From 2008-12 there was a marked increase nationally in the usage of virtual environments in the humanities and sciences, as well as significant interest in using these environments as teaching and research tools in universities. With the creation of its first “sim” (simulated environment) in Second Life (SL) in April 2008 (the ASU Virtual Campus), ASU was riding the crest of this wave and with its diverse projects crossing all areas of the university is at the forefront of universities employing this digital tool. In October 2009 we added the ASU Heritage Island, and in 2010 we added ASU Heritage South, ASU Campus West, and the ASU Digital Initiatives sim. These islands have a tremendous amount of traffic from online visitors to the sites, and in June 2010 the Blueberry Gallery on the ASU Virtual Campus was designated a Top Ten Destination in Second Life by Linden Labs, the parent company of Second Life.
Some of the most interesting work that we have done in Second Life involves the ASU Heritage sites. We have created photorealistic interactive recreations of the sites in Second Life, and they allow the online visitor a better sense of the feel of the original sites. Since recreating the sites on the Second Life sims, we have had significant traffic from all over the world (about 10,000 unique visitors per year), and the sites are often used for virtual field trips in K-12 Arkansas history classes.
The heritage sims include the Dyess sim, which houses the historic Dyess colony and boyhood home of Johnny Cash. For more information about the sim, please visit the Dyess website. During the restoration of the Cash house, a billboard with the Second Life model of the restored home stood outside the house to show visitors what the house would look like upon restoration. We were also very fortunate to be able to work with the Cash family who vetted every aspect of the model for authenticity.
The Lakeport Plantation house, built in 1859, is the only remaining Arkansas antebellum plantation home on the Mississippi River. The Greek Revival structure is one of Arkansas’s premiere historic structures. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, the home was gifted to Arkansas State University by the Sam Epstein Angel family in 2001 and became an A-State heritage site. After five years of restoration work, the home opened to the public.
In 2010 we added the Lakeport Plantation to the ASU sims in Second Life, placing it within the context of the original path of the Mississippi River.
The Southern Tenant Farmers Museum, an A-State heritage site located in Tyronza, Arkansas and the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum were added to Second Life in 2010.