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Abstract

Abstract In cyberspace, one’s body can be represented by one's own description, reality can be disrupted and the plain made beautiful or ‘… the beautiful plain’, (Turkle1999: 643).Our case study (cf Stake 1995) sought to explore the opportunities offered to students when they come to class in a virtual world and a differently created learning space. We consider Bullinghurst and Dünser’s(2012) work on augmenting reality for learners to combine the ‘real and the virtual’ to enable students to deal with the abstract. This paper explores student representations in Second Life, a 3D immersive world (www.secondlife.com), and as we engage, we see that the virtual not only enhances both curriculum and practice, but also an emergent scope for visual hermeneutics as both a digital literacy and analytical research tool. The focus of the case is a first year FoLSC group of students, based in Computing, and a first year module with embedded study and academic skills. Our conclusions suggest that offering learning opportunities in different spaces, can, indeed, disrupt – but in a powerful and positive way. Keywords: Digital Literacy, Identity, Second Life, Study and Academic Skills, Virtual World
The Shipwrecked Shore and other metaphors: what we can learn from
occupation of and representations in virtual worlds
Tom Burns, London Metropolitan University
Sandra Sinfield, London Metropolitan University
Debbie Holley, Anglia Ruskin University
In Investigations in university teaching and learning Vol8 summer 2012 pp119-126
Abstract
In cyberspace, one’s body can be represented by one's own description, reality can
be disrupted and the plain made beautiful or ‘… the beautiful plain’, (Turkle1999:
643).Our case study (cf Stake 1995) sought to explore the opportunities offered to
students when they come to class in a virtual world and a differently created learning
space. We consider Bullinghurst and Dünsers(2012) work on augmenting reality for
learners to combine the ‘real and the virtual’ to enable students to deal with the
abstract. This paper explores student representations in Second Life, a 3D
immersive world (www.secondlife.com), and as we engage, we see that the virtual
not only enhances both curriculum and practice, but also an emergent scope for
visual hermeneutics as both a digital literacy and analytical research tool. The focus
of the case is a first year FoLSC group of students, based in Computing, and a first
year module with embedded study and academic skills. Our conclusions suggest
that offering learning opportunities in different spaces, can, indeed, disrupt but in a
powerful and positive way.
Keywords: Digital Literacy, Identity, Second Life, Study and Academic Skills,
Virtual World
Introduction
Cyberspace opens the possibility of identity play, but it is very
serious play. (Turkle, 1999:648)
Billinghurst and Dünser (2012) state that augmented reality supports the
understanding of complex phenomena by providing unique visual and interactive
experiences that combine real and virtual information and help communicate
abstract problems to learners. With educational paradigms shifting to include online
learning, hybrid learning and collaborative learning ‘(NMC2012:5); the NMC report
points out that institutions that support their learners by offering affordances other
than physical campuses leverage the online skills that learners bring with them to
academia. Second Life is a 'virtual world', an electronic environment that visually
mimics complex physical spaces, where people can interact with each other and with
virtual objects, and where people are represented by animated characters called
avatars (Bainbridge, 2007). We wanted to investigate the pedagogic potential of
these emerging technologies; and to do so, we wanted to integrate them with the
curriculum (Glynn and Thorn 2011).We wanted to explore how emancipatory
practice can be developed in tandem both in the physical classroom and in the 3D
Virtual world of Second Life (SL). At the same time we wanted to demonstrate that
far from being a remedial outpost, academic and digital literacies can be covered in
dynamic and empowering ways and as an aspect of a fast changing education
model. This paper focuses on the digital elements of the course concerned.
Context
The focus of the case is a first year FoLSC group of students, based in Computing,
and a first year module with embedded study and academic skills. An unfortunate
perception of ‘skills’ modules can be that they have a remedial purpose: being
designed to ‘fix’ deficit students as they enter the academy from non-advantaged
backgrounds. In order to overcome such deficit perceptions, Computing and
Learning Development staff worked together to develop an empowering module that
harnessed the best ideas and research-informed practices from both their worlds.
