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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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Starting H817, a learning journal

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Tuesday, 22 Jan 2019, 21:52

I am trying to get a head start on H817 as I will be away on holiday for a week near the beginning. My experiences of H800 convince me that this won't be the end of the world as long as I work hard before and after.

The first paper we had to read was by Park and is about the value of a Learning Journal. This immediately reminded me of some reflections I made in H800 and a little digging led me to TMA02 in which I wrote about the 'Blogging' activity. Unlike many of my OU compatriots I had found blogging as part of H800 to be extremely valuable. A place to record various trains of thought, to link areas of study to areas of experience and to expand on ideas sparked by tutor group discussions was both interesting and useful for my ongoing learning journey. 

This paper would have been so valuable but I didn't find it! I was gratified to see that Park had wrestled with a similar issue as I had discussed - if it's mandatory people may not get the value as they'll do it under sufferance; but if it's not mandatory people may not get the value as they probably won't do it! 

I didn't deliberately take five months off from study. The day I handed in my EMA I visited to 'what to study next' tab and found I had missed the deadline for October starts by only one day. I took this as a sign that my mind, family and laptop needed a break. (Dare I confess that my free evenings have become slightly dull?!) but I am now raring to go on H817. Especially as I have enjoyed the first paper so much!

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Alan Clarke, Thursday, 31 Jan 2019, 12:54)
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Week 1, H800. A post-graduate newbie!

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018, 23:31

I have not formally studied anything since 1996. I signed up to do MAODE in a mad moment when I thought I wouldn't be busy by the time February rolled around! I really didn't know what to expect and I was apprehensive.

Technically week 1 has been slightly less of a challenge than I expected. Whilst I use computers and technology all the time I have only the most passing familiarity with how anything actually works and I was somewhat intimidated by the idea that there would need to be a wide variety of materials to download, save, print, annotate and so on. I bought, just this week, a new laptop as our old PC showed itself unfit for the job. I've also bought some USB headphones. 

I am under no illusions that week 1 has been an 'easing in' exercise. We have watched, read and listened to people who have made interesting and thought provoking arguments and points. We have conversed on the forum (so far it's been very friendly and supportive - long may that continue) and I have looked at some of the extra reading and also followed some links provided by others in my tutor group. I have found it fascinating.

Things which have grabbed my attention this week:

1. A reflection on the short and long term effects of the invention of the printing press in Europe was simply mind blowing. As a sociology graduate the details about the lengthening of childhood - not for sentimental reasons but simply because it takes longer to learn to read and write than to speak and listen - was so interesting. This sent me on a train of thought as I considered the impact of other technologies in a much wider and long term way.

2. A TED talk linked to by a tutorial group colleague by Sugata Mitra inspired me! His account of how organically children can learn by themselves with little adult intervention (The School in the Cloud) turned my experience and expectation of education upside down. I reflected on how this could work in a context where formal schooling is the norm and whether adults who have been formally schooled in a western setting may be ruined for this kind of peer to peer learning. The SOLE (Self Organised Learning Environment) seems miraculous but I wonder if it can be effectively used alongside more traditional and familiar schooling methods or if it really is an either / or situation.

3. A webcast (Dr Ian Rowlands) about the 'google generation' multi tasking also made me think a lot. (I watched it and then read the transcript). In common with the interview with Gregor Kennedy there was a discussion about whether the generation who had grown up with the internet were fundamentally different in their learning behaviours, or if they simply were using new technologies to behave exactly as all generations have behaved. I recalled my own undergrad studies where I could often be found with ten books on a library desk, a few folders crammed with print outs and photo copies of journal articles and a fellow student to discuss things with. I was a pre-google multitasker! My (tentative) conclusion is that learning to be a focused student has always taken some people some time and that the advent of the internet hasn't altered that - it just makes the multitasking (procrastinating? distraction?!) easier to log and count.  

So far many of our resources have been very old (2008 may not sound that long ago but it was before widespread social media penetration and before the smartphone was ubiquitous) which concerns me a little. Surely the changes between 2008 and 2018 are at least as much, if not more, than the changes between 1998 and 2008?

I am looking forward to exploring the online library. A few experimental searches have convinced me it is a veritable treasure trove of fascinating and relevant material (not to mention fascinating, irrelevant and time consuming!).  


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