Second Life for education – the minor divide

I have been asked to prepare a workshop for students enrolled in an E-Learning management course which provides an introduction to Second Life. The objective is to provide students with a basic level of competency in navigating SL such that they can explore and discover some of its educational possibilities.

This relates to a larger project I am working on at CQUniversity where we are investigating the benefits of 3D immersive environments for learning and teaching. One of the challenges that we have anticipated in using tools such as Second Life has been the age restriction on residents – 18+. This challenge is about to be realised. I’ll explain…

The university I work for is located in Australia. The ultimate age of adulthood (majority) in Australia is 18. From 18 onwards, people can vote, drink alcohol, participate in adult entertainment etc, and in the eyes of the law become responsible for themselves. The state of Queensland in which (Central Queensland) CQUniversity is based start children in year 1 of primary (elementary) school, the year they turn 6. This means when they are in year 12 and about to complete their final year of secondary schooling, they turn 17 years old and turn 18 the following year, when many commence their tertiary studies. For those students born in the latter part of the year, they will be a minor for the most part of their first year of study at university.

The E-Learning course is a first year course at CQUniversity, and is likely to have minors enrolled. So how can we accommodate those students who are not legally adults, and are ineligible to be residents in SL?

Before trying to answer that question, Iet’s look at the rationale for why SL is an 18+ virtual world. Its pretty straight forward really as expressed on the second life blog: “…we want to insure that minors do not inadvertently access Second Life or have access to adult content in- world.” Linden Labs appears to be taking a responsible stand on child protection from adult content, and potential predators, which is commendable. The above blog post demonstrates this – although at the time of this writing, I don’t believe it is being enforced as yet. So what are teens to do?

Linden Labs have provided an alternate virtual world for teenagers, known as Teen Second Life (TSL). The Teen Second Life Community Standards states:

Teen Second Life is for ages 13 to 17 only. There is a separate version of Second Life for Residents 18 and over. There is currently no version of Second Life for children ages 12 and under.

From time to time, authorized adults will be allowed to enter Teen Second Life to lead educational projects. We will always let you know who they are and what they are doing in Teen Second Life by posting their names and project information in the Announcements thread on the Second Life Teen Forums.

If you meet an unauthorized adult or an underage child in Teen Second Life you should report that person by immediately contacting an employee of Linden Lab who all have the last name Linden

So while Linden Labs have made provisions for authorised adults to conduct training/classes in TSL, it doesn’t solve the problem of the minor divide where some of your students are 18+, and some aren’t.

I have run out of time, and really don’t have any simple solutions to the problem. So I am keen to hear thoughts from others who may have some ideas to get around this.

So let me know what you think…

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3 thoughts on “Second Life for education – the minor divide

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  1. Hi Dammo – great blog, very interesting. I considered this issue very recently as in Scotland we can have students at university aged 16 and some may not be 18 until half-way through their second year (of a 4 year degree), making us also slightly different from the rest of the UK and world-at-large!
    My solution (serendipitous, rather than considered) is to have the students working in groups – for a few reasons:

    1 – allows co-operation and exploration will be more effective with team work
    2 – the tasks are slightly open-ended and need to be considered beforehand
    3 – reduces the in-class feedback and review as fewer avatars are needed

    So, there will hopefully be someone in the group who is of the age of majority and can take ‘legal control’ of the avatar. I’ve not yet run this project as we recently got support from an in-house competition at the university to encourage the use of SL for innovative purposes. I’m blogging about my progress at http://www.ukcle.typepad.com and also in a private wiki (to prevent students viewing their task ahead of the game!).

  2. Hi Damien,

    I think you have clearly articulated the dilema we have incurred while trying to offer this workshop to our students at CQUniversity. You have most certainly been sensitive to the specific needs of the few students that fall U/18 at the time of this workshop.

    For other bloggers benefit, after having negotiated with the university lawyers, I have put together a waiver for parents/guardians to sign that will allow their teenager to participate in the workshop. We will also ensure strict adult supervision.

    I will be sending this blog address to all the course students and it will be interesting to see what sort of responses you may receive.

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