Both the classroom and the SL experiences were designed to enhance student
engagement by being meaningful and playful; by being authentic and engaging
and also immersive and active. Winnicott (1971) argued that play is important in
counteracting the implicit threat that occurs when we are in transitional spaces
between worlds, between social classes and in alien educational settings. Dewey
(1938) advocated truly active learning, valuing participation, democracy and
democratic values; where cognitive engagement is matched by affective and
behavioural features. Thus the students found that instead of being route marched
through a series of generic ‘study skills’ type exercises - paper based or online -
multiple choice quiz or drag and drop test (all designed to mend their deficits); they
were taught empowering and active and successful study practices in the physical
classroom; and in SL were invited to create their own avatars and navigate round a
beach space, encountering challenges and solving problems. They were encouraged
to play and actively participate in creating and inhabiting their own learning spaces
and their own learning (http://slonthebeach.blogspot.co.uk/ ).
The Case Study
The Shipwrecked Shore and other metaphors
To explore the opportunities offered to students when they come to class in a virtual
world and a differently created learning space, we created an active and reflective
space in SL that disrupted expectations and enabled ‘difference’. First, we built
reflective spaces on a beach, with a virtual sea and virtual waves washing up and
down. When students fed back that this space was perhaps a little bit too empty and
undefined, we built bonfires and deckchairs to enable the students to use the beach
as a reflective space. To provoke active reflection on different elements of course
content, we distributed various puzzle cubes about with no instruction or
explanation: students had to work in groups pooling their different talents and skills
to de-code the puzzles. Students moved on to building their own spaces in SL:
claiming and transforming their own places, making their own marks on the
educational ‘landscape’. This is a virtual world away from a test designed to check
that set learning outcomes have been met: here the social construction of meaning
and knowledge was played out through the virtual student bodies - in participative,
collective endeavour.
Our visual hermeneutics
As staff, we represented a fluid and participative knowledge-landscape not in a
realist, mimetic representation of a classroom or a lecture theatre, but in the
seashore, the deckchairs and the puzzles. When delivering new supplies to our
students, we shipwrecked a seventeenth century galleon on our twenty-first century
beach. Arguably form and content are matched and merged conveying a message
about education appropriate for the 21st Century and for our digital worlds. In this
scene, epistemology and pedagogy are disrupted: ‘grounded’ to be de-centred,
disembowelled - in a postmodern playground redolent of leisure activity - deckchairs
and bonfire on the beach; transected by space and time the galleon and its bounty.
This narrative tableau has potential to transform production and ‘consumption’ of
education: students explore the shipwreck; they ‘salvage’ the goods; they sit around
the campfire, solve puzzles and discuss their learning; they stake claims in the
landscape and build their own spaces and their own objects. They become both
producers and consumers of knowledge in an unbounded/bounded meaning making
process.
And what of the students themselves?
We wondered if the creative use of SL space would change how our students felt
about education and studying and perhaps how they felt about themselves as
learners. We used Shields’ (2004) model of Lefebvre and Soja’s Trialectic as way to
explore the challenges of conventional spaces and the potential of virtual spaces.
We gained a temperature reading of how students operated in these spaces by
analysing how they represented themselves the avatars they created for
themselves in this new learning environment. All students gave informed consent
for us to use their avatar images for the purposes of knowledge transfer. Given that,
amongst other things, our students appeared as a Klingon; a female sea captain;
and a bumblebee we argue that alternative spaces can indeed be alternatively
inhabited and prove to be emancipatory and empowering as learning spaces. The
relative anonymity of life on the screen gives people the chance to express often
unexplored aspects of the self (Turkle 1999:643).
If the First Space of Sojas Trialectic can be taken as our common sense
understanding of physical space; Second Space becomes the rules that are attached
to or are mediated by our apprehensions of the First Space. Typically, we apprehend
the ‘real’ world as autochthonous (sprung from the earth itself) rather than ‘man’ and
ideology made. For students, especially those from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds,
this can refer to the typical lecture theatre and computing lab and of how the
students’ ‘feelings’ of discomfort, of not belonging, of disempowerment - are
naturalised, with the student and not the constructed space and its power being
the ‘problem’.
Third Space offers the possibilities of re-imagining space and occupying it differently.
For Lefebvre, the proposition is that third space is a social morphology:
“Vis-à-vis lived experience, space is neither a mere frame, after the
fashion of the frame to a painting, nor a form or container of a
virtually neutral kind, designed simply to receive whatever is poured
into it. Space is a social morphology: it is to lived experience what
form itself is to the living organism, and just as intimately bound up
with function and structure” (Lefebvre, 2003:93-94)
Thus our case study was designed to see how students constructed themselves
within the Second Life learning spaces that were offered to them and to consider
by discussion and analysis of their avatars how powerfully they occupied this space.
