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Rethinking concepts in virtual worlds and education research


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A presentation by Diane Carr and Martin Oliver at the Where next for Virtual Worlds in UK higher and further education event held in London in January 2010.

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Rethinking concepts in virtual worlds and education research

  1. 1. Rethinking concepts in virtual worlds and education research Diane Carr Martin Oliver
  2. 2. Introduction: What we did <ul><li>2007-2008. Eduserv funded project Learning from Online Worlds; Teaching in Second Life. </li></ul><ul><li>Project blog: </li></ul><ul><li>Publications from the project : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Immersion, learning and Second Life </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Learning, teaching and ambiguity in Second Life </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Learning practices in World of Warcraft </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Communities of practice in World of Warcraft </li></ul></ul><ul><li>… As well as reports, commentary and interviews </li></ul>
  3. 3. What we do now <ul><li>Continuing to explore aspects of online identity. </li></ul><ul><li>Looking at the relationships between tools/technology and social practices. </li></ul><ul><li>Investigating issues of conceptualization, methodology and research design. </li></ul><ul><li>For example: </li></ul><ul><li>Diane Carr ‘ Constructing Disability in Online Worlds; Conceptualising Disability in Online Research’ London Review of Education 8. 1 March 2010   </li></ul><ul><li>Martin Oliver ‘Technology as the residue of practice: rethinking the relationship between activity and technology’ (2010, Submitted paper) </li></ul>
  4. 4. Exploring the impact of the voice feature on SL’s deaf residents
  5. 5. Becoming deaf in Second Life <ul><li>The context: The rolling out the voice feature in Second Life and the impact on deaf residents </li></ul><ul><li>The existing literature and commentary on SL, ed and disability tends to echo e-learning and accessibility research, i.e – there’s a focus on accessibility as a technical or interface issue, on educator’s compliance with legislation, etc., on ‘special facilities’ or tools… </li></ul><ul><li>Tendency to (implicitly) conceptualise disability in a particular way - eg “Disability as individual problem, impairment or deficit, tool/technology as solution”. </li></ul>
  6. 6. Issues that emerged during this research <ul><li>The need to look beyond tools in order to examine normative/exclusionary practices </li></ul><ul><li>The need to find alternative and more satisfactory models of disability </li></ul><ul><li>… Aha! Disability Studies </li></ul><ul><li>The paper and all the references can be found here: </li></ul><ul><li>Diane Carr (in press 2010) ‘ Constructing Disability in Online Worlds; Conceptualising Disability in Online Research’ London Review of Education 8. 1 March 2010 </li></ul>
  7. 7. Why Disability Studies? <ul><li>What Disability Studies literature/perspectives bring to Second Life , e-learning and accessibility debates is an insistence that researchers consider the ways in which disability itself is conceptualized in their work. </li></ul><ul><li>From an ‘impairment model’ to a ‘social model’ of disability </li></ul><ul><li>This would also involve educators working in virtual worlds having to consider the ways in which their practices ‘normalize’ certain identities - excluding and creating ‘others’ in the process. </li></ul>
  8. 8. From the paper... <ul><li>Virtual worlds - We don’t have to replicate the limitations of the real-world. </li></ul><ul><li>It was not the voice feature as tool that ‘disabled’ deaf users. It was the conventions and practices associated with this tool. It was the choices that people made and continue to make. </li></ul><ul><li>Deafness as disability is re/produced in virtual worlds, through social practices. This suggests that identity within online worlds should be regarded as collaboratively constructed, and that the dynamics and resources that underpin and impact on these constructions are carried into virtual worlds from our everyday lives. </li></ul><ul><li>Online worlds and their communities demonstrate how pervasive inequitable practices and discourses can be, and how difficult it can be to articulate and hence resist the power relations that are embedded within, and disseminated by, these same practices. </li></ul><ul><li>Educators with an interest in equality, online learning and technology need to be thinking about this. </li></ul>
  9. 9. … Where next? <ul><li>Looking for strategies to reconcile the need to produce and evaluate tools (to support accessibility) with the need to think about the ways in which social and cultural factors (including tools and practices) construct and perpetuate disability </li></ul><ul><li>Precedents within Disability Studies that suggest strategies - Eg theorists have used Actor Network Theory to explore the relationships between subjects, disability, contexts and technologies. (see paper for refs). </li></ul><ul><li>Thinking about technology and social practice in virtual worlds and education research. </li></ul><ul><li>This involves thinking about theory and conceptualization in virtual worlds and education research design, in general </li></ul>
  10. 10. Rethinking… Oliver, M., Vogel, M., Carr, D (2009) Representing Pedagogy. In iPED Research Network (Eds), Academic Futures: Inquiries into Higher Education and Pedagogy, 144-159. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Oliver, M. (submitted) ‘Technology as the residue of practice: rethinking the relationship between activity and technology’
