Check out this 2005 groundbreaking study on ways to maximize learning "transfer" in simulations: http://cognitrn.psych.indiana.edu/rgoldsto/pdfs/CASfade.pdf
The key phrase is "concreteness fading" or the assertion that REALISM in a simulation is not in itself a key goal. Most helpful is a coordinated movement of the sim from realistic to abstract representations.
Time spent heightening realism in Second Life is often WASTED time. And we should focus more on the juxtaposition of easy verisimilitude (low load) with meaningful abstraction (making principles salient).
I have a script that illustrates the "Flocking" algorithm:
You can make cool groupings of fish, water molecules, etc. Show this to a high school student and they might enjoy the spectacle (concreteness).
But by studying and dissecting the underlying script (abstraction), they might better master the concepts of mass, friction and force.
This paper asserts that students show less errors on future exams if they are presented the concrete representation FIRST followed up by the abstraction.
Second Life is uniquely effective at helping us instructional designers experiment with this technique because of its flexibility.
Take that to your administrators. :-)
SLED Listserv, Jeremy Kemp, 14MAY07