Teaching & Learning in Second Life
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Notes on teaching and learning in Second Life for educators in further and higher education.

Notes on teaching and learning in Second Life for educators in further and higher education.

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Teaching & Learning in Second Life Document Transcript

  • 1. Teaching & Learning in Second Life A Briefing Paper Dr. Geoffrey A. Walker 2013 http://www.secondlife.com
  • 2. 1. What is Second Life? 1.1. Second Life (SL) is a Multi-User Virtual Environment (MUVE). As an educational resource, it could be described as an EdMUVE. 1.2. A free client program, downloadable from the SL website, enables its users, or residents, to interact with each other through an avatar (a graphical image that represents a person). Residents can explore, socialise, participate in individual and group activities and create and trade virtual property and services with one another. However, SL, unlike other MUVEs, does not have a designated objective and that is, perhaps, its major strength. 1.3. Avatars may take any form users choose (human, animal, vegetable, mineral, or a combination thereof) or residents may choose to resemble themselves as they are in real life or choose even more abstract forms, given that almost every aspect of an avatar in SL is fully customisable. A single resident account may have only one avatar at a time, although the appearance of this avatar can change between as many different forms as the resident wishes. Avatar forms, like almost everything else in SL, can be either created by the user or bought pre-made. They communicate via sound chat, local chat or global instant messaging (IM). Chatting is used for localised public conversations between two or more avatars, and is visible to any avatar within a given distance. IMs are used for private conversations, either between two avatars, or among the members of a group, or even between objects and avatars. Unlike chatting, IM communication does not depend on the participants being within a certain distance of each other. 1.4. SL has an internal currency, the Linden Dollar (L$). L$ can be used to buy, sell, rent or trade land or goods and services with other users. Virtual goods include buildings, vehicles, devices of all kinds, animations, clothing, skin, hair, jewelry, flora and fauna, works of art and many other objects. Some companies generate US dollar earnings from services provided in Second Life. Subscribers (non-basic account holders) are currently also provided with a range of styles of Linden Home which is customisable and furnishable. 1.5. For a comprehensive Official Guide to Second Life, Rymaszewski et al (2007) provide a good starting point as does Robbins and Bell (2008). Although, sections on the SL user interface are now outdated by the SL Viewer Version 2. However, a great deal of user support is now provided on the SL YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/secondlife. 2. Implications for Teachers and Learners? 2.1. The virtual environment of SL provides an important resource with a number of advantages over face-to-face working: • a programmable virtual environment; • individual and group model-building; • integration of online and offline tools; • flexibility of design and development of an alternative educational tool; • anonymous identity of users;
  • 3. • capable of linking in-world and out-world activities; • viewable universally, at any time, by all students. 2.2. The emergence of a generation of "digital natives" (Prensky 2001) or "insiders" (Lankshear and Bigum 1999) has created new challenges for the future of education, particularly as more learning occurs online, be it in traditional classrooms integrating online technologies or in full-fledged online classes. Many educators see the importance of human interaction in learning, but students are growing up with more opportunities for less human interaction. As Lankshear and Bigum (1999) note, "for perhaps the first time in human history, new technologies have amplified the capacities and skills of the young to such an extent that many conventional assumptions about curriculum (and pedagogy) become inappropriate" 2.3. In theory, the grid provides an appropriate and effective constructivist environment for teaching and learning where the student constructs their own learning environment and the educator facilitates this construct. On the other hand, however, students can find existing constructs difficult to engage with and can find the grid equally difficult to manipulate and manoeuvre even in simple tasks such as walking and flying. 2.4. Constructivism requires a space for experimentation and exploration as students construct their own understandings through interaction with their teachers, peers, subject matter, and environment. Furthermore, the guiding principles of constructivism provide ways to employ online technologies as pedagogies evolve. For example, mind mapping is a constructivist exercise that can be implemented in an online setting in order to share ideas among students and the instructor (Muirhead 2006). 2.5. The future of online learning will depend on our ability to make use of the Internet and other technologies that focus less on "information dissemination" (Barab, Thomas, and Merrill 2001, 109) and more on communication, "camaraderie," and human experience (106); Second Life is such a technology. 2.6. The NMC Campus (see Appendix One) in SL is viewed as an excellent example of how to use the grid for educational purposes. A video introduction to the NMC Campus, entitled ‘Seriously Engaging’ is available on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9VZKTT6gZ8. SL also has its own channel on YouTube http//www.youtube.com/secondlife which is used to provide video tutorials on uses and aspects of the grid. 3. Current Educational Uses of Second Life? 3.1. SL provides the potential for a wide range of uses across a range of learning fields. SL may be applied to college-based courses in a wide range of ways, in particular: • Access to Higher Education, Preparation for Work, Skills for Life and Equality Courses • Accountancy, Business Administration, Business and Management Courses • Art and Design, Media and Performing Arts Courses • Beauty Therapy, Catering and Hairdressing Courses
