Using virtual worlds to inspire and empower young learners

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Traditionally, the selection and development of settings for compulsory schooling has been the responsibility of educators rather than of pupils. Research in Second Life demonstrates that young people are well able to take an active role in developing their learning environment. Applying these findings to a real-world setting provides a means of empowering pupils to make their school experience more attractive, inclusive and enjoyable.
There has been a gradual move towards learner consultation in relation to their learning experiences. This can be seen as developing from a rights perspective in which learners, particularly young people, have a right to be involved in decisions affecting their lives (Morgan, Gibbs, Maxwell, & Britten, 2002). That their voices should be heard is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. More recently, in the UK, the importance of gaining young people’s perspectives in this context has been formalised in government publications such as ‘Every Child Matters’.
However, the status and power of young people in schools is circumscribed by the roles associated with the label ‘pupil’. People, irrespective of age or educational background, have difficulty in breaking free of expectations set up by the current school system (Sheehy & Bucknall, 2008).
The Internet provides new spaces for the investigation of ways in which young people can be empowered to take more control of their learning environments. This was one of the intentions of the Schome Park Programme, which involved teenagers from across the UK and US taking a leading role in constructing their own learning environments on the Teen Grid of Second Life (Sheehy, Ferguson, & Clough, 2010). Detailed discussion of the project took place in associated forums. The contributions of seven young learners – those who posted between 100 and 500 times in the forum – were analysed thematically with a focus on the ways in which their contributions suggested or evidenced ways of breaking down the barriers between teachers and learners.
Given the chance to develop their environment, each of these seven learners thought deeply about it from a variety of perspectives and built on their experience as learners in order to develop their virtual island. They proved to be very aware of the practicalities, the aesthetics and the ethos of the project, and they considered in a detailed way not only how the island could be used to support learning but also how they could make best use of their resources. These seven teenagers were clearly capable of taking an active part in developing their educational environment. They viewed that environment as a whole; they were concerned with overcoming problems and with improving the situation for everyone, while taking into account practical problems and resourcing issues.
These skills are equally relevant in a ‘real-world’ context, where this type of discussion is typically associated with the role of senior teachers and managers. The forum debate showed that numerous benefits are associated with engaging meaningfully in these discussions. Not only did the young people propose solutions to problems that were inhibiting the development of community and of learning, they also reflected deeply on what they and those around them were trying to achieve together. The interaction of young people in an environment mediated by the Internet thus demonstrated that young people are both interested in, and capable of, taking an active role in the evaluation and development of their learning environment.
The researcher took the findings of this project to a local school, where pupils, parents and staff were involved in the creation of a future vision of the school. The focus of adult input was on learning and teaching resources and on clear markers of attainment such as success in examinations, sport, competitions and musical performance. The children added a new perspective to the debate – they w

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  • Added bonus of a separate section for young people.
    Everyone on the Main Grid should be 18 or over.
    Some features of Second Life Main Grid unsuitable for children.
    Area solely for 13 to 17 year olds.
    Similar facilities to the Main Grid but more limited access.
  • More generally, as well as subject information, we were concerned with the development of skills that could be applied elsewhere
    Communication, Creativity, leadership, motivation, problem-solving
    And teamwork
  • Quickly began to work on complex projects that involved them all working together, combining skills
    The chessboard, chess pieces and associated moves were developed by several people and used by many more
    Students were also increasingly willing to lead sessions, while staff took a more minor role.
    Students combined their own initiatives with staff initiatives
    * Attended some physics sessions
    * Attended an AI session, got a chatbot
    * Started making by own (basic) chatbot
    * Made myself a voice-activated bubble suit...very productive!
    * Made myself a voice-activated hat...and alternative head...and arrow
    * Participated in the regatta
    * Researched video codecs in Schome Park, made a machinima page
    * Joined the research group, intervied various people
    * Helped build the old AI emporium
    * Joined the Scripting department
  • Some student-led events took days to organise
    Brought together their SL skills and their knowledge-age skills
    Costumes, building, event coordination
  • Students also led formal sessions, such as their history and archaeology strand
    Brought together their SL skills and their knowledge-age skills
    Costumes, building, event coordination
  • Summary of the data for this presentation (a small selection of the vast array of data available – and analysed in other Schome publications)
  • Some educational establishments reproduce themselves in Second Life
    That’s Ohio on the left and Princeton on the right
  • Buildings everywhere
    Students built enthusiastically everywhere - under the sea, up in the air, inside other buildings, on top of other buildings.
    They built to see what they could do, how high they could go, how big they could build.
    They experimented with textures and with designs
    They began to build with specific purposes in mind - fr different occasions.
    They were able to explore their environment through play and experimentation
    Prim count soon became an issue
  • Student design for the island
  • One contribution to Forum debate
  • Portion of a contribution to forum debate
  • Building environment themselves, to suit their own needs
  • Clash of F2F norms and in-world norms when a F2F group comes in world.
  • A report from one teenager on a recent problem with behaviour at his school (the school had no connection with Schome)
  • Using virtual worlds to inspire and empower young learners

