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Vol 40  No 8
January 10, 2008


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Business course requires immersion in virtual world

Second Life Learning
by Meaghan Whelan

Lyle Wetsch’s Second Life avatar.

In Lyle Wetsch’s Business 6004 course Channels and Internet Marketing, you have to create an alter ego and choose a new name. That’s because part of the course takes place in Second Life, a virtual world that is gaining popularity every day.

There are over 10 million registered users and Second Life is growing at a rate of 20 per cent per month.

Second Life is a virtual world that allows users everywhere to log-in and interact with other people and businesses. Users create an avatar – an online alter-ego – that they move through stores, nightclubs, coffee shops, and even universities in a digital environment. Major businesses are already setting up shop in Second Life and they are banking on virtual reality turning into an actual economy.

So far, this new economy is booming. In August 2007, residents of Second Life spent over $90 million US (in real money) on virtual products, services, and fees. The businesses at work in Second Life are using it for a wide variety of applications including virtual product testing and a new form of e-marketing.

The Business 6004 course will examine whether or not it is possible to successfully market a real-life product or service in a virtual world and what challenges face consumers as they move into this virtual environment. As Prof. Wetsch explained, it’s a question that, right now, doesn’t have an answer.

“In my consumer behaviour course, we discuss the different ‘selves’ that everyone projects to the world. The way someone appears and interacts at work might be vastly different from their appearance and actions with family and friends,” Prof. Wetsch explained. “In the real world this can be a somewhat unconscious choice, but in virtual worlds you choose very specifically what face you’ll be presenting, including the gender or even species of your avatar. The question for marketers to consider is whether or not the choices someone makes in their virtual life are the same as the choices they’d make in their real life or how the relationship is different.”

In order to understand the virtual world, students who chose to participate in the Second Life segment of the course are required to spend time interacting in Second Life. They will log their experiences in a blog that will drive class discussions.

“We don’t know the answers to most of the questions around virtual internet marketing. The student experience will drive where this goes,” Prof. Wetsch said. As an academic area, the subject matter is changing so rapidly that the class will not use a textbook. Instead, the class will use websites, video clips, podcasts and blogs. The course will have its own presence in Second Life with a virtual classroom, meeting rooms, and socialization areas provided with the assistance of DELT.

In addition to Second Life, one of the main components of the course is a group project with Google’s Online Marketing Challenge. Google will give $200 US to each student group to partner with a local business operated by Memorial alumni for an online marketing campaign using Google’s AdWords program. Universities all around the world will be competing to see who can create the most effective advertising campaign. As Prof. Wetsch explained, it’s an opportunity for hands-on learning.

“Rather than talking about ‘how would you do this’ and speculating about results, student will see exactly what happens in their campaign and see the results in real time and be required to make adjustments on the fly.”

Student response has been exceptional. The course is offered for the first time in the 2008 winter semester, and filled quickly. Sarah Stoodley, B.Comm. class of 2008, is taking the course.

“I had heard of Second Life, but I didn’t really know much about it,” she said. “My concentration is in marketing so I was immediately drawn to the course. I’m really looking forward to the Google competition and learning more about advertising online,” she explained.

MBA students are not being left out. During intersession Prof. Wetsch will be offering Business 9032, Internet Marketing Management, which will include some of the elements of Business 6004, but also focus on the issues of managing an effective Internet marketing campaign beyond the company website.

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