  • 4. • Care, Childcare, Counselling and Health Courses • Construction, Planning and the Built Environment Courses • Education, Training and Teaching Assistants Courses • Engineering and Motor Vehicle Courses • English Courses • Horticulture Courses • ICT and Computing Courses • Science and Mathematics Courses For all these courses, SL could be used for conferencing, role-playing and model- building. 3.2. For a selected list of educational locations in SL which utilise a range of designs and tools see Appendix Two. 4. Potential Positive and Negative Outcomes of Teaching & Learning in Second Life 4.1. Potential Positive Outcomes 4.1.1. Many learners find the experience of using SL as fun, an essential component of the learning experience. They can explore a rich and well-designed interface, develop their understanding of the social construct and its uses and build their own environments. 4.1.2. Younger learners find themselves immersed in a familiar, video game style environment. Although, educators who support SL do not see the grids as a game, learners develop skills in this space through a process of socio-cognitive connectedness (Cheal 2008). They learn through recognising a familiar platform, develop cognitive skills and find support by connecting to others. 4.1.3. Learners that find the SL experience rewarding also refer to the unique atmospheric nature of the grid and see themselves engaged in ‘something different’ over which they exercise some control. 4.1.4. Essentially, SL is a shared, collaborative and participative environment and learners gain enjoyment and entertainment through interacting with others, forging relationships and friendships. 4.1.5. Learners are given the opportunity to move from the linear process of information dissemination to a universe of knowledge sharing. 4.2. Potential Negative Outcomes 4.2.1. For some learners, they experience a steep learning curve, due to low mouse and keyboard skills when learning to walk, fly and teleport in SL. A number are discouraged by this initial stage and tend to become frustrated. However, appropriate and effective one-to-one support can overcome this. 4.2.2. A relatively high system specification is needed, especially RAM space, to run SL at a fluid level. ‘Lag’ can be a problem when a number of residents are online and
  • 5. this can be heightened by low system specification. Having said this, the recently- released SL Viewer Version 2 appears to be running quite smoothly in Windows 7. 4.3.3. Low bandwidth can also create lag. Obviously, necessary bandwidth varies with the level of interaction with the grid; the higher level of interaction the greater the bandwidth needed. Walking, flying and teleporting appear relatively unaffected by bandwidth but building is a complex process which can be affected by bandwidth. 4.4.4. Course design and the allocation of tasks can be a problem. Cheal (2008) found that those who saw the grid as a game-like environment tended to be poorly focused on completing tasks. 4.4.5. Another negative outcome discovered by Cheal (2008) was that a proportion of learners failed to see MUVEs as learning environments. They tended to ‘play’ rather than ‘learn’. The connection between playing and learning in this environment needs to be explored and the pioneering work of Tees Valley Community Media might prove useful as a working example of this relationship.
  • 6. APPENDIX ONE: THE NMC CAMPUS The NMC Campus is seen as a seminal educational resource on the grid and offers several exemplary resources and elements of design. Notecard: Welcome to the NMC Campus Welcome to the NMC Campus Project, an educational collaboration that includes more than 125 colleges, universities, and other organizations. More than 14,000 individuals from 54 countries have registered to follow the work of the project. Launched publicly in June 2006 at the NMC’s annual Summer Conference, the NMC Campus Project has always had a simple but clear vision: to comprehensively support colleges and universities who wished to experiment with virtual worlds. The original campus, still located where you now stand, was intended to be a test bed for research and demonstration activities and was originally only open to NMC members. As the project grew to nearly 100 regions, the project opened its doors to all, and now anyone can visit the entirety of the NMC Campus. At every turn, the vision has been to inspire and influence future development, to expand working knowledge, to showcase creativity and ideas, and to encourage collaboration both inside and outside of Second Life. Among the very first educational organizations to enter Second Life, the NMC has by any measure had a profound impact on the adoption of virtual worlds by academia. The project community has created a remarkable legacy on the web. Links to these materials and other documentation referenced here can be found at http://www.nmc.org/pdf/linden-prize- documentation.pdf. The key to the success of the NMC Campus Project, which has been completely self-sustaining now for more than two years, has been three fold: to be a good community member; to set a high standard for design, aesthetics, and technical proficiency; and to make educational spaces as compelling and immersive as