During the late '00s heyday of Second Life, everyone wanted a piece of the popular virtual world, including colleges and universities who set up their own online campuses to engage students and even teach real classes.
Over the years, most of these collegiate islands have vanished into the digital ether, but a few digital campuses still remain, pristine but abandoned by students and faculty alike. Patrick Hogan of Fusion decided to go wandering through these pedagogical ghost towns, from Arkansas State University to the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee.
First, I didn’t see a a single other user during my tour. They are all truly abandoned.
Second, the college islands are bizarre. They mostly are laid out in a way to evoke stereotypes of how college campuses should look, but mixed in is a streak of absurd choices, like classrooms in tree houses and pirate ships. These decisions might have seemed whimsical at the time, but with the dated graphics, they just look weird.
This includes the campus for East Carolina University, which features a pirate ship where you can learn about test anxiety. Hogan notes, however that while many of these virtual education spaces might seem bizarre or unpolished, that's part of their charm—and what makes them compelling artifacts from a time when many institutions were making their first, awkward attempts to create digital spaces and engage with people online.
"I actually like how most of these islands represent an attempt by education institutions to embrace the weirdness of the web," writes Hogan. "The current crop of education startups seem bland and antiseptic in comparison to these virtual worlds."
Keep online education weird, everybody.