Zunie’s (Elizabeth’s) Page

We got our graduate assistant assignments a few weeks into the first semester of our OT graduate program at Jefferson School of Health Professions, Thomas Jefferson University. At Jefferson, a graduate assistantship is the opportunity to support the faculty in research, teaching, and other scholarly endeavors and get additional financial assistance in return. I looked down at the little slip of paper that held my assignment: “Second Life”. Second Life? What in the world is that? How does this relate to Occupational Therapy? I asked myself. I was told that it was a virtual world, and immediately I pictured myself looking like something along these lines as I logged hours for my supervising professor:

Google Public Domain Image - Virtual reality

Thankfully, Second Life was soon described in better detail, as was the purpose of a graduate assistantship in this virtual environment. As graduate assistants, we would develop exhibits within the virtual world to educate users about their health. After creating my Avatar, Zunie Miggins, I explored the world in which I would live my second life….it was overwhelming to say the least. As a newcomer, it is difficult to wrap your mind about the endless opportunities that Second Life has to offer. Truthfully, I am still surprised even now when I go on explorations of other islands as I come across something that I couldn’t imagine in my wildest dreams.
Nothing puts the uniqueness of Second Life into perspective like building. After building something yourself, you can truly come to appreciate the dedication and skill that goes into creating some of the works of art that you could find in Second Life. Our first building assignment occurred last October, and as such, we created pumpkins. What should have been a simple exercise to teach the basics of building was one of my most frustrating experiences in recent memory! As soon as I thought my spherical pumpkin body had connected to its cylindrical stem, I toggled the camera view controllers and realized that the stem was, in fact, several feet deeper than I had realized. Furthermore, the pumpkin itself was approximately four feet tall. It was then that I realized that this virtual world business would be more challenging than I had originally anticipated. I began to feel a little like the rug had been pulled out from underneath my feet!

Zunie's metaphor about building in SL

Building is not only a fundamental part of second life, but an essential part of my work as a graduate assistant. We received word that our first project would be constructing an adapted playground in Second Life- a playground with equipment that reflected adaptations that would make it accessible to all users, no matter their abilities. This was such an exciting opportunity, that I resolved to work harder on building so that I could contribute in a way that I was proud of. We worked for months brainstorming, researching, creating, experimenting with designs, building, searching for textures, rebuilding, scripting, and testing. Constructing the playground became the biggest learning experience that I have had so far on Second Life. I was able to learn by trial and error, consider my own values and interests, and work out difficulties for myself. In reality, isn’t this what learning in real life is like? This thought left me considerably more “zen” about the concept of building.

Zunie achieving a zen-like state

I am quickly approaching my one-year anniversary with Second Life, and am amazed to think how much I have learned in that year. I am looking forward to using this blog as a reflection on my experience thus far, and chronicling the adventures that are to come!

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