A quiet defence of Second Life

With the recent arrival of Paul (who is of course DT from one of my earlier posts), our two Second Life projects, SWIFT and DUCKLING, have been making great progress. (Apart from some interesting conversations about the nature of realism, I’ve picked up some great building tips from Paul.)

The adapting of the DUCKLING oil rig to Kelly’s and her colleague’s requirements is going well, and SWIFT’s genetics lab is taking shape nicely. Recent visitors to the Alliance have been reassuringly complimentary about the simple and effective pedagogy behind both.

I also saw several excellent Second Life papers at ALT-C in Manchester last month. Luke Woodham has been designing some great virtual patients for health professionals to practise on, while the wonderfully quirky Lego Mindstorms have been used by Michael Vallance to allow constructive collaboration in robot design between students in Japan and Hull. Both seem to be simple and effective uses of Second Life.

I accept that I’m fairly new to this educational tool, and almost certainly have much to learn still (I expect I’m too positive about Second Life), but I was nevertheless intrigued to read the recent blog by Alan Cann, a University of Leicester colleague. Reading the posted comments and those on the FOTE09 panel page, Alan clearly has triggered a passionate debate and I think probably makes one or two good points.

But I disagree with most of what he says. For me, Second Life is a stable environment (certainly as stable as any other technology we use) that is intuitive and easy to use. It is cheap (our oil rig was given free by Sky Maruti), open to anyone and learning to build doesn’t take long. It offers an immersive, collaborative place  for learning to take place. Most of all, though, it offers the potential for innovative learning. This innovation is probably beyond me – at present –  to devise, yet I would be very reluctant to dismiss Second Life for my failings as a learning designer.

I’m sure other virtual environments do the same thing, and perhaps even better, but right now Second Life is fit for purpose, even with the tightening up by Linden Labs on its trademark. There may come a time to move to another virtual world such as OpenSim, but I can’t see any reason why that time is now. Good work is being done now  in Second Life, and this will continue into the future.

However, as well as pointing out the hassle for educators in getting ports opened, Alan is right to demand evidence that Second Life is a pedagogically useful and cost-effective educational tool. But I firmly believe this evidence is being generated.

The groups of students in our research projects do report genuine benefit from using Second Life. The students in Luke’s and Michael’s cohorts reported the same.

Similarly, Luke was involved in the development of the PIVOTE system with Daden. We intend to use PIVOTE in SWIFT, and, as it is open source, the only cost will be my time and Paul’s. And I know it will be a very useful tool.

Set-up costs exist in any endeavour, but how many follow this with free unrestricted access, free artefacts and open-source software? These are pretty good reasons for staying.

Like other institutions, the University of Leicester is undertaking exacting and exciting research in Second Life that I’m certain will lead to its evidence-based, widespread application in teaching and learning. Sandra’s CALF project already is throwing some light on this possible learning future.

The only question I can’t answer is how long this will take, but I hope you’ll follow our journey on the Second Life Twitter tag #UoLinSL.

Or better still, come and visit us in our new physical Media Zoo, and we can show you what we mean.

Simon Kear

Keeper of the Media Zoo

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  1. I’m glad to see your enthusiasm with Second Life 🙂 I have to confess that I’m not exactly “new” to Second Life (but what does “new” mean anyway? Linden Lab is only a decade old, and Second Life has opened to the public a bit over 6 years ago…), but I do still share your enthusiasm of being “too optimistic” after so many years 🙂

    Good luck for your work at UoL with Second Life, and I surely expect to hear more about it!

  2. Hi Simon. When you’ve got some evidence of the cost-effectiveness of Second Life, please could you let me know? In addition, tell me how I can use it to teach my students.

    • bdra

       /  October 12, 2009

      Hi Alan,

      Good to hear from you.

      I think we’re in different camps on defining cost-effectiveness, perhaps reflecting our different roles. I would question the ‘cost-effectiveness’ – in terms of salaries paid – of at least two of my u/g lecturers. For me, SL is cheap in comparison. Nevertheless, I agree that we still need to generate more evidence, but you might find Michael’s comments interesting.

      Regarding your second point, let’s have a coffee and a chat some day …


      • Coffee suggestion sounds excellent. We’re meeting in the DWL cafe at 11am this Friday morning to chat about edtech – come along.

      • bdra

         /  October 13, 2009

        Thanks, Alan. I’ll see you there.

  3. https://beyonddistance.wordpress.com/2009/10/07/a-quiet-defence-of-second-life/

    Thank you for the comments about the LEGO Mndstorms presentation. I wish to point out though that we are collaborating with Middlesbrough Teesside University (not Hull).

    Regarding AJ Cann’s questions: How indeed can one measure the cost effectiveness of any educational context? Does one measure the literacy levels of students graduating from a school with a 1:1 laptop programme versus a traditional chalk and talk school? Mere conjecture I know but my experience of Singapore kids who are using ICT daily in their schooling are going to be much more employable than the average Japanese teenagers I meet who cannot even use a word processor. I am not kidding!
    In our SL implementation though, imagine the costs of flying students overseas in order to work collaboratively with fellow learners, or engaging with experts at other institutions face to face. Virtual worlds may offer a poor equivalent of actually meeting others but for transnational broadcasting of information, teacher and student discourse and student to student collaboration, there are educational as well as financial benefits. Of course, we can use other networking tools such as Google docs, iChat and Skype but virtual worlds offer ‘potentially’ more engaging experiential learning; hence the reason for our research with Middlesbrough Teesside University.
    Which leads me onto question 2…how can SL be used for teaching?
    Well, we have conducted many hours of tasks in SL and are currently viewing the data. Early tasks (about 2 years ago) involved remotely located students simply seeking information from other students in the SL space; hobbies, likes and dislikes, etc. The advantage is that all the text was captured and sent to students later for discourse analysis and as a resource for a classroom based lesson. Since then we have moved on to students developing programming skills through experience and collaboration in SL. The instructor guides the learners in making hypothesis and trying it out..together.. in SL where a three dimensional representation of their outcome can be built and viewed. These are early days in our research but the transformation of the beliefs about learning (with our Japanese students in particular) enables youngsters to take much more ownership of their learning (rather than relying on the teacher). The role of the instructor has to change for such experiential environments to work. To answer question about how can SL be used for teaching one has to assume a didactic approach by the teacher. we have found a more constructivist approach and belief by the ‘teacher’ to have more of an impact over time as students program collaboratively.

    Hope this helps a little. In fact I would love to run a BEd elective entitled ‘How can I use SL to teach my students?’ It’s tough to answer and requires much engagement .. in the classroom and in a virtual world.
    Michael Vallance, Future University Hakodate, Japan.

    • bdra

       /  October 12, 2009

      Hi Michael,

      It’s great to hear from you again, and apologies for not correctly identifying Middlesbrough Teesside University.

      Thanks for these astute observations, which I’m sure will be of interest to our blog readers. As you say, and in fairness to critics of SL and virtual worlds, it is a tough question to answer. But I believe we are zeroing in on these answers in our research projects.


  4. Hello Simon, thanks for your reply to Alan’s post. Like yourself, I have a lot of sympathy with Alan’s viewpoint & I continue to have a love/hate relationships with SL:


    I have been involved with the SL Education New Zealand project & have developed a learning resource for midwifery students. It is very early days for us but the students who have used the resource have found it to be a valuable learning tool – authentic but safe learning experience. The challenge for us is how to embed it into midwifery programs & evaluate the learning outcomes.

  1. raul antonio (mojica) 's status on Thursday, 08-Oct-09 02:18:16 UTC - Identi.ca

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