Financial literacy moves to Second Life
Ohio University and credit union industry leaders have launched a new educational video game that uses the virtual world Second Life to teach financial skills to young people.
The game, Credit Union Island, is designed for high school students. Based in the teen grid of Second Life, a simulated world with millions of users, the game enables players to guide their avatars through real-life financial decisions such as taking out a college loan, making car payments and buying a home.
Credit Union Island  was developed by Ohio University's Virtual Immersive Technologies and Arts for Learning (VITAL) Lab  and sponsored by Members United Corporate Federal Credit Union and the Filene Research Institute.
"We've been working on the forefront of immersive technologies in learning applications for a few years," said Dr. Chang Liu, VITAL Lab director and associate professor of computer science in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology. "This project gave us an opportunity to collaborate internally with the university's education and finance departments and externally with the credit union industry to make a real-world impact in this important area."
The VITAL Lab is a multidisciplinary lab that incorporates engineering, computer science, fine arts, education and other specialties to create appealing and effective 3-D learning applications. By drawing students into an appealing, Web-based game, Credit Union Island aims both to help young people through financial education and to demonstrate the effectiveness of immersive technology in education.
"Our ultimate goal was to make the game as engaging as possible," said Scott Moriarty, of the Filene Research Institute, a think tank for the credit union industry. According to Moriarty, many high school students receive little in the way of financial education. The hope is that playing Credit Union Island will give them knowledge that will provide life-long benefits.
Professor of Finance Roger Shelor, who participated in the game's development, says he views the game as a new kind of vehicle for financial education.
"I've had a couple opportunities to share parts of the game with my undergraduate business students and our professional MBA students, and all of them have given me a lot of positive feedback," Shelor said.
The VITAL Lab consulted with area high schools for feedback from students and teachers.
"We're very excited to see how this works in the classroom," said Teresa Franklin, associate professor of education.
To facilitate classroom use, Credit Union Island only takes about 30 minutes to complete, but the designers plan to expand the game for longer and more complex play. The second phase of development will include highways on which players can drive their cars, credit cards they can use for purchases, and a shopping mall where they can buy furniture for their homes.
"We want to engage the power of this wonderful new technology for all teachers and students around the world," Liu said.
The game is accessible now to any users of Second Life's Teen Grid. Teachers interested in using the game can visit filene.org  for more information.
Ohio University was among the first universities to develop functioning campuses in Second Life. In the two years since the institution purchased land in the virtual world, classes in subjects ranging from English to engineering have been conducted on the virtual campus. Groups such as the Ohio Minority Health Council and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Ohio Environmental Education Fund have helped develop learning activities for students.
In addition, Ohio University was the first to extend the technology to middle school students in Second Life, by creating interactive video games that help children grasp tough science concepts. The work was funded by a $1.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Last year, the university partnered with Princeton Review to offer SAT study sessions to high school students through Second Life.
Reprinted with permission from the Ohio University Outlook