Find Your Passion: The Virtual Capstone

Honors student helps bring UA to life in online world

Tyler House

A computer user's persona, or avatar, stands outside a replica of Graves Hall constructed by House, while the computer based honors student, below, poses outside the door of the real thing.
(Photo by Zach Riggins)

Tyler House

By Laura Doty

Students interested in The University of Alabama now have a new and exciting way to “tour” campus – through an online “world,” known as Second Life.

UA student Tyler House is one of the architects behind this new opportunity.

Second Life, which opened to the public in 2003, is an online 3-D virtual world, according to its Web site. It has millions of participants, called residents, spanning the world. Different locales within Second Life are known as islands. The University of Alabama is one of many universities who are part of this virtual world.

House, a senior mechanical engineering major from Rogersville, Ala., is one student who is making the virtual tour a reality. House is recreating UA’s Graves and Carmichael Halls into virtual images.

“The purpose of the island is to be used as an academic tool, which encompasses a few different things,” House says.

These things include working on an online diploma from UA, conducting research through the island, as well as using the island as a recruiting tool. According to House, the recruiting aspect is meant to target anyone interested in the University, not just those already engaged in Second Life.

Tyler House
House stands in front of Graves Hall, one of the campus buildings he "built" in Second Life.
(Photo by Zach Riggins)

House first began working in Second Life in January 2008, thanks to Dr. Rick Houser, the department head of educational studies in psychology, research methodology & counseling. Houser submitted a research proposal for a student to learn to construct in Second Life.

“I spoke with Tyler about the project, and he was very interested in learning to build in Second Life,” Houser says. “The goal we set was to construct replicas of Carmichael Hall, Graves Hall and Denny Chimes in Second Life on the UA College of Education island.”

As a member of the Computer Based Honors Program, House is required to complete four semesters of research projects. He has completed the building of the halls, and he is now expanding his work, including through related research. According to House, visitors to the island will be able to participate in surveys or studies, and House and his colleagues will gather information based on their responses.

House works with Andrew Mitchell and Joseph Florence, both CBH students, as well as Dr. Steve Thoma, a professor in the educational psychology department.

“Dr. Steve Thoma is working with us, specifically on the morals/ethics research study. Dr. Thoma is a national expert on moral development and moral decision-making,” Houser says.

House, who was not actively involved with Second Life before this project, says he has been a fan of computers since he was 9. His interest in computers recently increased, in large part because of his involvement in CBH and his having greater access to more powerful computers.

Utilization of technology is one reason that House thinks so many people are interested in Second Life and its online world.

“For the younger generation, I think it has a lot to do with everything being so technology driven,” he says. “Cell phones, computers, iPods are all much more common now than they were even just a few years ago. Having this technology at your fingertips allows for virtual communities such as Second Life to become very popular.”

Houser, on the other hand, thinks that Second Life appeals to people on a more basic level.

“I think others find this interesting because of the opportunities for creativity and completing something concrete with a visible outcome,” Houser says.

The University of Alabama island on Second Life certainly is concrete thanks to Tyler House.

To learn more about Second Life, visit http://secondlife.com/.

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Doty is a graduate student in UA’s College of Communication and Information Sciences, and she is pursuing a master’s degree within the advertising and public relations program.

This story is part of the Find Your Passion feature section of the UA home page. For more stories, please visit Find Your Passion or Crimson Spotlight. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.