Hamilton: City of the future?

McMaster Library in Second Life

Anyone keeping their eye on library & education technology trends in Canada can’t help but notice the innovative and forward-looking developments at the twin beacons of education in Hamilton, Ontario: McMaster University and Mohawk College.

The most obvious developments are their forays into Second Life. This article from the Hamilton Spectator provides more details.

McMaster is being led by new University Librarian Jeffrey Trzeciak. In a sign that the university is fully behind his vision of the future of academic library service, he recently outlined the job descriptions for 4 new librarians they plan to hire. The most intriguing being the so-called, “gaming librarian”.

If Second Life is part of the future of libraries I figured I needed to understand it better so I downloaded the software and created an avatar a few weeks ago. My previous experience in a rich multi-user environment like SL was the not-so-productive year or so I devoted to the game Asheron’s Call. I can now proudly say I can run, fly, sit, etc. in SL. I must admit missing the ability to launch fireballs and kill ice monsters like in Asheron’s Call.

The times I have dropped by the McMaster Library, no one was there but I got a chance to interact with the terminals they have there which describe the services available. They provide links to services like the library catalogue.

Recent articles like this one from the New York Times and CNET discuss the investments schools are making in environments like SL. Theoretically, I can see how having virtual classes in SL would provide a more personal touch to students enrolled in on-line courses. They may help overcome some of the issues in student interaction and colloboration that can be a challenge in a more text-based environment. On this concept of leveraging the SL environment for educational uses, here is some information about the Sloodle project for those throwing off the shackles of Blackboard/WebCT for Moodle.

Mohawk College in Second Life

Mohawk does not appear to be very shy about their investment in SL. Instead of the modest one-level structure of the McMaster library, they have purchased an entire island and replicated an entire building on their campus. As you can see in the picture, they even have recycling bins.

Virtual environmentalism at Mohawk College

At this point it appears that they are only using their location in SL to promote the school and provide some basic interaction. But given the fact that they have their own island I would think they have grander plans. I am sure this will include the library, given that they are one of the more innovative college libraries around. Their BRAIN blog and Library Research Skill Instruction Blog are some of the better examples of 2.0 outreach and service. It is kind of odd though that one blog is made with WordPress and the other is made with Blogger. (Update February 25, 2007 they have decided to switch their BRAIN blog to the WordPress team)

To help keep abreast of developments in the educational side of SL I’ll try to keep my eye on the SimTeach Wiki.

So a salute to those in Steeltown helping to push the envelope, and I won’t even make a joke about how a virtual trip to Hamilton is far more pleasant than the real thing (I’m the son of a Hamiltonian so I can get away with saying that).

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