The Second Life Librarian Shadow Fugazi has created an American Memory Exhibit on Info Island featuring a larger than life Declaration of Independence. The exhibit draws from the Library of Congress’s American Memory division, which provides free access to "written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps and sheet music that document the American experience."
It’s a great effort. However I think this exhibit does not draw upon the full potential for virtual worlds as educational tools.
The exhibit features an enlarged version of the Declaration of Independence, with a linked notecard with the full text as well as an MP3 file of a voice actor reading out the document. There’s a selection of related documents on the first minting of US currency, the meeting of the Constitutional Congress, and the events that led up to the Declaration. Neat stuff.
That said, I have to ask how does porting these texts to a virtual environment enhance citizen’s understanding and appreciation of their import? Are there other ways that this could be presented that leverage more of the strengths of immersive 3D spaces?
What if a space actually recreated the convention hall where the Declaration was debated and signed? Each seat might have a delegate from a state, with information on their positions and arguments if you clicked on him.
Or what if there were dioramas depicting the "repeated Injuries and Usurpations" of the British crown that led the colonists to demand their independence, even at risk of their own lives. I.e. the onerous taxes on goods produced in the colonies like tea, cotton paper, etc. Or the requirement that colonists quarter the British troops in their homes, who often stole and abused their hosts with impunity.
There are many more powerful and engaging ways to use virtual spaces to tell these stories beyond posting documents and notecards. Look at how the virtual Darfur Camp uses space, images, and objects to depict the plight of Sudanese refugees. Or the Spaceflight Museum teaches about astrophysics, or the heart murmur sim educates about medicine.
None of this is to detract from the effort put by the developers to create the SL American Memory Exhibit. I hope it gets lots of traffic and attention and helps inform people about the foundations of our nation. Maybe this will be the beginning of more Library of Congress experiments in virtual environments. That would be tremendous.