Wednesday, 8 June 2011

'Exploring student learning spaces in second life'

I have not posted in a while - so thought that this time I would share our
Higher Education Research Seminar, delivered at London Met, 7th June 2011. Here are the contributors and the gist of our presentation - followed by links to the slides and other related blogs. I've also included a very positive response that we got...

Contributors:
Alan Hudson, SL, Faculty of Computing, Sandra Sinfield, SL Learning Development & Debbie Holley, PL, Faculty of Education, Anglia Ruskin University

'Exploring student learning spaces in second life'
“More and more, people expect to be able to work, learn, study, and connect with their social networks wherever and whenever they want to.” (New Horizons report 2010:5)

The increasing use of 3D and other ‘Virtual Worlds’ for educational and business use is a highly contested area. Although there are a number of refereed papers on the theoretical constructs and underpinnings of Second Life (www.secondlife.com/), there is little formal research reported as yet into the learning experiences of student and lecturer interactions within these worlds (Herold, 2010)). By 2011 it is estimated that about 80% of active Internet users will have an “avatar” and/or a “second life” in some form of virtual world environment (Chang et al 2009).

This HER seminar will offer colleagues an overview of second life, and then demonstrate projects the team have been working on to engage students in this novel 3D world. First year students have been exploring study skills in the ‘On the beach’ project; Masters students have been creating learning environments and tools, and the team have recently been working on a ‘Toxic Warehouse’ project with a partner from industry, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport.

Materials have been developed that will enable colleagues to get started in exploring Second Life – and will be available below.

WHY Second Life:
This work intersects with and extends our earlier critique of the government's Harnessing Technology document (viz. 'A journey into silence: students, stakeholders and the impact of a strategic governmental policy document in the UK' in Social Responsibility journal, Vol 5 No 4, 2009, I've also attached an old ppt FYI).

Harnessing Technology laid out the goals of Technology Enhanced Learning for society as a whole and HE in particular. Our discourse analysis of this policy text revealed a reductive vision of ICT with isolated, atomised students dislocated from their peers, their culture and their class (and ultimately thus from themselves) as they are plugged into remedial ICT packages and programmes designed to 'fix' them.

We wanted to transcend a Foucauldian medical model of technology for learning - and explore how we could harness its potential for collaborative embodied aspects of learning – and also how we can use the technology to empower rather than limit or control the students’ ability.

Further - there are hints for future research in re Bourdieu's notion of habitus and cultural capital (the concept of being constrained by one's culture and class): does the option of choosing and constructing an avatar not only allow one to become virtually embodied, but also facilitate a transcendence of boundaries?

Resources - from Alan Hudson:
The slides are loaded up to slideshare -

People may also like to look at and the 3D Warehouse blog at and we'll be circulating the On the Beach info very shortly once we've tinkered with the content.

Response from a participant:
Thank you for a really interesting presentation yesterday! For me that was the best - most graspable and enlightening - introduction to what Second Life is about and can offer in the context of higher education I've encountered so far. It is inspiring to see all of the good work you are doing, and great for me to start to feel I have an idea of what Second Life can offer students that other environments cannot. I'm especially taken with the way that the space can be used to facilitate genuine collaboration, connection, creativity and a helpful spirit of competition amongst students who might otherwise struggle to engage and feel a valuable part of some joint endeavour. Really excellent.
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