or comment?