INSEAD: Where did the initiative come from to create a virtual campus on Second Life?
Miklos Sarvary: It is part of my role as Director of the International Centre for Learning Innovation, to explore and develop new learning technologies, methods, ideas, etc., which can be incorporated in the design and delivery of INSEAD's MBA and Executive Education programmes.
One of the centre's goals is to extend our reach to participants beyond the length of their programme on campus, so that our faculty can follow up, helping them to apply skills and implement knowledge gained from the programme they took at INSEAD. We have already used webinars and action learning programmes, but since the recent explosion of Second Life, it seems to be an obvious route for us to take at a very low cost for both INSEAD and our participants.
INSEAD: Can you tell us about the development of our virtual campus and what stage it has reached?
MS: We started with a small piece of land where we built our first amphi and held some experimental virtual classes with current MBA students. The classes were very successful, receiving excellent feedback as the students had a very similar experience to that of being face-to-face in the classroom. At this stage we bought an island and started to develop a full blown campus, where we intend to include all of INSEAD's activities. In many areas we will become more efficient. For example, we have been for some years, renting a research laboratory in Paris which costs us a substantial amount of money just for the real estate. The cost of building a research laboratory on our virtual campus was next to nothing.
At the moment the virtual campus offers the research laboratory, amphi space, reception and information points and lounge and bar areas. We are going to build a library and intend to create links to all services that we have on our website, such as faculty presentations, research, databases, course information, etc.
We recently introduced the campus to newly admitted students for frequently asked questions and an overall experience of the environment. We also held a booth to show the campus to alumni
Prof. Miklos Sarvary
Virtual campus plan
INSEAD virtual classroom
returning to Fontainebleau for their reunions at the end of last May, encouraging them to use it and take advantage of this manner in which to meet, no matter where they are in the world.
INSEAD: How much has it cost INSEAD to build?
MS: The cost of the island was about €1000. We also pay a monthly fee of about €100. The most expensive part of this project has been the design and build of the campus, costing us so far about €10,000.
INSEAD: Are there any technical difficulties that may cause problems in connection?
MS: As the product is extremely new, yes there have been some technical problems which will be overcome in time. Consider web technology at the beginning of the 90s, this is where we are today with Second Life, it is just the beginning.
On another note, we also need to work with and help our constituencies to understand this virtual world and realise the potential in the initial investment of their resources and time.
INSEAD: How do you think participants will feel with this environment compared to a physical classroom?
MS: It is extremely important for participants to know that this new medium can provide them with the feeling of being physically together at INSEAD. When one discusses Second Life, it is hard to imagine how real the feeling is, which is why I'm inviting everyone to try it because you really do get the feeling that you have a physical presence.
I have carried out a lot of online courses using webex and other web-based interfaces and have found that participants get bored with just watching the screen with pictures and slides, providing no feeling of being together in a classroom. Second Life is so much more technically advanced as you can look and move around and see other participants in the classroom during the presentation.
As an educational institution providing high quality education, we try to give a lot of information in a very short period of time to very busy people. One barrier that we face is taking executives away from their daily work. Their absence can cost the company a lot of money, on top of travel and hotel expenses. Second Life can dramatically reduce these costs as our virtual campus allows faculty to keep in touch with participants, helping them to implement skills and knowledge learnt from attending a programme at INSEAD for a fraction of the cost.
Second Life will never replace face-to-face interaction, but it certainly adds to our offering in a significantly better manner than anything else that we have tried so far in terms of the internet and online tools.
I think that there will be a snowball effect. As more and more users, whether alumni, faculty or the INSEAD community at large start using Second Life and talking about our virtual campus, the amount of users will rise dramatically.
INSEAD: Will programmes be held for both MBA and EDP on a regular basis on Second Life?
MS: Yes, this is my intention and I am positive that it will be very successful. Firstly we need to get all campus facilities up and running, then I will launch a series of workshops for our faculty and administration to learn how to use this platform.
INSEAD: Can you tell us about the population and the companies and organisations that have already established themselves on Second Life?
MS: There are literally thousands of companies from different market sectors, governments, presidential candidates who have their own islands where they can hold debates, to educational institutions. You can find just about anything, even live concerts with famous artists such as Suzanne Vega. IBM has 12 islands, the Swedish government has built an Embassy, Reuters has a permanent correspondence and there are about 20 top educational institutions running programmes. INSEAD is the first business school to have a full blown campus, although I know other schools are thinking about creating theirs as they have been in contact with me to schedule visits of our campus. We have also been approached by a company asking about the possibility of meeting MBA students for recruitment purposes on Second Life to make a short list for information sessions, etc., rather than using email.
I am extremely open to try new ideas on Second Life, such as national weeks - putting up flags costs nothing! You can even buy an INSEAD T-shirt with our logo for five Linden Dollars, which is equivalent to less than one cent. And it will fit you perfectly, even if your avatar is a fish!
INSEAD: How do you see the future of Second Life?
MS: I believe that in the next five to ten years, people will migrate to some form of metaverse such as Second Life from websites that we use today, because of the advantages - the manner in which one can experience the environment, the quality and the amount of places and information that can be found and the fact that you can meet people and communicate with them.
There are many kinds of metaverses. The second largest, after Second Life is the Entropia Universe which has also been very successful, having a population of just under 600,000. Another exists for small children called Club Penguin where your avatar is a small penguin, running around on ice in the North Pole eating fish! It's the same concept where you can chat, but a much simpler interface. A whole generation is being brought up using this type of interface. My prediction is that there will be a few of these infrastructures that will prevail to be the most important ones, with the most users and facilities. I believe that Second Life will fall into this category.