Showing posts with label distance education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label distance education. Show all posts

Monday, October 12, 2009

Second LIfe "Mash - Up" of research and observations

The following is a synthesis of observations of three resources on virtual worlds, specifically Second Life, and how this medium can be applied to education, training, and learning. This is my initial presentation using these resources, it is a "mash-up" if you will, to determine if these is a common theme or thread that can be identified and defined as a best practice(s) in using Second Life for education. The three sources I have identified for this initial paper are: Commentary: Virtual Planning and the Online Studio by Justan B. Hollander, David Thomas from the Journal of Planning Education and Research 2009, Avatars, People and Virtual Worlds, Foundations for Research in the Metaverse, Alanah Davis, John Murphy, Dawn Owens, Depepak Khazanchi and Ilze Zigurs, in the February 2009 Journal of Virtual Worlds Research and finally Thomas Malaby's book Making Virtual Worlds: Linden Lab and Second Life.

A review of the Malaby's book is helpful. Malaby does a fine job of exposing the inner workings of Linden Labs, the history and the culture of the business. It is in this context the mission, the vision and the overall philosophy of Linden Labs that one can begin to design a strategy for applying the use of Second Life as a learning environment. In determining the appropriate use of Linden Labs in education presenting the mission of Second Life/Linden Labs seems key: "It is our mission to connect us all to an online world that advance the human condition." Another, what I term "philosophical statement' identified by Malaby is "The eye observes the world, the hand shapes it. For this reason many cultures embrace the eye-in-hand as a symbol of creation that springs from knowledge as do we. Take it as your invitation to create a Second Life that inspires ever more wonder, ever more imagination." In the context of two statements it is little wonder that Second Life is finding itself as the virtual world of choice for educators. After all what is the purpose of education but to inspire wonder and create motivation for individuals to seek more knowledge and create more knowledge?

Holland and Thomas sought to pursue answers to the following concerns:

"For planning educators, do these new 3-D environments offer a chance to dramatically improve the curriculum or simply sit as one more technological distraction to the important work of training planners?" In order to address the researchers looked deeper asking,(1) How does physical planning pedagogy benefit from using a tool such as Second Life? or What are the benefits of using a tool such as Second Life for physical planning pedagogy? and (2) What are some of the implications of moving education off the drafting table and pin-up wall and into an active, simulated computer–based world?"

Furthermore the question may be asked in this context: Can learning be designed in virtual worlds to provide a sense of engagement and presence that maybe lacking in a "traditional learning management system?"

The methodology of this research required that students keep journals, observations, end of semester course evaluations, with both closed and open ended questions. The students were also asked to wrote a final essay evaluating their learning experiences using Second Life. Finally the 71 students involved in the program were required to address a last essay question detailing their experiences in Second Life. The findings of this research were based upon the following:

(1) integration of skills and knowledge in a field example, (2) development of teamwork skills, (3) improvement of problem-finding and problem-solving skills, and (4) exposure to a professional social experience (Hollander and Thomas 2009, Greene 1988; Dutton 1987; Schon 1984; Heumann and Wetmore 1984).

This study sought to address the benefits of using Second Life in these specific areas:

Field experience, teamwork skills, problem-finding and problem-solving skills and professional socializing experience. Benefits were found in the areas of field experience and teamwork skills, with little or no benefit noted in the areas of problem finding and problem solving skills and professional socializing experiences. The authors noted that students spent a great deal of time together to work on projects but chose to not activate social networking tools and that "...students were able to successfully improve their problem-finding and problem-solving skills, but only marginally better than in a traditional studio." It seems that on these two points there is a parallel result between the application of virtual worlds and traditional learning environments, the use of Second Life did not prove to motivate or enhance either points. However it is not noted how the teams were established either in traditional working environment or what sort of problem solving projects the students were given and how the parallel each other in scope.

