1) Kids use these “places” like Second Life, Facebook, etc. mostly for socializing.
I have to agree. Kids mostly use these tools for social reasons. For several reasons: I think kids are very social and tend to use phones, pre-classroom time, and in-the-hallway-time all for socializing with each other. So the primary motivation for kids to use social networking tools are for non-academic purposes. Additionally, they don't have many alternatives to socializing in these places because there are not many educational-focused social web sites that are designed to provide to help or assist with learning in the same format as existing sites focused on socializing.
But surprisingly, kids use social networks for educational purposes on their own. One study called Creating & Connecting: Research and Guidelines on Online Social--And Educational--Networking indicated the following:
Students report that one of the most common topics of conversation on the social networking scene is education. Almost 60 percent of students who use social networking talk about education topics online and, surprisingly, more than 50 percent talk specifically about schoolwork.
I have blogged about this in Teens, Tweens and Social Networking Unfortunately I can no longer find that entire report but here is an article that summarizes much of the report. Research: Students Actually Use the Internet for Education.
2) Currently, it seems that much of the Second Life work is more about SL itself — how to use it, what you can do, etc. -- rather than the actual educational effectiveness.
This too is true. Why? Well one reason is because the technology is so new that people need to understand how to use the technology before they can study it. It needs to be up and running before it can be studied. Having said that, people are now starting to publish some research articles and case studies about Second Life but it is still relatively new. Although, I have seen a good deal of initiatives in terms of research starting to surface.
But if you want to study social networking in online worlds, there are a number of articles and research studies that have used the World of Warcraft as the virtual world being studied and other online role play video games. In fact a good book for setting the stage for researching or looking into virtual worlds is a book called Synthetic Worlds.
Also, look into other works by Edward Castronova. Here is an article by Castronova Virtual Worlds: A First-Hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian Frontier
Also in the May issue of the Harvard Business Review research conducted at IBM on the topic of social worlds and networking. Check out Tony O'Driscoll's posting titled HBR: Leadership’s Online Labs also check out a good summary by John Rice titled Study: MMORPGs Critical in Developing Tomorrow’s Business Leaders
3) Much of educators’ enthusiasm falls short of the mark by deferring to what could be called the “You can...” syndrome. That is, the endless possibilities inherent in a system are the source of excitement, but get nailed down in very few instances.
Again, I agree. The educational community is still nailing down what works and what doesn't but this is true in the adoption of all new technologies. I've written about that in The Metaverse Hype, Decline and Realism Cycle--We've Seen It Before. so we are in the stage of "You Can..." but the only way to get out of that stage is to actually do something with the software and then study the results. One school doing a lot of "actual work" in the area of Second Life is Ohio State. Check out the VITAL Lab at Ohio University. Check out their videos on YouTube. One example is posted below.
Also, check out this posting about a science lab in Second Life.
Here is a link to many different VITAL Lab videos.
Certainly looking for other resources or ideas, please feel free to contribut and comment. Great questions, thanks for the input and please let me know if you agree or disagree with the answers.
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