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Second Life and other Simulation

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This Seely-Brown article we have been asked to read is over ten years old, so it is inevitable that what is discussed as cutting edge innovation will not seem quite so startlingly cutting edge in 2019! However – there are themes and patterns in the innovation which Seely-Brown refers to which have relevance today.

Second Life is something I have only ever heard of as being a bit dated. Like many other platforms which have attracted a large following there have been attempts to utilize the function for learning related activity even though the platforms were not designed with learning in mind and this is what my studies have focused on. What Second Life offers incidentally, rather than by design, is a simulated version of an existing educational or learning activity – in this case simulated lectures, tutorials and study groups. These activities have traditionally been situated but the internet has allowed a ‘virtual’ version to happen alongside, or instead of, the situated activities. Simulation of learning activities can expand the reach of the activity massively – to many more students in many more places. It can also extend the reach in terms of breadth of areas studied. Niche subjects may struggle to attract a sufficient cohort in any given physical university, but these may operate nicely as a globally situated study group. It is, in my opinion, a desire for these two extensions of reach which have necessitated and inspired the innovation education has seen in recent decades. More learners, more subjects to learn. 

Learners gathered within Second Life can collaborate and discuss, and even support and mentor one another, over the internet in a similar way as they can in a lecture hall.  Gallego et al. (2016) are enthusiastic about how students ‘feel’ like they are in the same environment even when situated across the world. Gallego et al. test the three hypotheses which suggest students will be more engaged if it is a) convenient, b) fun and c) social (essentially!) I looked most thoroughly at this paper as it was relatively recent and fit the PROMPT criteria of being well presented, relevant, objective, there was detailed description of the method employed, the paper was published in a peer reviewed journal and it’s relatively timely. The paper also claimed that upwards of 500 universities have a platform on Second Life.

Cheng, 2014, took a different approach and researched the way in which Second Life could be a useful pedagogical tool in which to engage learners with specific and preferred learning styles. The conclusion of their research was that some students will enjoy and engage with Second Life as a learning resource but this will be as a function of their preferred learning style (rather than the problem Seely-Brown addressed – the lack of physical space in educational institutions).  

My investigations about the current use of Second Life by educational institutions involved me googling ‘UK Universities using Second Life’. There was a flurry of activity around 2008 (inspired by, or inspiring the Seely-Brown paper?) but little else. My suspicion is that Second Life, as a proprietary brand, is little used. However – the questions it answered and opportunities it offered may not be.

I can absolutely see how Second Life can be used for learning and educational purposes. I also wonder if some of the functions available in Second Life are not only superfluous to any learning aims but also distracting from it. Does each student really need an avatar? Must tutorials be held in virtual gazebos on virtual tropical islands?! However – if Second Life is where students are it makes sense for educators and practitioners to meet them there. Just as Facebook does not offer any specific learning tools or educational functions it is still a valuable place for simulated learning activities to happen as that is where the students are.

Our OU group is one small testimony to the value of distributed study groups – we are scattered across the world yet, if my experience in H800 is anything to go by, are likely to operate in very similar ways as we would if we were gathered in a classroom (minus the coffee!). We have no avatars and will converse with voices and text. The superfluous, or extraneous, adds less value than it is worth. The important remains.


John Seely Brown and Richard P. Adler (2008) ‘Minds on fire. Open education, the long tail, and learning 2.0’, Educause review, 17(February). Available at: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM0811.pdf.�

Gallego, M. D., Bueno, S. and Noyes, J. (2016) ‘Second Life adoption in education: A motivational model based on Uses and Gratifications theory’, Computers and Education. Elsevier Ltd, 100, pp. 81–93. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2016.05.001.

Cheng, G. (2014) ‘Exploring students’ learning styles in relation to their acceptance and attitudes towards using Second Life in education: A case study in Hong Kong’, Computers and Education. Elsevier Ltd, 70, pp. 105–115. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2013.08.011.|


Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Anna Greathead, Wednesday, 6 Feb 2019, 09:52)
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Edited by Anna Greathead, Monday, 4 Feb 2019, 16:37

The Open University Week runs from Saturday to Friday. In common with many people I work a Monday to Friday week most of the time so in H800 I usually tried to get a good chunk of my work done in the weekend. This meant I was often first on the forums! 

However - I have been working the last few weekends (and the last few weeks!) so here we are on Monday afternoon and I have not completed the 'tasks' assigned for the week (which doesn't end until Friday!) and I feel like I am being a slacker!

Initial reflections of H817 - the tutor group seems HUGE! I can't remember if it was this big in H800 (and I am sad I can't refer back to the conversations). The idea of trying to get to know that many people online is daunting. 

The initial reading from Seely-Brown - a familiar name - is literally making my brain squirm with pleasure! Just love the learning. 

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