possible. All indications are that we have hit those marks — the average time that the 15,518 unique visitors who came to the NMC Campus sims over the last 100 days was an astounding 98 minutes per visit (sources at http://www.nmc.org/pdf/linden-prize-documentation.pdf). These visitors span the globe, with visits from more than 56 countries over that same time, including areas such as North America, Europe, China, Malaysia, Australia, Japan, and even Africa! More than 14,000 individuals have voluntarily provided us with their contact information; the NMC Campus Observer blog routinely sees more than 4,700 unique visitors each month from dozens of countries around the globe. Since July 2007, the NMC has ushered in nearly 6,500 new educators to Second Life via its own reg-API site, averaging upwards of 450 new SL educators per month. It was a natural extension of our real-life work to begin to look at the potential of Second Life as a venue for genuine sorts of academic meetings. Beginning in 2006, we have brought more than 2,000 scholars into Second Life to explore weighty topics like the Impact of Digital Media, Creativity, the Evolution of Communication, and more via the NMC’s continuing Series of Virtual Symposia. These fee-based events ($295 US registration) are ranked very very highly by attendees for their innovative use of the platform and the engagement level of the virtual setting. To date, every single symposium has been oversubscribed. The NMC is also a committed member of the Second Life community, and sponsors a wide range of events, art exhibitions, performance groups, and more that are free to the public on an ongoing basis. To learn more about the NMC arts mission, see http://www.nmc.prg/pdf/Aho-Museum-of-Art.pdf. There is far more to this story than can possibly be told here. Now beginning our fourth year in Second Life, the NMC is as committed as ever to its mission of helping educators make the highest possible use of this platform via support, the sharing of models and resources, pushing possibilities, and absolute transparency. At the NMC, we share everything we learn, and give back to the community every way we can. We have provided extensive documentation via a list of urls that we think are critical to understanding the impact of the NMC Campus. This simple list of links will take you to literally tens of thousands of images taken by our community, to dozens and dozens of YouTube videos, and to a wide range of NMC web resources, academic papers, and much more. We hope you enjoy your visit to our community. Look for the blue phone booths (Tardis) — they are teleporters that will take you almost anywhere in the NMC Campus project. As a not-for-profit, the NMC is committed to sharing its work with the educational community. All of the reports, research, and other materials the NMC produces in the project are published under Creative Commons licenses. In addition, the NMC has created and stocks the largest open educational content repository in Second Life, in the NMC’s full-sim Resource Center on Learning. Content from business attire to learning objects, to medical equipment and entire buildings, to orientation experiences and much more, is all available on Learning for free.
  • 7. APPENDIX TWO: SELECTED LOCATIONS OF EDUCATIONAL INTEREST In some cases, this list utilises SLurls (Second Life uniform resource locators) a web address which links a web browser to a precise location in Second Life. LOCATION & DESCRIPTION SLURL ISTE Island: On ISTE Island, the International Society for Technology in Education hosts a Tuesday evening speaker series and Thursday evening Educator Socials. http://slurl.com/secondlife/ISTE%20Island/93/83/30 NMC Campus: Soon after the New Media Consortium (NMC) Campus opened in 2006, it became a hub of activity for educators in Second Life, hosting numerous seminars, discussions and exhibits. http://sl.nmc.org/ Info Island: A team of librarians and other volunteers from around the globe have grown Info Island from a few buildings in early 2006 to a cluster of islands bustling with activities that explore roles libraries and librarians may play in 3D virtual worlds. http://infoisland.org/ Campus: Second Life: Educators who would like to try Second Life for a class without investing in virtual land may apply for an acre to use for free for one semester through the Campus: Second Life programme. http://secondlifegrid.net/slfe/education-use- virtual-world
  • 8. REFERENCES Barab, S. A., Thomas, M.K. and Merrill, H. (2001) Online learning: From information dissemination to fostering collaboration Journal of Interactive Learning Research 12 (1): 105-143. http://inkido.indiana.edu/research/onlinemanu/papers/jilr.pdf (accessed June 12, 2008). Archived at http://www.webcitation.org/5XHagzG94. Cheal, C. (2008) Student Perceptions of a Course Taught in Second Life, Innovate, Available at http://www.innovateonline.info Accessed: 19/04/2010 Lankshear, C., and Bigum, C. (1999) Literacies and new technologies in school settings. Pedagogy, Culture & Society 7 (3): 445-465. Lankshear, C., and Knobel, M (2003) New literacies: Changing knowledge and classroom learning. New York: Open University Press. Muirhead, B. (2006) Creating concept maps: Integrating constructivism principles into online classes. International Journal of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning 3 (1): 17-30. http://itdl.org/journal/jan_06/article02.htm (accessed June 12, 2008). Archived at http://www.webcitation.org/5XK9ZOsEw. Prensky, M. (2001) Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon 9 (5): 1-6 Robbins, S. and Bell, M. (2008) Second Life for Dummies Indiana: Wiley Rymaszewski, M., Au, W.J., Wallace, M., Winters, C., Ondrejka, C. and Batstone- Cunningham, B. (2007) Second Life: The Official Guide Indiana: Wiley