Ultimately the researchers noted that the "biggest strength of Second Life is also its biggest weakness," this being the unstructured environment this world provides. This lack of structure which may prove to be a barrier to some also proves to provide an environment that facilitates invention and creativity. In providing a 3D environment for learning what sort of advantages does Second Life offer beyond programs such as Sketchup and AutoCad? The authors noted that .."Such programs pale in that regard in comparison with what Second Life offers: it creates a forum for exploring planning and design as social interactions and processes, rather than as simply knowledge and technique. Second Life goes beyond
visualization to a unique quality: virtualization, introducing the user to a real-time virtual 3-D environment that can be a powerful learning tool."

In the Davis, et. al., article the researchers sought to identify the following:

"The potential for contribution to knowledge lies in several areas. First, the study of virtual teams in a metaverse environment can contribute to a deeper understanding of virtual collaboration and teamwork in traditional contexts. Second, a theoretically-defined set of technology capabilities can show how metaverses are different from other kinds of environments and how their uniqueness might enhance the functioning of virtual teams. Third, a clear insight into metaverse capabilities and use can lead to recommendations for the continuing design of advanced technologies for virtual team collaboration. Our overall goal is to enhance research and practice for virtual teams working in a metaverse environment. We present a conceptual model for understanding metaverses and develop a set of recommendations for research in this new area. Our proposed model is different from earlier models of group support and collaboration technologies because it accounts for the unique technology capabilities of and behaviors in metaverse environments. Organizations and academic institutions that are exploring the use of metaverses can benefit by seeing how team interaction might be enhanced. Virtual team managers can benefit by being aware of the basic characteristics of this new environment and how its technological capabilities have potential to provide a richer form of interaction for virtual teams. Researchers can benefit from the foundation for future research in terms of constructs, propositions, and research challenges."

This article meshes well with the Holland and Thomas article because to seeks to identify strategies that facilitate team collaboration and work in the metaverse, furthermore their research seeks to identify those technical challenges that may impede the progress in these areas. The researchers identified several dimensions which are critical to facilitating teamwork in the virtual environment these are: presence, communication, technology, rendering, interaction, and team process. Each of these are defined as:

The term “presence” is related to a wide field of research. Lombard and Ditton identified six different explications of presence that have been used in the literature: presence as • social richness, the extent to which the medium is perceived as sociable, warm, sensitive, or personal when it is used to interact with other people; • realism, the extent to which a medium can seem perceptual and/or socially realistic; • transportation , the sensations of “you are there,” “it is here,” and/or “we are together”; • immersion, the extent to which the senses are engaged by the mediated environment; • social actor within medium, the extent to which the user responds socially to a representation of a person through a medium; and • medium as social actor, the extent to which the medium itself is perceived as a social actor (e.g., treating computers as social entities2
(retrieved from, 10/09/09)

Communication: having the tools to effectively collaborate and communicate in and out of Second Life is critical. Second Life has group features which allow for group text chat and voice chat as well as voice and text chat in "local" venues and one on one private voice/text chat.

Technology: The researchers also addressed the issue of technology. Technology does impact the ability of teams to form and work together. While a platform may have excellent technology on the sending end of things it is only as good as the technology on the user end. Because of this one must the technology of Second Life and other virtual worlds too sophisticated, does it impede the use of virtual worlds in learning, can it be ubiquitous?

Rendering: Rendering is defined as the ability to create life like images on the screen and it is supported by the capabilities of personalization of an avatar appearance; they can also have a personal focus through direct contact with other avatars. One may find communication, immersion and presence enhanced by the ability to demonstrate non verbal speaking animations in world.

Interaction: While this is noted by the researchers I believe it relates back to communication and is the underlying theme of team processes.

Team Processes: The researchers note that effective tools and strategies are not completely in place to facilitate collaboration in virtual worlds.

