The schome-Becta Teen Second Life Project

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Extracts from the bid for funding

1. Proposed area of research (max. 20 words)

Investigating the use of Teen Second Life (a 3D virtual reality world) with 13 to 17 year olds.

2. Proposed research question (max. 20 words)

What are the educational potentials and pitfalls of Teen Second Life and what implications does it have for schome ?

3. Harnessing Technology area of interest (max. 20 words)

Child safety and child protection, including issues associated with social software
The use of technology to support a range of modes of learning
New uses of technology to:

  1. support highly differentiated and self-paced learning
  2. reach disengaged learners
  3. motivate learners
  4. accelerate improvement
  5. support vertical (e.g. between sectors) and horizontal (e.g. between institutions) collaboration

Learners’ experience of technology inside and outside school
Emerging technologies, including social software, Web 2.0, handheld/mobile computing, real world computing, innovative architectures, the digital home, delivery of and access to audio and video

4. Proposed methodology (max. 200 words)

A range of learners within the age range 13 to 17 will be supported in using Teen Second Life. The research team will collect data about their use of Teen Second Life using metrics focused on three aspects of their activity:

  • Engagement – quantity of use; qualitative judgements about levels of immersion
  • Second Life skills – to what extent do students extend their capabilities to act effectively in this environment and how do these map on to real life skills and curriculum expertise (e.g. building objects within Second Life involves the application of mathematical knowledge relating to measures and 3D coordinates)
  • Knowledge Age skills –evidence of collaboration, team work, leadership, creativity, real problem solving, becoming reflective, learning to learn, becoming agentive.

We will collaborate with the Children’s Research Centre at the Open University to increase student participation in carrying out this research and to increase the students’ research competence. This may include bringing in some students to Teen Second Life who have already been trained in research methods by the Children’s Research Centre, and who can act as peer mentors for new student researchers in Teen Second Life.

5. Lead contact: name and contact details

Peter Twining

Director, The Centre for Curriculum And Teaching Studies
The Open University
Stuart Hall Building
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes MK7 6AA

Phone: 01908 655078

Email: P.Twining@open.ac.uk

Skype: Peter.Twining (in the UK)

Second Life: Schomer Simpson
Teen Second Life: TheSchome Ranger

6. Proposed research team (max. 100 words)

The project team will include:

  • Academics (not funded by Becta), including:
    • Peter Twining
    • Deirdre Cook (OU)
    • Julia Gillen (OU/Lancaster)
  • Research fellow (2 days per week for 3 months)
  • Secondee to provide inworld technical expertise (1 day per week for 3 months)
  • Consultants to provide inworld support for activities, including
    • PhD students (6 hours per week each)

7. Case for support

Please outline here why you think your project will enhance what we know about technology and education (500 - 1000 words – please continue on a separate sheet if necessary)

Harnessing Technology explicitly identifies the need to “develop the skills you need for participating fully in a technology-rich society. ... spending more time learning in groups, working with other learners, being creative, learning through challenging, game-like activities and materials ... and with clear personal goals that you help to set.” (DfES 2005 p.11). Teen Second Life appears to have massive potential to help support these aspirations. 3D virtual reality worlds have in the past been limited in their capabilities, not least because the majority of them were designed as multiplayer games which provided limited functionality specifically linked to the objectives of the game. With the development of Teen Second Life we have moved into a new phase, as this environment is not determined by pre-defined objectives that users have to achieve. The functionality provided enables users to have considerable control of the environment and a high level of choice in how they respond to its open ended nature . Thus the educational scope is potentially much greater within Teen Second Life than in any of the other 3D virtual reality worlds that are available for students in the 13 to 17 year old age range. However, it potentially also raises a broader range of issues, for example related to child protection.

Whilst there have been a very small number of projects that have used Teen Second Life for educational purposes (e.g. Global Kids) almost no research into the educational potential (and pitfalls) of Teen Second Life has been documented or published.

The schome-NAGTY Teen Second Life Pilot, which is currently underway, aims to provide robust research evidence about the potential and pitfalls of Teen Second Life as an environment to support student engagement and learning. The Becta funding would allow that work to be built upon and significantly enhanced in a number of ways:

  • Extending the timescale over which some of the NAGTY students are operating in Teen Second Life from two months to five months would provide more robust data about the educational potential of the environment for a number of reasons. For example, it would:
    • reduce the impact of effects due to the novelty of the environment
    • allow students more time to become familiar with the environment and for any educational benefits (learning gains) to become evident
    • allow more data to be collected and more time for data analysis.
  • Increasing the breadth of students to include some who have not been identified as gifted and talented will increase the extent to which the project can inform our understanding of the potential (and pitfalls) of Teen Second Life for education in a way that is not restricted in relevance to ‘the most academically able’ students.
  • Increasing student participation as researchers will:
    • Increase student voice, and in so doing not only increase the relevance and authenticity of the research for young people, but also provide a wider range of perspectives which should increase the robustness of the research
    • Develop research capacity directly by increasing the students’ research expertise, as well as potentially increasing their interest in work in this field
    • Support the development of many of the skills that Harnessing Technology advocates as being essential for the knowledge-based economy, such as solving problems, managing information, communicating across networks, and understanding how to use and apply ICT to their circumstances (DfES 2005 p.27).

Teen Second Life has the potential to address the need identified in Harnessing Technology to “stimulate greater innovation in e-learning design to accelerate the development of the next generation of e-learning” (DfES 2005 p.28). The focus of the schome community is on thinking about the future of education, and Teen Second Life provides a vehicle for helping to overcome the difficulties that people have in looking past the preconceptions about schooling that we have (not least because of our immersion within the current school system). This project intends to use Teen Second Life in conjunction with the schome community website so as to “engage teachers and students in designing and discussing new kinds of pedagogy, which is essential if we are to succeed in innovating and transforming teaching and learning” (DfES 2005 p.28).