Each January, my husband and I rent a beach house on Anna Maria Island, Florida. For me, it’s an annual homecoming, a time to walk the beaches that I played on as a child and visit with family. I grew up in a rural Florida town not terribly far from the island.
Now that we’ve returned to the snowy north, I miss our leisurely walks on the white sands of the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve compensated by visiting the University of South Florida (USF) in Second Life – after all, the actual campus is somewhat near Anna Maria Island – and have enjoyed exploring four of its holdings: Wildcat Creek, Lost Island, Lost Island II (Shoshin), and USF MTSS.
I first landed at Wildcat Creek on Harambee (172, 67, 22), which the SL landmark describes as “an edu-cultural exhibit of Florida history, ecology, and architecture.” This charming site was designed by Kitsune Kyomoon for the USF ECampus and the Center for 21st Century Teaching Excellence, and Kyomoon has dotted it with informative notecards.
I immediately recognized the Cracker House – “the typical home,” Kyomoon tells us, “for the anglo pioneers of Florida,” a house modeled on her great-grandmother’s home where her great aunt still lives, a house that is nearly 200 years old. It’s also similar to the house where my grandfather’s cattle boss lived, a house taken down with everything else when the phosphate corporation mined the land in the early 1970s. Alas, my grandfather didn’t own the mineral rights to the land on which his Black Angus and Brahman cattle grazed and where his orange groves flourished.
Although the Florida of my youth is greatly changed, many wild rivers, along with opportunities for tubing down the spring-fed streams that flow into them, remain. While tubing on Wildcat Creek, I saw an abundance of Florida wildlife: great blue herons, turtles, deer, an owl, a panther, a bear, and a nest of alligators. I especially loved seeing the cypress knees and taking a dip in the spring.
Near a reproduction of St. Augustine’s Castillo de San Marcos, which Spain built to defend its claims in the New World (not shown here), is a reproduction of a chickee. Kyomoon tells us that “the chickee style of architecture – palmetto thatch over a cypress log frame – was born during the early 1800s when Seminole Indians, pursued by U.S. troops, needed fast, disposable shelter while on the run.”
Not far from Wildcat Creek is Lost Island (162, 208, 22), designed by USF’s eTeaching & Technology Group (eTG) for “promoting and enhancing online learning via virtual worlds.” eTG says that its three island (Harambee, Lost Island, and Shoshin) “are highly trafficked due to the advanced and efficient landscaping and open (Florida-esque) learning environments and interactive and informative exhibits. Several USF and non-USF faculty also frequent our spaces along with their students to study the exhibits, conduct online classes, and experience virtual worlds.”
Indeed, along with beach structures and several whimsical classrooms, Lost Island contains lots of fanciful objects that appear to be student projects. Nearby is Lost Island II (Shoshin, 219, 174, 34), a grouping of small islands that the SL landmark calls USF Beach for faculty development and virtual office hours. I began this blog entry with snapshots from that region.
On an island far far away from the Lost Islands is USF MTSS (111, 65, 22), a “professional development environment sponsored by the Technology & Learning Connections Team of the University of South Florida,” so says the SL landmark. (MTSS stands for Multi-Tiered System of Supports.) The coordinates I provide above will land you near a hot-air balloon; hop aboard for an informative and enjoyable tour of the island.
The text narrative during the hot-air balloon tour draws attention to ten or more areas of interest, including an ancient sacrificial temple at the bottom of a high waterfall, the tiki sandbox where boxes of freebies have washed ashore, a meditation site, and the Sanctum Tower that holds meeting rooms and more freebies.
I also toured much of the island on foot. It seems that libraries call to me; so it was no surprise that I found myself spending quite a while in the Port Town Library. The image above is on the first floor; the second floor combines a meeting room with an art gallery. Next to the library is a two-story classroom building. And on the rise behind it is Autumn Woods, where MTSS staff houses are located.
For those of you interested in health education, there’s a USF Health region in Second Life. And there’s much more to see and experience than I’ve mentioned on the USF islands that I did visit. Enjoy!