That learning network extends far beyond the classroom. UMaine students chat with people from France, England or Japan (Second Life provides a universal translator). They also collaborate virtually with people nationwide, including their counterparts in Nebraska and central Michigan, sharing first-hand experiences about the challenges and opportunities of computer-mediated communication.
“While students are in the midst of it, it’s engaging and fun,” Sherblom says. “Upon reflection, they learn serious lessons about the ways in which we communicate.”
Second Life also provides a research environment where Sherblom, Withers and Leonard are better able to understand the ways in which the medium influences individual and group communication. Their team is one of the first to study these concepts specific to Second Life.
“Originally, people said (computer-mediated communication) is so new, it’s going to completely change the way we do things,” says Leonard, whose classes deal with issues of communication, computer-mediated communication and leadership. “What we’re finding is that we actually are bringing many of our expectations and behaviors online with us. Issues of credibility and trustworthiness are still very important.”