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Rochester Institute of Technology
College of Liberal Arts
Department of Communication
Liberal Arts Takes the Virtual Plunge Into Second Life
by Nicolette Lewis


The learning experience at RIT has surged full-throttle into another reality—virtual reality.

Dr. Sue Barnes (Department of Communication) and Dr. Neil Hair (College of Business) are teaching an online advertising course (Winter 2008) that affords students the best of both worlds in higher education.  One portion of the course takes place in a traditional, in-class setting, while the other occurs in a popular online environment known as Second Life.
Released in 2003, Second Life is an online environment where users can create a world to their liking.  Since its implementation, this 3-D virtual world has expanded to the point that business owners now develop their own virtual enterprises and reap actual profits.  It is this area that Drs. Barnes and Hair intend to capitalize on—business marketing, business advertising.

Regarding the online course, Professors Barnes and Hair guide students in exploring online advertisements.  The experience helps students discover what constitutes effective advertising, and how these ads are used to aid online businesses.  Drs. Barnes and Hair agree that students will gain hands-on experience that will prove fruitful, especially in relation to their professional fields.

“We would like students to be able to find out and understand how to commercialize using Second Life,” said Dr. Hair.

“Students’ understanding in this area” he continued, “will then aid them as they create advertisements for actual clients stationed in Second Life.”

Furthermore, students are divided into teams in which they “will try to produce the best advertisements possible” for their assigned clients, stated Dr. Barnes.  “Together,” she said, “the students will achieve a common goal: exploring virtual environments to see what can and cannot be achieved in online advertising.”

Drs. Barnes and Hair will conduct qualitative research throughout the course to gain feedback from the students.  Since this is the first time the class is being given at RIT, they are particularly interested in assessing how comfortably the students functioned in this 3-D online environment.

“Based on the information we receive from the students,” Dr. Barnes said, “we’ll be able to decide if [we want to] continue this course in the future.”

“This particular course” stated Dr. Hair, “will serve as great résumé material...Students will have had hands-on experience in this particular area;enabling them to explain to potential employers what can and cannot be achieved in virtual environments.”

For those students unable to register for the course the first time around, and are interested in taking it (if it is being offered again), Professors Barnes and Hair suggest visiting the Second Life website (  The site gives a sufficient run down on what Second Life is, what the virtual environment has to offer, and most importantly, it will allow students to see how businesses operate in the virtual world. 

Moreover, Dr. Hair’s website ( covers information such as the prerequisites for the course, and course objectives among other things.

The ultimate learning experience is here, and the time is now.

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