The SLENZ Update – No 116, July 22, 2009

The Saint Leo experience

Building a university ‘community’

on a Second Life campus

… and gaining real new students virtually


Saint Leo University, Tampa, Florida  has only been  active in Second Life for one year but, according to an interview published by  Pathfinder Linden,  has already  succeeded in a surprising way:  it has  enrolled new students directly from Second Life for  its distance education Center for Online Learning.

The Centre allows students to pursue degree programs regardless of physical location.

Saint Leo’s has three islands in Second Life.

The disclosure of the surprise enrollments  from Second Life was made to Pathfinder Linden by SaintLEOlions Zimer (see interview picture right)  in Real Life, Michael Dadez, a web analyst at the Center for Online Learning and  the person mainly responsible for Saint Leo’s Second Life presence.

Asked by Second Life’s Pathfinder Linden about an official enrollment from  Saint Leo’s  Second Life presence SaintLEOlions Zimer said:  “We have actually had more than one! It’s something we never thought would be a purpose of our presence in Second Life, but it has turned out well for us. We have had five students now enroll at Saint Leo University that have found us through Second Life! We are a nonprofit private University, so anything that shows a return on investment helps.”stleo_004

SaintLEOlions Zimer noted that Saint Leo’s used the virtual campus for programming, gathering, and a place to hold virtual events open to all of its almost 10,000 online and continuing education students along with 1,700 campus students.

“We also have another 1,700 graduate students,” he said. “It’s not easy to build a community when so many of our students are either online or not located on the main campus in Florida.

“I created this virtual campus with the students in mind and have given them residence hall rooms to live in, weekly live music events in the coffee house, and weekly contests. There also is an art gallery that features work from online and on campus staff and students as well as from residents all over Second Life. We have performance art shows and DJs.”

Agreeing that Saint Leo’s was exploring  new distance learning techniques to support off campus students and that the building of a community where students could socialise and make interpersonal connections was a key component of a successful university campus in real life, SaintLEOlions Zimer, said, ” Yes, that is what we are going for. I look at it as people look at going to work. If you love your job, it is never work. If you love school, it is never really school. It’s fun.”

In the coming  year Saint Leo plans on teaching virtual classes in Second Life that will count towards a degree (three credits), allowing people to take the classes as a non-degree seeking student, and applying to be a Community Gateway to help introduce new Residents to Second Life.