  11. 11. Thinking differently about technology <ul><li>Or, a pedant’s progress… </li></ul><ul><li>A common policy question: “What works?” </li></ul><ul><li>A common research question: “Is online learning better than face to face?” </li></ul><ul><li>Implication: technological determinism and homogeneous ‘stuff’ </li></ul><ul><li>Can we ask better questions? </li></ul>
  12. 12. Technological determinism <ul><li>“ PowerPoint made me do it!” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>… and crashed a space shuttle, and so on </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Assumes: technology has an effect (on learning) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>‘ Affordances’, or things that technology ‘permits’ </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Appealing: we can buy technology… and therefore buy effects! </li></ul>
  13. 13. What’s the problem? <ul><li>Fails to explain what people bring to all this (practice, values, creativity) </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Affordance’ is problematic </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Highly ambiguous (thanks, Don Norman etc ) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Arguably inappropriate outside of ecological psychology </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Theory fails to explain learning or culture </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Technically, it’s relational, but not used that way </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. What’s the alternative? <ul><li>Theories of social practice </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Activity theory, communities of practice, etc </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Several common elements </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Shared attention to relationship between people (treated as agents), their purposes and their tools </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mediation or reification; different emphasis but similar idea </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. An example: social construction of technology <ul><li>A sub-discipline of Science and Technology Studies </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Related to Actor-Network Theory </li></ul></ul><ul><li>How does innovation happen? How are technologies produced and made recognisable? </li></ul><ul><li>Technology as a social effect , not cause </li></ul><ul><ul><li>An invitation to open the “black box” and explore social mechanisms behind the tech </li></ul></ul>
  16. 16. What might research like this look like?
  17. 17. What might research like this look like? <ul><li>Describing what happened with some precision </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Who did what, with what, and why? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What was the rug used for? (How did it help people learn, in this case?) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>So what can we say, based on this? </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. What conclusions might be drawn? <ul><li>Claims to avoid… </li></ul><ul><ul><li>That rugs cause/permit/afford conversation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Virtual rugs cause/permit/afford conversation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Red virtual rugs… </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Claims to make </li></ul><ul><ul><li>People created this thing (which happened to be a rug) and used it in particular ways to help them structure their conversation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>So, certain kinds of structuring can help learning activities (and SL can be used to express these) </li></ul></ul>
  19. 19. What would research like this look like? <ul><li>“ Technology as text” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Someone wrote it, various people read it; can we agree on an interpretation? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Exploratory and explanatory </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Weak predictive power (but that might be appropriate…) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Modest claims about past social action with which to develop our repertoires for future action </li></ul>
  20. 20. So, where next… ? Conclusion <ul><li>Thinking about how we conceptualize </li></ul><ul><li>identity </li></ul><ul><li>technology </li></ul><ul><li>learning </li></ul><ul><li>in virtual worlds and education research </li></ul>
  21. 21. And finally… <ul><li>Presumably we define virtual worlds such as Second Life according to our research interests and practices - and this definition shapes our research design. What are the implications? Is there a danger we’ll travel in circles? </li></ul><ul><li>2. Mutant terminology. There are some terms that appear a lot in the literature. They are not new . Sometimes they are only loosely defined and yet treated as measurable, as ‘effect’, or as ‘good for learning’. Some of our favourites: Affordance, immersion, engagement, embodiment, realism… </li></ul>
  22. 22. Acknowledgements: Diane Carr’s current work is supported by a research fellowship called ‘Virtual worlds, Education and Methodology (Methodoludica)’ which is part of: Me diaEvo: Sviluppo di una piattaforma Multicanale e Multisensoriale per l’E d utainment nei Beni Culturali , University of Salento, and the Universita degli studi de Foggia (Nov 2009 - May 2010) Presentation details: Diane Carr and Martin Oliver, London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education, University of London Event: ‘Where next for virtual worlds in UK higher and further education?’ Convened by the Eduserv Foundation, 25.1.2010, London. UK