Case study Schome Park


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Schome Park was an element of the Open University’s Schome research initiative, and was active from 2006-2008. It was established as a means of putting into practice some of the new learning theories and pedagogies proposed by Schome research staff at the Open University...

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Case study Schome Park

  1. 1. CASE STUDY Schome Park by Clare CullenThis document is part of the overall European project LINKS-UP - Learning 2.0 for an InclusiveKnowledge Society – Understanding the Picture. Further case studies and project results can bedownloaded from the project website This work has been licensed under a Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author(s), and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
  2. 2. Schome Park was an element of the Open University’s Schome research initiative, and was active from 2006-2008. It was established as a means of putting into practice some of the new learning theories and pedagogies proposed by Schome research staff at the Open University. The Schome initiative aims to overcome some of the problems of the current education system by building upon evidence from existing sources: learning the- ory (particularly socio-cultural theory); cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT); evid- ence from educational research (including practitioner and action research) in areas such as motivation, leadership, and the management of change .Ultimately, Schome hopes to bring together children, parents, policy makers, academics, students, home educators, employers, teachers and other practitioners from around the world as part of a community who will collaboratively devise a new educational system. Case profile – Schome Park in a nutshell Schome Park Exploring the educational potential of virtual worlds No longer active, running from 2006-2008Interviewed person Peter Twining, Project Director The Open University, the National Association for Gifted and Tal-Funded and promoted by… ented Youth, the Innovation Unit, Becta Combination of formal setting (e.g. schools) and informal settingLocation of the Learning Activities (e.g. home) Young people aged 13-17. Whilst the project was not aimed solely at marginalised groups, the target group included: | students from the National Association for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY), who are deemed ‘gifted’ or ‘talented’ but who are underachieving in schoolTarget group(s) | students from socially disadvantaged or ethnic minority back- grounds who are currently under-represented in higher educa- tion (GOAL) | students from Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) who have difficulties in mainstream schooling | students on the Autism spectrumNumber of users 149 usersEducational Sector(s) Secondary SchoolCategory of the Learning Activities Non-formal, informal Virtual world, wiki, blog, chat, forum, social networking, media-Web 2.0 technologies used... sharing (YouTube,, Flickr)Methods to support inclusion Co-learning, peer mentoring 2
  3. 3. Short description and key characteristicsThe Schome Park teen Second Life Project aimed to use virtual worlds to explore neweducational possibilities. Through co-learning, the project sought to establish a genuineand inclusive learning community where students and teachers are able to learn fromeach other and contribute to developing a vision of what ‘the education system of thelearning age’ should be like.The main goals of the project were:| To explore the educational potential and pitfalls of Teen Second Life (it was the first project in Europe to do so)| To develop the knowledge-age skills of participants, specifically: communication, confidence, creativity, leadership, motivation, problem solving and teamwork| To try out alternative approaches to supporting learning to inform thinking about vis- ions for Schome (an education system for the information age).As part of the wider Schome program, (not school – not home – Schome) Schome Parkaimed to develop ideas about future education through using virtual worlds to explorescenarios that would be difficult or costly to establish in ‘real-life’. The planning stages ofthe project began at the Open University in late 2006.There have been three phases of the project so far:| Phase 1: The Schome/NAGTY Pilot, January – May 2007. Members from NAGTY were asked to join and NAGTY actively sought to recruit members who were under-per- forming at school.| Phase 2: June – December 2007. It included some of the original NAGTY students plus new students who were more representative of the student population as a whole. During Phase 2 the first group of students from the USA joined the project.| Phase 3: January – May 2008. It included some of the original students from Phases 1 and 2, and introduced more students from the USA.Phase 1 was funded by NAGTY and the Innovation Unit. Phase 2 was funded by Becta.Phase 3 was funded by The Centre for Research in Education and Educational Techno-logy, and the Pedagogy, Learning And Curriculum Research Group (both at the OpenUniversity).Dimension of learning and inclusionSchome Park is accessed through the Teen Second Life grid and all learning takes placein-world. Throughout the project, a wide range of activities were organised around thethree core strands (physics, archaeology, and ethics & philosophy) as well as a range ofothers led by staff (e.g. research methods, artificial intelligence and machinima – mak-ing films within Second Life) and by students themselves (e.g. a regatta, a wedding, gov-ernance meetings, a murder mystery evening, low prim building, chess matches, etc.).Students did not undertake tests or courses as such, but they created material in-worldand organised and attended scheduled activities. Activities were normally arranged andpublished via in-world noticeboard or on the wiki and forum. Students were able to at-tend the activities that interested them, which usually took the form of an informal dis-cussion, rather than a lesson. Communication in-world was usually via chat. Schome 3
  4. 4. Park was designed to be an asynchronous learning environment which students couldaccess, develop and build upon whenever they wanted to. Figure 1: An area of the Schome Park virtual learning platformThe learning focus of the project was on ‘co-learning’, where each participant was ableto direct and contribute to learning, regardless of their age or role in the project.Schome Park staff took on a mentoring, rather than a traditional teaching role. Theytaught activities yet were equally willing to learn from students and attend sessions or-ganised by students. There was also a ‘buddy’ system, whereby older SParker studentswould support and advise new members. Most learning that took place was peer-learn-ing and students were encouraged to ‘tap in’ to the expertise of the staff members andPhD students.The project team found that giving the students the opportunity to work alongside pro-fessionals and academics as a ‘researcher’ of learning in virtual worlds was a good in-centive for most users to participate. Evidence suggests that users were able to developtheir knowledge age skills and improve confidence and self-esteem, leadership, man-agement, problem-solving, team-working and decision-making skills. Many users alsodeveloped advanced ICT, social media and Second Life skills.Whilst the focus of the project was not on inclusion, the team actively recruited stu-dents from the National Association for Gifted and Talent Youth (NAGTY) who are under-achieving in school. Of these students, 23% were from ‘socially disadvantaged or ethnicminority backgrounds who are currently under-represented in higher education’(GOAL). In the second and third phases of the project, Local Education Authorities re-ferred students from their Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) with behavioural problems atschool. Consequently, a significant majority of the students involved in the programwere marginalised to some extent by the mainstream school system and were offeredan opportunity to further their learning in a different environment.The project was especially successful with students who suffered from low self-esteemor experienced difficulty communicating in social situations, as well as young people on 4
  5. 5. the Autism spectrum who might have difficulties with face-to-face learning. By using theSecond Life platform, learners do not have to deal with things like physical appearanceor problems of social interaction, and this gives them more freedom to learn. The initiat-ive was also valuable for learners who found it difficult to concentrate for long periodsof time, as they were able to decide when and for how long they used the Second Lifeplatform and take responsibility for their own learning. Unfortunately, the project teamfound that the initiative was less successful with their GOAL cohort, the young peoplefrom deprived backgrounds who were less likely to have access to the technology athome.Innovative elements and key success factorsAs well as being one of the first projects to research the educational potential of virtualworlds, the initiative was also innovative for its use of several Web 2.0 technologies tosupport the learning programme. Additional Web 2.0 tools included the Schome Parkwiki; the Schome Park blog; SLogs (effectively a blog which allows users to send mes-sages and photographs to a web page from inside Schome Park so the students couldblog as their avatar); blikis (collaborative blogs which are not necessarily chronological);some students set up a radio station which streamed music into the island and playedover the internet. Students also created a series of machinima film projects, which theyshared on YouTube and Additionally, some students uploaded Second Life snap-shots of their experiences of Schome Park to the project wiki, as well as to their ownphoto streams or Flickr. Figure 2: The Schome Park ‘bliki’, a combination of a wiki and a blog.One of the main successes of the project was establishing a genuinely collaborativelearning community. Staff noticed that students initially had a very individualistic atti-tude to their learning and what they could gain from the project. They worked on theirown to create Second Life objects and took personal ownership of these objects. Staff 5
  6. 6. gradually encouraged students to shift their focus away from what they wanted to do asan individual, to identifying the community needs and how they could work together toachieve them. Students were given greater control and responsibility over the gov-ernance of the island. In Second Life, users are allocated a limited number of ‘prims’,which are the objects that make up the environment, and students had to work collab-oratively to manage the number of prims and settle disputes about what was most be-neficial to the community.There was also strong evidence of peer support amongst users, with SParkers oftenhelping each other to learn how to achieve things within the virtual environment. Userswere also able to leave each other feedback on the forums and blogs, for example ‘barnstars’ for good work.The project had a very positive impact on the personal development of its students. Asmentioned above, many users were able to improve their self-esteem, confidence andteam working abilities. Through using forums and the wiki, they were also able to devel-op empathy and reflect on the opinions and ideas of others. One Schome Park usernoted:“Because Ive got as much time as I want to compose a reply on the forums, Ive becomemuch better at diplomacy, and its pushed my empathy a long way, improving it in doingso. Generally speaking, I can get on with people a lot easier on the forums and in world,and thats carried over into my social skills in the wider world.”The project also advocated the importance of diversifying learning and provided its stu-dents with an unconventional curriculum. Through involving PhD students from theOpen University and volunteers from other establishments, Schome Park was able to of-fer a 125 diverse range of activities, such as Artificial Intelligence sessions. Studentswere able to correspond directly with specialists in the field, giving them a wider view ofeducation.Significantly, the initiative was able to reach beyond the achievements gained by stu-dents in-world, to link with real-world competitions and events. Some students had theopportunity to take part in the UKSC satellite competition, another group of studentscame second in the Learners Y Factor competition and met each other face-to-face inLondon to give a presentation on their experiences of Schome Park archaeology lessons.Problems encountered and lessons learnedTechnical: Second Life demands high bandwidth usage, which can potentially excludeusers without a sufficiently fast internet connection and also requires users to have theirown computer at home. These factors could be said to contribute to the “digital divide”.In Schome Park, this is thought to be why the GOAL cohort did not engage in the initiat-ive as much as other users.Students with basic or very poor ICT skills would struggle with the interface and some ofthe Second Life skills, although it has a ‘gaming’ aspect which is appealing and facilitatesease of use.Social/behavioural: Invariably there were disputes between students in the virtualworld. These conflict were usually resolved without the need for staff intervention.Schomers stated that the forum provided a beneficial environment for the resolution ofsuch issues. 6
  7. 7. Organisational issues: Some staff members felt that there was lack of support for staffdevelopment and they sometimes lacked the necessary technical knowledge to achievemore ambitious tasks. Some staff members expressed the need for greater coordinationand direction and development of understanding of the Schome Initiative and strategicdevelopment of publications. These problems were attributed to a lack of funding.Challenging cultural norms: Some staff and students found it difficult to adapt theirthinking to a new way of structuring education and re-imagining teacher-student roles.This was especially evident in the third phase of the project when established groups ofstudents and their teachers joined the community. These students found it difficult toexperience what Schome Park was really like as they were still behaving as if they werein a traditional school environment.Measuring learning gains: Another issue involves formalising the informal aspect oflearning in the project. It is difficult to monitor learning and improvement in-world asthe expectation is that students have more freedom than in a traditional learning envir-onment. Some staff felt that the project needed to establish links to the curriculum. 7
  8. 8. Collaborating institutions in LINKS-UP Institute for Innovation in Learning, Friedrich-Alex- ander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Erlangen, Germany Arcola Research LLP, London, United Kingdom eSociety Institute, The Hague University of Applied Sciences, The Hague, The Netherlands Servizi Didattici e Scientifici per l’Università di Firen- ze, Prato, Italy Salzburg Research Forschungsgesellschaft, Salzburg, Austria European Distance and E-Learning Network (EDEN), Milton Keynes, United Kingdom 8