Why use Second Life

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Introduction

We had been struggling with how to help folk think creatively about schome - all our focus groups and much of the work within the Aspire Pilot was coming up with visions of schome that could best be described as 'school but a bit better'.
We would like to devise a new form of educational system designed to overcome the problems inherent within our current school system in order to meet the needs of society in the twenty-first century.
We are all deeply entrenched in our experiences of the current education system - and this makes it difficult for us to think creatively about what our ideal education system could/should be like.

"There are deep constraints and built-in obstacles to collaborative self-organising and expansive learning in schools. One is the socio-spatial structure based on autonomous classrooms, teachers working as isolated individual practitioners , and the school functioning as an encapsulated unit. Another is the temporal structure of discrete lessons and relatively short standardised time sequences of work punctuated by tests, exams and grading. A third is motivational and ethical - the use of grades and measured success as the dominant motive of schoolwork - which practically always leads to the classification of students as 'weak', 'competent', or 'passive' and 'active'. One of the effects of these constraints is to make it very difficult for school communities to collectively analyse and redesign their practice." (Engeström et al 2002, p211)


Kieron suggested that we might use Second Life to try out ideas, which we couldn't implement in practice (cos of expense etc). Brilliant idea - maybe having a 'lived experience' of something radically different might help folk come up with more creative visions for schome. So we started to explore …

What's good about Second Life?

We've had some pretty good debates about what Second Life gives us that we don't get from other tools. We'll write it up here.

Affordances of the medium

(started at http://schome.open.ac.uk/wikiworks/index.php/Second_life_7Dec and continued here)

Or, in other words, what can we do in SecondLife which we can't do in Real Life:

  • Medium provides distance, you can hide behind an avatar
  • Visuals and sense of reality give confidence
  • synchronous multi-person conversations at distance (not sure how this is different from telephone conference calls or Hexagon web chats?)
  • create, script and interact with virtual objects as an individual or as a group
  • groups appear to form more quickly than they do in real life
  • groups have the facility to put forward and vote on proposals (also present in some other synchronous online tools)

Things you can learn in Second Life

As part of our work on the schome Second Life Pilot we are developing sets of metrics for different 'competences' that (we think) you can develop in Second Life. At the moment this break down into what we are calling:

In thinking about this we should bear in mind the four levels at which one might want to 'assess impact' (taken from The assessment problem):

  1. What was the learning experience like - as seen from the learner's point of view and also from a learning professional's point of view (eg reflection/feedback/evaluation)
  2. Did the learner acquire the expected skills and knowledge (eg 'assessment')
  3. Did the learner get to use those skills and knowledge in their life (eg CV/passport)
  4. Did society benefit (tough one - might this map on to 'health of the community'?)

Discussion

My big question right now is what Second Life gives us that other distance ICT tools don't give us? (e.g. video conferencing like KMi's Hexagon, internet chat, discussion boards...) --Mgaved 12:44, 8 December 2006 (GMT)

In SL you have the ability to create, script and interact with virtual objects. The ability to socially construct/engineer example cases of the subject being discussed is potentially a very powerful learning tool. Of course you do need quite a bit of knowledge to be able to build, script .etc. which can prove quite a barrier --Dan 13:06, 8 December 2006 (GMT)
Good thoughts Dan. You'll appreciate I am playing devil's advocate, like my old t-shirt used to say: I want to believe. But I think if we can be very rigourous about identifying the values of Second Life then it will give us a stronger case to pursue research in it further. Maybe we need to open up a wiki debate page on "What SL is good for"? My concern is there is too much vague hand waving and not enough substance. I played with virtual reality spaces ten years ago and the same hype was offered then, in those days it didn't come to pass. So what's SL got that Black Sun or Alpha Worlds didn't have? Of course blue sky experimentation is one of the things we pay universities to do, but it would be great if we could offer some concrete data. --Mgaved 15:12, 8 December 2006 (GMT)
I agree about needing to be a bit more rigorous about all of this - and guess what, the NAGTY contract has evaluation frameworks in it with 'success criteria' related to how well the teens do in relation to those frameworks (and a number of other things) - so some supposedly hard data - but not really addressing the killer question of 'so what is qualitatively different about SL?'. For my money - its something to do with the issue of identity ... but need more data/evidence/thought to unpack this. PeterT 16:04, 8 December 2006 (GMT)
Please continue with the Devil Advocacy Mark, you do it well ;-) Seriously we need to keep a balanced view, and I match my enthusiasm for the potential of this kind of environment with the realities of its current limitations. Before we even get near talk about how well activities even work (or what they are!), the reality is that the SL client is very weak, their are ridiculous issues with the software (both client and server side - ridiculous in as much as anyone coming from a more stable online service literally won't be able to believe what SLers put up with), machine requirements are exceedingly high for what you actually get (as in SL isn't really a looker, but it's requirements act as if it is), bandwidth is a big problem, you can't guarantee parcels of land being up .etc. And it seems that the general level of problems is exacerbated at the moment by the additional traffic generated by recent increased press coverage. Linden Labs don't seem equipped to handle the level of popularity (however, if that continues then the level of popularity isn't likely to be sustained). --Dan 16:23, 8 December 2006 (GMT)
Some really good points guys. I think taking a look at the NAGTY contract might give us stuff to match SL experiences against. And you know I've a suspicion the way we work it out is to continue as we've been going - by pushing the boundaries and seeing where it does fall over or succeed. I'm really excited by the cool ideas people are having and the building that we're starting to do, I think this is where it we'll get our hard data and find out exactly what SL can support under the hype. I'm thinking that maybe I'm going to struggle with the scripting but I was really impressed by the people turning out at the meeting last night, maybe I will try to think of a game/exercise for people to play in space over 20 minutes and see if this can be used to test some of the psychological theories we're having (identity, group work, presence etc). --Mgaved 21:19, 8 December 2006 (GMT)

