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Blended Learning Revisited: AnExploration of Undergraduate Experiential Learning in 3D Virtual Environments • Project, the design, preparation, planning, development of the virtual teaching space and lessons learnt.
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.
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.
Aims• To develop methods of teaching basic psychology study skills that place the student at the centre of the learning by involving them in the experience itself.• To further evaluate the effectiveness of teaching in 3D learning environments.• To evaluate learning outcomes, student engagement, and satisfaction with the developed teaching methods.• To enhance the student learning experience.• To improve the quality of first year Psychology study skills.• To develop innovative teaching methods not possible via traditional methods.• To develop staff expertise in teaching in-world.
The Design• A blend of in-world enhanced educational student-led group sessions for learning alongside conventional e-learning material.• Traditional text-based content was blended with student-focused methods, the result being 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, whilst guidance was provided by a facilitator in the form of materials and direction for group discussion and activities.
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?
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
We had a dream…• The focus of the in-world learning will be on developing enhanced learning experiences that would not otherwise be possible. The students will be supported and encouraged to develop their own creative ways of interacting with the module content beyond traditional text- based e-learning materials and to think beyond the typical lecture/seminar format.
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 brain wave 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?
Teaching• What would the ideal classroom look like?• The secret was there all along… – ‘SL-Labs’…slabs! Exposed learning spaces…
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.
Evaluation• Survey of current ability, expectations, and satisfaction before and after the module.• Collective reflective blog• Module Forum• Reflective diary of methods employed and student experiences• ‘Heinz 57’ research…• Planning-action-observation cycle (reflection). Asking the students
Lessons Learnt• Traditional teaching approach is not adequate• ‘No man is an Island’ (Don’t personalise)• Collaboration and distribution are best• SL has novelty value that can endure• Form follows function• Avoid distractions wherever possible• 1 prim can do the job of 20 (textures/script)• Most students don’t like Second Life! (at first)• Emphasise activities not teaching
Teaching in Second Life• Second Life provides an opportunity for: – Collaboration and community. – Research and interaction. – Classes and class projects in a virtual world. • Activity-based learning • Authentic assessment • Leveraging a game-based culture • Easy to configure, create and modify
Teaching in Second Life• Works well with… – Level 3 undergraduates comfortable with controls of Second Life. – Students who see themselves as early adopters. – Staff who see themselves as partners in learning, early adopters and readily available.• Not so good … – Postgraduate & overseas students unfamiliar with environment, learning approach and cultural differences. – Staff who see themselves as “traditional” teachers, presenting materials, scheduled office hours, etc.
Summary • Teaching in Second Life at Higher Education level… – Challenging – Requires planning and continual development – Needs a flexible attitude towards learning – Possibly requires relinquishing control to the learner – Enthusiasm and belief in the platform as a tool not a game – Support from scripters and builders – A reflective and action-oriented approach to teaching methods – Lots and lots and lots of time to ensure it has value for students – If Second Life doesn’t improve your students’ learning experience don’t use it! Simon Bignell (Avatar: Milton Broome) firstname.lastname@example.org Blog: http://miltonbroome.comSee also Eduserv’s ‘snapshot’ of UK HE and FE developments in SLwww.virtualworldwatch.net for overview