In review it is evident that it was not the mission of Linden Labs/Second Life to provide the design or game design to users to address and solve problems. Instead Linden Labs provides the means to allow user to be creative in designing their own space, groups, communicating, and games. The user has to stratgize how to implement these. It goes without saying that in achieving this aim users are challenged, the platform is sometimes not malleable in meeting these demands, however there is evidence of success. Recognition goes to those users who are savvy enough to use the tools available to them to be creative, to be innovative and develop a learning environment that meets the needs of their students. In reflection I now recognize that Second Life will not give you a "cookie cutter" approach to addressing the needs for presence, communication, technology, how to develop teams and team processes..but will provide you with the tools and the expectation that you, as user, will design those aspects to best meet your needs.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Connectivism and related concepts

I have been struggling with keeping up with the connectivism course and defining the concepts and determining how they apply to learning. I feel somewhat successful with seeing the connection between social learning theory, systems learning theory, and connectivism

Social Learning is defined as follows:

Social learning theory focuses on the learning that occurs within a social context. It considers that people learn from one another, including such concepts as observational learning, imitation, and modeling. (retrieved from

Social Learning Theory posits that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. The theory has often been called a bridge between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories because it encompasses attention, memory, and motivation. (retrieved from

Systems learning theory (team learning)

Systems learning theory: from Senge's concept of "team learning." Team learning in this context focuses instead on the transmission of both tacit and explicit knowledge throughout the group as well as the creation of an environment in which focused creativity can flourish. Three aspects of team learning were identified as follows: "the ability to think insight fully about complex issues, the ability to take innovative, coordinated action, the ability to create a network that will allow other teams to take action."

Other applicable theories/concepts:

Cybernetics is the theory of communication and control based on regulatory feedback. Further definitions include: "a science concerned with the study of systems of any nature which are capable of receiving, storing, and processing information so as to use it for control"-A.N. Kolmogorov

"Cybernetique= the art of growing"--A.M. Ampere

In the book Communities of Play the author Celia Peace identified communities of play in the context of communities of practice. Communities of practice can be defined as: Community of Practice (CoP) is the process of social learning that occurs and the shared sociocultural practices that emerge and evolve when people who have common goals interact as they strive towards those goals. (retrieved from And as follows: community of practice defines itself along three dimensions:

  • What it is about – its joint enterprise as understood and continually renegotiated by its members
  • How it functions mutual engagement that bind members together into a social entity
  • What capability it has produced – the shared repertoire of communal resources (routines, sensibilities, artifacts, vocabulary, styles, etc.) that members have developed over time.

Pearce used the following definition for community of practice as "a group of individuals who engage in a process of collective learning and maintain a common identity defined by a shared domain of interest or activity." Furthermore the definition of community is offered as an association of individuals with a collective will that is enacted through individual effort.

What does it mean to learn? How long has it been since you have looked at the definition: Learning is acquiring new knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, preferences or understanding, and may involve synthesizing different types of information.

Another related concept is that of autopoetic systems which are 'structurally coupled' with their medium, embedded in a dynamic of changes that can be recalled as sensory-motor coupling. This continuous dynamic is considered as at least a rudimentary form of knowledge or cognition and can be observed throughout life-forms.

Finally the concept of "participative pedagogy," as defined by Rheingold is that "we must develop a participative pedagogy, that focuses on catalyzing, inspiring, nourishing, facilitating and guiding literacies essential to individual and collective life in the 21st century.

Ultimately connectivitism ties all of the above together, fundamentally connectivism is the acquisition and distribution on knowledge across a network of connections. George Siemens asserts that learning is primarily social while Stephen Downes that learning can occur without a society. Further observations identify learning as an immersion into one's community, that learning is social. Connectivism takes the above concepts and theories one step further and recognizes how the underlying technology facilities or provides a platform for the creation of a personal learning network.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

March 29,20090

Hi all,

Today ended the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education..a first for me! I enjoyed it immensely. Now I am just winding down, doing some art, and setting up a few things in Second Life.

After being at the conference the last two days I decided that the best way to get the ball rolling was to start the blog.

If you are a second life so to speak here are my slurls:

For the larger photography/vernacular photography site..still a work in progress

and the other gallery in Coveislands: