Simon Bignell's Keynote Lecture at 2nd International Cyberpsychology and Computing Psychology Conference (CyComP 2012) at University of Bolton, July 2012.
Online multi-user virtual environments such as Second Life™ are computer programs populated with personalised digital avatars that offer users the potential to engage in customised lifelike learning activities. Once developed, teaching and research materials created ‘in world’ are persistent and can be accessed continuously, mashed with other online services or used for real-time group activities.
The highly immersive nature of multi-user virtual worlds such as Second Life™ and the economies of scale of deployed e-learning and online research make these methods increasingly appealing across the education sector. However, developing and delivering teaching in virtual worlds is challenging, requires planning and possibly requires relinquishing much control to the learner. Likewise, doubts exist about the validity for conducting research and ethical issues remain about anonymity, avatar identity and reliability of the data produced.
Within Second Life™ many Universities are using problem-based learning, simulation and role play to provide digital learning environments that are comparable to the contemporary classroom with all of the advantages of a fully immersive online/distance learning platform. Additionally, the platform offers educationalists and researchers licence to go beyond traditional pedagogic and experimental methods.
Thousands of virtual world settings have be developed as highly experiential real world simulations but it is also possible to offer a ‘stripped-back’ teaching space that removes distractions from the learner’s environment and focuses on individual sequential learning. The benefits are also clear for researchers wishing to remove confounding variables from their virtual experimental space or to fully immerse their participants in a virtual context (or body) and maintain experimental control. The challenge to these innovative spaces is in realizing their potential without being bogged-down in technology.
This talk follows several funded projects by the author and collaborators and plots the progress and future direction of teaching and research in these evolving online digital communities.