Why have our own island?

Schomezone on CETLment 06-11-19 001.gif There are millions of things to explore and learn from in Second Life. We don't need to 'compete' with these but use them.

We also need a friendly schomezone where we can:

  • collate, identify and share useful resources, places and activities
  • meet to discuss schome issues and topics
  • discuss what we want to learn or try out
  • flag up things we like
  • share Second Life experiences: finding interesting places and using things, how to create things, developing skills such as a new language, publishing a paper, recording music…
  • share photos of the places we have been
  • base ourselves as a group of schomentors, share what we have learned and discuss it.

One island or two?

Second Life is divided into two totally seperate sections -

  • the Main Grid (MG) is open to people aged 18
  • the Teen Grid (TG) is open to those aged 13-17

The whole divide between SL and TeenSL is a problem -

  • conceptually (schome explicilty wants to break away from age being a standard way of grouping folk in education)
  • financially (having to buy two islands rather than one)
  • practically (each person has to have a seperate identity/avitar/registration in SL and TeenSL - so more time needed and lots of reinvention - and only Linden staff can port stuff from SL to TeenSL so costs money and takes time to organise)

On the other hand, there are obviously issues around child protection, and there are many areas on the Main Grid which wouldn't be considered suitable for children. Educators who want to carry out research in SecondLife have to be checked out. In the UK this means getting an Enhanced Disclosure - contact PeterT for details.

If we only had one island we would be excluding a major part of the folk who ought to be involved in developing visions of schome. So the only viable option for us is to have two islands - one in the Main Grid (SchomeBase) and one in the Teen Grid (Schome Park).

What should our islands be like?

We need to think about the island's purpose. What is it for and who do we want to go there? A space for three year olds will probably look very different to a space for 18 year olds. We need to consider what approaches to learning will be going on, what people are learning, how this will relate to what we might envisage people needing to know in the future. We want to avoid importing theory-driven dullness.
People have suggested that it could contain:

Let's have a water park!
  • A space to help this sharing and discussion occur
  • library space
  • sandpit area
  • robot / play area
  • concert venue
  • virtual pub
  • virtual writers' circle
  • virtual dojo
  • waterpark

It should be enjoyable, and accessible for a wide range of people. Different parts of the island could be designed to be accessible to different age groups. Perhaps a place where they can try out ideas which would not be possible in the real world.
Lot of Second Life educational spaces mirror real buildings, but they do not need to do so, and some people are definitely opposed to making it look like a school. For example, we could have a water park theme with meetings in the pool and an underwater social area. We have the opportunity to design a space that's the way we'd like it to be.
There are more ideas in Second Life Projects - and the Second Life project goals page outlines the kinds of things we might want to achieve through the projects (in addition to developing our thinking about what schome should be like (which is our main goal).

Resources

When the island is up and running, Jacquie is hoping to have a package of homegrown and Open Source education tools available on Cetlment island which we can just pick up, put in your inventory and take to the island to use quickly. However, many of these still involve scripting which is not so good for a newbie! Jacquie is currently working on getting these into neatly packaged objects which work 'out the box' so anyone involved in Schome can use them easily.

Timetable

We plan to establish the SL island in January 07 - with the TeenSL island following along shortly after that. We have sufficient funding to get us going - and some staffing to set up 'the OU SL library' from January 07. We will need to generate more funding to sustain this activity; let us know if you are interested in helping with raising funding).

To find out how the two islands are developing check out The SchomeBase bliki and The Schome Park bliki.


References

Yrjö Engeström, Ritva Engeström and Arja Suntio (2002)Can a school community learn to master its own future? An activity-theoretical study of expansive learning among middle school teachers, (pp 211-224)in 'Learning for life in the 21st century', Gordon Wells and Guy Claxton (eds) Oxford: Blackwell.