Stephen, Wilson, Frey, Jeremy G. and Coles, Simon J.
Second Life: The next virtual laboratory?
At UK e-Science All Hands Meeting (AHM 2009), United Kingdom.
07 - 09 Dec 2009.
Restricted to Repository staff only
A virtual world is a computer based environment, typically in three dimensions, where a person can
interact and manipulate objects and communicate with others. Users are represented in the virtual
world as avatars, although these are typically 'humans', they can have any shape and size. Virtual
worlds have been used for a number of applications including research, commerce and education. In
this paper we will focus on research-led education.
There have been a number of virtual worlds developed specically for education, such as Active
Worlds Educational Universe (AWEDU), Media Grid and EduSim. Each of these virtual worlds
are aimed at dierent age groups and attempt to simulate dierent aspects of real world teaching within
their environment, such as lectures, demonstrations and group tasks. Virtual worlds can benet the
learning environment as they oer visualisation not available through traditional simulation techniques
and can promote discussion among students who are located across the globe.
Second Life has become the most popular of these virtual worlds with over 1.3 million users. Its
success has come from its easy to use interface, global media coverage and its free-to-use policy. Second
Life also allows, assuming you have the correct permissions, to build objects within its environment
and develop scripts to run within them. It is this functionality that is used to develop its educational
areas, such as virtual lecture theatres (with streamed media), interactive (and dynamic) models and
virtual presentations. Second Life is closely linked to other online information stores, for example links
to websites can be given to the user by exhibits as note cards, allowing users to expand the learning
experience as they wish.
The Virtual Chemistry Experience (ViCE) project, funded by Learning and Teaching Enhance-
ment Unit (LATEU), have generated a number of Second Life exhibits designed to promote teach-
ing of chemistry to a wide range of ages. These exhibits focused mainly on drug docking in protein
structures. The Second Life exhibit parallels the e-Malaria web site, developed at the University of
Southampton. A potential anti-malaria drug is generated and submitted to docking simulation software
through a web interface. A docking score is generate which represents how well the candidate molecule
would bind with the dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) and therefore how good a possible drug candidate
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