Is it expensive?

A man walks into a bar and asks the barman “Is your Whisky expensive?”

How does he answer?

Alas, there’s no punchline, but the question is not so easy. What factors affect expense?

One factor is of course how much you can afford. But that is variable. Just about everyone in the UK could find three pounds, it’s just that many people have already allocated that money elsewhere – food, for instance.

Another factor is what alternatives are available and how they compare; water is free if one is only thirsty!

Then there’s how important the product is to you, what it will achieve. If you don’t drink, three UK pounds is a lot to pay; if it’s your favourite tipple after a particularly hard day at work it’s perhaps a bargain.

I started thinking about this after a discussion the other week about Second Life. The question arose over whether it was expensive to create a space in the virtual world.

Our experience with the SWIFT project is that a virtual genetics lab is certainly more affordable than a real one! Of course, if you have a couple of million pounds floating around then by all means build another real lab.

But is a real lab as good as a virtual one? That may seem the wrong way around, but what we are doing with the virtual lab is monitoring the student’s every action and offering critical learning resources at the moment they become relevant. To do this in a real lab, you not only need the lab, you need one tutor per student.

Finally, how important is expanding student’s learning opportunities. If, like us, your answer is “very”, and you teach in areas that virtual worlds excel in, virtual worlds need to be given some consideration.

Paul Rudman
Beyond Distance research Alliance

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