Thursday, October 25, 2007

Conjunction of Physical and Virtual Learning Spaces

just in case you are expected something else from this title - this session was about Second Life (they use a range of other virtual worlds too but in this case just focused on SL) and doing things in parallel in first and second life spaces. Also a quick caveat - this was about a programme called Masters of Digital Media (accredited by 4 Canadian institutions, btw I really like the idea of masters of, rather than masters in - if it were an astronomy course it could be masters of the universe!) - so the students using the virtual world are learning about it in order to be able to use it/develop for it etc professionally. No problem with this, of course, but does make some of the motivation/engagement dynamics different. More info about the programme is at:

Check out the following YouTube vids to get a flavour:
(what do you think? anyone else think the concept of a "first life avatar" is strange?)
(this second one is mostly about, I think, what sort of virtual learning spaces would students design? - this was what most of the session was about - so more info below.)

Are virtual spaces so different? what is the value added of first/second synch events? - The presenter talked about building an SL campus with a lecture theatre, 2 seminar rooms and a social area - and at first I thought, oh dear this was going to be the standard "we've replicated the real world" but then it opened out and discussed some interesting issues (the presenter was really a researcher in virtual worlds rather than being teaching and learning focused so that set the tone). The students were given one of the seminar rooms to redesign to better suit their learning needs - at first they just stuck in a sofa and a wii, the presenter suggested they might change the way the room is configured - but almost immediately the students abandoned the room shell completely. Some interesting stuff about the dynamics of unconstrained space, the trend for most of the design facts to be round (??) and a facinating exercise (called the interdisciplinary improv session) about editing their avatar to create a polar opposite and the issues of self-representation.

So are virtual worlds so different? Presenter suggested:
Yes - reality need not apply, rich visual spaces, new opportunities for engagement, framing very important to balance gamer background. Different constraints - lag, limited concurrency, downtime, digital divide.
No - still space designed by people, but can augment, still need authenticity for engagement.

Tips for using virtual or dual synch activities based on lessons learned (be warned...)
  • check with the lawyers - Joanna (the presenter) was shot by one of her students in the middle of a presentation (as a joke) so to get him back, she set him on fire
  • set parameters - free spaces still need ground rules
  • make time to play with your students (I kid you not!)
  • customising your own avatar is a mark of respect to your students (like dressing smartly)
  • be creative and encourage experimentation
  • join groups and listservs
  • remember - reality need not apply

....and finally - the usual pre-presentation checks are still worth doing in SL. At an event within SL they invited a guest speaker but after the intro he walked onto the stage with his scripted genitals on the outside of his trousers, so embarrassed was he when he realised that he left without giving his talk - on the other hand at least in SL the floor truly can open up and swallow you!!!


gs said...

why had the guest speaker written his script on his genitals? what's wrong with cue cards? oh, wait...

while SL stuff does (and probably always will) freak me out, it's interesting to see them creating unconstrained spaces - and yet there's nothing really that radical about what they designed, or the principles they worked to, just how they were able to move the components around. and i guess being able to fly affects how you use an environment.

the first life avatar stuff is just wrong - they used to lock you up for having imaginary friends past the age of 8.

but, this has just dropped into my inbox: csi:ny sl - a second life mac taylor might just persuade me to give this stuff a second (excuse the pun) chance...

Joel said...

As Liz said, the idea of students' being able to configure their own learning spaces in a no-cost environment could yield some interesting results. I wonder what they would create and more importantly if the spaces would help them to learn more effectively?

On the one hand we need to have collaboration with the intended users about space design and on the other we possibly need to think about whether we are providing the spaces they want but not the spaces they need.

Brian said...


Could what you are suggesting be done with a design computer program? What would be the benefits of using a virtual world instead?

Andrew Middleton said...

Co-creation of learning spaces may be good ie using SL to mediate a discussion between 'us' and the people we are hearing from/interviewing about learning environment design.

In terms of the value of this physical/virtual dual life approach. I'm sure it was valuable to these students but I keep realising that everyone one in SL is trying to explain why building a campus was good for them despite everyone also saying it's generally a bad idea.
The thing is, as a short term exercise it might have some value but they're not developing long term sustainable, reusable social constructivist models of using a 3DVWs - we hear too much about exceptional uses of 3DVWs. And I have discovered there's a reason why few people are coming up with any ideas I would call good:
Regularly getting more than a small handful of equally skilled people together in SL who are in agreement about undertaking a shared learning activity is very difficult. Getting them to work together in some co-ordinated fashion (ie setting and keeping a few useful constraints) is tricky. Richard and i are going to have real difficulties with the 3D VW movies we're making this year as we will need to rope in people/avatars to act (early warning BTW!).
Also, one more point. One thing that really becomes obvious is how unreal these rebuilds are when you're there. Having a physical resemblance (even a close one) only goes so far in recreating reality. You soon learn a lot about the value of real life trying to pretend everything is normal in SL! If the other main opportunity beyond the social learning in 3DVWs is in simulation, then it's important to take note of how far you can stretch belief in SL - and how far you can't.