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Teaching and Learning in Online Virtual Worlds.

Teaching and Learning in Online Virtual Worlds.



Bignell, S.J. (2009). Teaching and Learning in Online Virtual Worlds. Invited Talk. International Conference on the Use of the Internet in Mental Health, McGill University, Canada. May 14-16, 2009. ...

Bignell, S.J. (2009). Teaching and Learning in Online Virtual Worlds. Invited Talk. International Conference on the Use of the Internet in Mental Health, McGill University, Canada. May 14-16, 2009.

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The views expressed in this presentation are those of the individual Simon Bignell and not University of Derby.



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  • Teaching and Learning in Online Virtual Worlds by Simon Bignell – University of Derby. Abstract 3D multi-user virtual environments can provide a highly immersive and socially interactive way of enhancing university teaching. Most major universities have ventured into immersive 3D virtual worlds. However, existing teaching and pedagogies may not be sufficient to inform good practice in these settings. Specific skills need to be acquired by teaching professionals to run effective learning and teaching ‘in-world’. The University of Derby in the UK evaluated the use of Second Life™ for teaching and learning in Higher Education by developing virtual teaching methods and an extensive virtual world teaching space. When traditional text-based content is blended with innovative student-focused methods, the result seems to be a shift from isolated study and tutor-led instruction to student-led highly interactive group learning. Methods of teaching need to be established that place the student at the centre of the learning by involving them in the experience itself. Virtual worlds are ideal for this and findings suggest they can offer high levels of student engagement and satisfaction although whether the academic benefits of such classes are equivalent to face-to-face or existing e-learning methods is not yet fully established. Teaching in virtual worlds within Higher Education is challenging, requires planning and continual development, needs a flexible attitude towards learning, and possibly requires relinquishing control to the learner at the risk of alienating some students. The potential benefits are increased immersion and engagement with learning activities. Given the existing use of virtual immersive worlds and the impact of the internet on teaching along with the likely expansion, increasingly educationalists have to rethink student – tutor contact in these innovative learning spaces.

Teaching and Learning in Online Virtual Worlds. Teaching and Learning in Online Virtual Worlds. Presentation Transcript

  • Teaching andLearning in Online Virtual Worlds Simon Bignell – Lecturer in Psychology University of Derby, UK s.bignell@derby.ac.uk
  • DisclosureNo conflict of interest to declare
  • The Rise of Virtual Worlds• Harvard University• MIT• University of Texas• Francisco State• New York University• Vassar College• Trinity University• University of Buffalo• Oxford University• Nottingham University• Staffordshire University• Leicestershire University• Paisley University• + many more 3
  • Blended Learning Revisited: AnExploration of Experiential Learning in 3D Virtual Environments• Project, the design, preparation, planning, development of the virtual teaching space and lessons learnt. 4
  • Project• Evaluated the use of Second Life for teaching and learning in Higher Education.• The project was one of the successful Land Grants on Education UK Island.• A group of first year Psychology undergraduate students participated in an optional and supplementary Second Life component of our Psychology Skills module. 5
  • The Rationale• Campus-based and distance learning higher education teaching is increasingly being presented via e-learning although this is often text-based and offers little opportunity to engage in creative social learning experiences.• 3D multi-user virtual environments can provide a highly immersive and socially interactive way of enhancing university teaching.• However, student attitudes towards these highly experiential methods and the degree to which they contribute to learning outcomes when blended with traditional methods are not yet known. 6
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  • Aims1. To develop methods of teaching basic psychology study skills that place the student at the centre of the learning.2. To improve the quality of first year Psychology study skills.3. To develop innovative teaching methods not possible via traditional methods.4. To develop staff expertise in teaching and supporting students in a virtual environment. 8
  • The Design• A blend of in-world enhanced educational student-led group sessions for learning alongside conventional e- learning material.• Traditional text-based content blended with student-focused methods. • a shift from isolated study and tutor-led instruction to student-led highly interactive group learning.• Students were overall, responsible for the final teaching methods used. • guidance was provided by a facilitator in the form of materials and direction for group discussion and activities. 9
  • Preparation• We started with nothing and had to fill a space… but with what?• Replicate or Innovate… not that easy to be original… do we have to be?• We can simulate and innovate but we can also control the environment.• What would the ideal classroom look like? 10
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  • Planning• How are we going to do this?• Funding?• The importance of ‘prims’.• Inductions may be necessary.• The aesthetics vs. function debate (avoiding the compulsion to make it look pretty).• Marketing value vs. sound pedagogy. 12
  • Teaching• Good intentions… • ‘Teaching methods will be developed and refined over six in-world 50 minute sessions. These sessions will each be themed to focus on specific aspects of the module content.’• Planning and writing your essay. [Synchronous]• How to prepare a PowerPoint presentation. [Synchronous]• Critical Reading of a Journal Paper. [Synchronous]• How to reference an essay using APA format. [Asynchronous]• Assessing the Quality of an Essay. [Asynchronous]• Academic Offences of Plagiarism & Collusion. [Asynchronous]• But the reality was different • In-world communication soon broke down and control was completely lost…the secret was we never really needed it. 13
  • Development• We learn best by doing (with a little planning)• Woops, we got carried away…• Too big! Too fast!• We had a go…at custom made environments• Pilot - Revise and regroup – that’s better• A breakthrough occurred... ! • “We don’t need all this stuff around us!”… Can we strip it all back to the essentials? What is essential for an effective learning environment? 14
  • Teaching in Virtual Worlds• What would the ideal classroom look like?• The secret was there all along… • ‘SL-Labs’…slabs! Minimal learning spaces. 15
  • Teaching in Virtual Worlds• E.g. 3D ‘Spidergram’ Planner for conceptual and structural representations (Lab reports). 16
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  • Lessons Learnt• Traditional teaching approach is not adequate.• ‘No man is an Island’ (Don’t personalise).• Collaboration and sharing are best.• Virtual Worlds have enduring novelty value.• Form follows function.• Avoid distractions wherever possible.• At first most students are hesitant.• Emphasise problem-based activities not teaching.• Virtual Worlds can be complex and require multitasking when trying to emulate the classroom experience. 19
  • Teaching in Second Life...• Works well with… • Experienced students comfortable with controls of Second Life. • Students who see themselves as early adopters. • Staff who see themselves as partners in learning, early adopters and are willing to spend time developing a project.• Not so good with… – Postgraduate and overseas students unfamiliar with conventions of study, learning approach and cultural differences. – Staff who see themselves as “traditional” teachers, presenting materials, scheduled office hours, etc. 20
  • Summary• Virtual Worlds can provide opportunity for: • Collaboration and interactivity. • Support and community • Research and scholarship.• But presently lacks an evidence base.• Teaching and learning in virtual worlds… • Requires planning and continual development. • Possibly requires relinquishing control to the learner. • If Second Life doesn’t improve your students’ / clients experience, don’t use it! • Support from IT technicians and your institution. • A reflective and action-oriented approach to teaching methods. • Lots of time to ensure it has real world value for users. 21
  • Thank you 22
  • Simon BignellCentre for Psychological ResearchUniversity of Derby, UK s.bignell@derby.ac.uk+44 (0)1332 593043 (ext: 3043)www.MiltonBroome.comwww.PREVIEW-Psych.org Twitter: ‘MiltonBroome’ 23