New year’s greetings from Japan! First of all, let me thank you and your colleagues at Modesto City Schools for your generous offer to have some cultural exchanges on the virtual world called Second Life. Although I had no idea what SL was when I first heard you mention it at the Chinese restaurant we met for the first time, I immediately knew that we were diving into a very rewarding and yet very challenging field of education. I have been coordinating international cultural exchange programs for more than two decades now and have tried many different things from letter exchanges to video conferencing. They are fine at first but then they seem to go stale after a few exchanges. But building up a whole new campus, or two campuses (one for American students and the other for Japanese students), or even three campuses (a third campus for International exchanges) on three islands? It is bound to work out fine.Students will not be asked to perform anything they usually don’t do for the sake of cultural exchanges (Japanese bon dances, for example, have become so traditional that they could only be seen at international festivals outside Japan). Instead they will be asked to build on an island whose topographical shapes could even be designed by themselves a school of their own conception. If their language skills are strong enough, they could immediately begin a joint project. If not, each group of students first work on their own campus at first and then as their language skills grow stronger, they can start collaborating with each other. Indeed, where else could people living thousands of miles away from each other, work together and learn from each other?
Certainly, there are some who seem to be against using SL in classroom.
They say that there are some adult contents found in SL and therefore that it is not appropriate for classroom use. But these people do not know that the islands we are going to use are accessible only to those who are directly involved in this PacRimX project. And what that means is that even I, who am in charge of this exchange program on this side of the Pacific, haven’t been allowed to enter the islands yet because I haven’t passed my background check by Linden Lab yet. But those who were able to criticize our project upon hearing about it were a very well-informed minority; the average Japanese people, including even what we call “Internet Otaku”, or those who are addicted to the Internet, had never heard of it until very recently.
Until 26 December, 2006, the average Japanese had never heard of Second Life. But the situation changed dramatically on 26 December, when the Nikkei (the Nihon Keizai Shinbun, lit. “Japan Economy Newspaper, a Wall Street Journal of Japan) covered SL on their front page. On that very day, we had a few telephone calls from those who had heard of our commitment to PacRimX. They all wanted to know if the Second Life covered in the Nikkei is the same one we are going to use as of April. I am sure that the more publicity SL enjoys here in Japan, the more negative comments, as well as positive ones, we will hear about it. But people will soon realize that SL is not merely a game but as revolutionary a communication tool as the email has been.
On the New Year’s Day
Yasuaki Michael Kuromiya