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Using the Virtual World of Second Life to teach Computer Hardware and Physics

Presentation Description

Two years ago we presented our recently completed virtual PC computer in the world of Second Life to the NYSETA Conference in Corning, NY as part of the Electrical Interest group track. We were asked by that group to come back and show our findings after we had a few years’ experience and had the opportunity to collect student data. This paper addresses this request and more. Our colleague, professor Vicki Robinson, also developed a number of activities which allows students to do Physics experiments and can gather data and test them virtually. Both professors’ findings will be presented in this paper in addition to a tour of these virtual environments.

Computer Hardware

Two predictable challenges the authors regularly face in a computer technology hardware course are first getting students to read and memorize hardware components and purposes and secondly to teach students basic trouble shooting skills and logic. The authors developed a Second Life (SL) virtual computer environment to address these two challenges. These challenges correspond to two of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives, knowledge and application of knowledge. Memorizing component names and functions corresponded to Bloom’s knowledge category, which were defined as phase 1 of this research. The trouble shooting activity corresponded to the application of that knowledge which was defined as phase 2. Phase 1 and Phase 2 were implemented over two academic years with three different instructors. Course sections were randomly assigned to the SL activities.

The SL computer environment allowed students to actually fly their avatar inside a computer and click on computer components allowing the student to read the description and purpose of each component.  The student’s avatar was also capable of turning on and off the computer monitor by simulating hardware errors such as unplugging the video card or turning off the power supply.  The authors gave a component-labeling test after the SL activity to the sections of classes that spent at least one hour in Second Life. The same component-labeling test was also given to a control group of students who received instruction in a standard hands-on lab with instructors explaining the content.


Professor Robinson developed 16 Physics activities that students use in the virtual world of SL. These activities allow the students to practice physics concepts including one-dimensional constant motion, acceleration in a straight line, vector addition and resolution, free fall, graphing, volume displacement, specific gravity, density, buoyancy, translational statics, density and some associated concepts such as area and volume.  Students complete labs using one or more of these concepts in the classroom. For homework they are required to come into Second Life, gather data from the experiments there, and use that data to complete homework problems on Webassign.


The authors’ results proved convincingly that the virtual world of SL is a valid tool for both student learning of technical concepts and for teaching trouble-shooting skills in the Physics and PC Hardware arenas. The authors’ statistical results will be presented as well as a tour of our virtual computer and Physics labs.