Harvard prof holds law class in the virtual world of Second Life

Professor Charles R. Nesson is offering a course called "CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion," but it won't be held on the Cambridge campus.

As if a virtual world created by its residents wasn't wacky enough, a quirky Harvard professor has announced he's going to hold a law class there, reports The Harvard Crimson.

Harvard Law professor Charles R. Nesson is offering a course called "CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion," but it won't be held on the Cambridge campus. Law students and Internet users can sign up for his class at Second Life, a three-dimensional virtual community.

An unconventional idea requires unconventional marketing. Nesson and his Harvard Law School graduate daughter advertised the course through a YouTube promotional tape narrated by his Second Life persona—called an "avatar." His daughter, who makes a brief appearance, says, "in Second Life, the possibilities of what we can do are endless" as she transforms into a butterfly.

The general public won't get course credit but they can view lecture tapes and discuss class materials with professors and other students on Berkman Island, a space in Second Life that resembles Harvard Law School.

Clinical Professor of Law John G. Palfrey VI, says, "one thing we don't do enough at Harvard or as teachers anywhere is to introduce people to new technologies, and the medium is the message to a certain point."

Giving a course in a virtual world may allow some people to participate in classroom conversations who might not normally have the courage to spar with some of the brightest legal scholars.

William James, an Extension School student working toward a citation in legal studies, says that "of course there are obvious differences [between a course in Second Life and real life], which can detract from or add to the experience. Some people don't have the confidence to interact in a classroom, especially with one of the world's greatest law professors, but can do so in Second Life."