    1. 1. A sea of colour Using virtual worlds to inspire and empower young learners Rebecca Ferguson, The Open University
    2. 2. Schome The education system for the information age “…maybe having a 'lived experience' of something radically different might help folk come up with more creative visions…”
    3. 3. Image copyright Linden Lab
    4. 4. ID Posts In forum In world Forum activity SchomerO 296 35 hours 19 hours Forum activity 7am-11pm. Schomer P 264 42 hours 39 hours Forum activity 6am-11pm. SchomerQ 437 37 hours 30 hours Based in USA. Forum activity noon-4am GMT SchomerR 228 32 hours 64 hours Forum activity 10am-11pm SchomerS 103 21 hours 37 hours Forum activity 7am-1pm & 4pm-10pm SchomerT 117 29 hours 1 hour Forum activity 11am-1pm & 2pm-9pm SchomerU 421 250 hours 27 hours Forum activity 5am-8am & 10am-2pm
    5. 5. I think that there shouldn't necessarily be a big community centre with everything in it because then the rest of the island will be a bit empty. However, the basic freebie store, government and meeting places would be good. To sort out the problem of getting lost maybe we could arrange it as you would a shopping centre, with everything situated around one large corridor (per floor)? You'd have to make the corridor big and the roofs - if we have any (which I think we should because to me, a building doesn't look complete without a roof) - high to prevent claustrophobia and the camera being blocked by objects, but apart from that we could build it so that it takes up little space quite easily. Also, I would like to have the Plaza back as I was quite attatched to it and I liked the space to just sit and chat with people. SchomerR
    6. 6. Do we need a building on the island? Why would we need one? * Provide a recognisable place for people to find/contact us * A place where people can get scripts in-world, or submit them to us (like an inbox/outbox) * Provide a place to hand out scripts * Place to hold meetings Why wouldn't we need one? * It takes up much-needed prims * We can host our scripts on the wiki (but this may be less convenient) * We need very little space - we could just one of the generic gorernment buildings * We could hold meetings anywhere (although, we may get interrupted in public places) SchomerU
    7. 7. there was one lesson where a load of kids were messing around (as in jumping out windows slamming doors, pushing said teacher...) Now me and my friends as there was no way we could do the work in those conditions decided to talk, not very loudly, just talk. So this teacher after a while tells us to be quiet, I say, "how can we possibly work like this, why are you focusing on us when there are people jumping around on the desks?!?!?" He then proceeds to say, I don't like your attitude INSERT MY NAME (make one up) and the rest of you *he points at a few of my friends* are staying in at break. So anyway when break comes we decide that because we have a fair argument (we weren't doing anything compared to others) we leave. Note that the ones that we dancing on tables have jumped out windows. So we motion towards door, teacher notices, shouts, we run... Following day, I get a letter in the register from him to me... It basically waffles for ages and says something like "you're a good kid, why are you behaving like this" and at the end says "I need you to come to a detention after school today" So me and my friends all get similar letter. We decided to go and check with the people who jumped out windows if they had recieved a similar punishment... As I'm sure you've probably realised by now… they didnt
    8. 8. lol that was fun last night:P/. Gonna play wow [World of Warcraft] now:D
    9. 9. I don't think he's going to recognise that he's hurt a lot of people. And unless I'm very much mistaken he just called me a dumbass. Yet another breach of AUP and offending yet another person. This has gone too far. He has put a lot into schome park, but just because someone has put a lot into something does not mean he should be excluded from the rules everyone else has to follow.
    10. 10. I was annoyed after anyother c*** [asterisks added by a teenaged moderator] day at school like it always is, I was really bored and irritated that my spaceship's front was still not completed and SchomerY had be sub consiously been trying to take [a building within Schome Park] from me (in my opinion).
    11. 11. Safety Department •Decide whether weapons are allowed or not, and sort out details •Helpdesk? •Set up a quick, easy help system for when someone is in trouble •Police? •Sort out rules to do with e-assaults, threats etc •Make everyone aware of Safety Regulations
    12. 12. The best school in the world
    13. 13. Fffffffff fffff fffff F
    14. 14. www.schome.ac.uk Schome http://oro.open.ac.uk/18476/ R3beccaF on Slideshare

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