Mini-case one: the Sea Captain
One student built her own sailing ship in SL, not sailing on the sea, however; if you
look closely you can see the grey ‘stone’ of a building behind her – with the sea
further behind and below. This throws up some challenges for us viewing the
avatar in ‘her’ space. She is blond, pigtailed and in jeans: Barbie on the poop deck?
And yet, the avatar is role playing ‘Captain’, and thus challenging possible
femininities/masculinities and the stereotype male role model - just by being there
an (assumed) woman on the bridge of a ship. At the same time as wearing her
branded tee-shirt, her reflexive device showing her links with her University, the
expert institution, she is challenging and oppositional to the ‘blue stocking women’
from Russell Group Universities; adopting a classed, gendered position within her
learning space. Here we can argue that Soja’s ‘Third space’ produces what might
best be called a cumulative trialectic that is radically open to additional otherness.
Mini-case two: the Klingon
This student had to invest time and effort to purchase and then build up the Klingon
avatar over his own initial human avatar. In SL he had the confidence and courage
to adopt this very powerful, but very unusual, look; and one reading of this avatar
would be that this student built himself a strong avatar that allowed him to act
powerfully within the learning environment. At the same time, there are those that
might read this student’s choice of avatar as oppositional to University culture, that
this presented an implicit challenge to the activities that were supposed to take place
in this learning space. However, this was a student who already had experience of
virtual worlds through gaming and he shared this with his fellow students, enabling
them to develop their SL building skills for their benefit on this module. This can be
seen as a positive third space endeavour: as the avatar changed into the Klingon,
there was an enactment of potentiality, that change is possible: that nothing is fixed
and fluidity is a reality.
Mini-case three: the Bumblebee
“It's not easy to find a single reason why I chose that Avatar - I partly
chose it because a bee is quite an out of the ordinary avatar in SL…
and it's such a big, rather clumsy but at the same time beautiful bee -
it's made up of a lot of complex shapes/pieces - it must have taken
someone a long time to make and design it...
And it takes a long time to build up over my original avatar, so I get to
appreciate the complexity every time I change into a bee, and see
the transformation in slow motion (also a little bit grotesque).
When I'm flying it buzzes its wings, unlike people avatars whose
arms don't really do anything.
Finally I really enjoy seeing a bee sitting in a lecture theatre for
example. There is something a little bit absurd about virtual worlds,
and I like to make the most of that ” Student C (Holley, Burns and
Sinfield 2012)
Here we can see how the student’s choice of avatar allows a different entity into the
learning space. The bumblebee avatar represents a very thoughtful and controlled
choice of something natural but potentially out of place in the ‘real’ University. It
also represents an additional investment of time by the student in herself and in her
learning: for this construction of something that is both beautiful and clumsy and
grotesque all at the same time is time-consuming. Arguably the learning space is
itself transformed by the actions and choices that the student makes about herself in
that space. A space that can be experienced as traditionally passive, controlled and
controlling, with the mind and body being acted upon, is transformed into a space
that can be used as a tool for thought and action in powerful, nuanced and quite
humorous ways.
Concluding comments
The ambiguity of the virtual world is not to be ‘designed out’- instead, it ‘renders
strange’ the conventions that underlie teaching, including teacher roles and student
roles, classroom layout and assessment practices (Carr 2012: 13).In SL, the themes
of physical and pedagogic spaces have been drawn into a new debate: what
happens when we and our students leave our physical presence and start to engage
with our learning in cyberspace? Our study has offered some small scale insights
into this wider debate by exploring the possibilities students may find in inhabiting a
‘third space’. Our reading of our students’ avatars indicates that whilst policy
documents constrain funding of, recruitment to and space within Universities,
particularly for non-traditional students, this can be positively disrupted in powerful
and empowering ways.
References
Bainbridge, W.S. 2007. The Scientific Research Potential of Virtual Worlds. Science,
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Billinghurst, M. & Dünser, A. 2012. Augmented Reality in the Classroom. Computer,
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Glynn, M. & Thorn, R. 2011. Technology Enhanced Learning: A Story from Higher
Education in Ireland. EDULEARN11 Proceedings, 3140-3147
Holley, D., Burns, T. and Sinfield, S. (2012) ‘Bee-ing’ in Second Life: Student
Representations in Virtual Worlds presented at: Reflecting on our achievements
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Learning Conference, University of Hertford, UK, 13/14 June
Lefebvre, H. (2003) The Urban Revolution, University of Minnesota Press.
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Biographies:
Tom Burns Senior Lecturer Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching
London Metropolitan University
Tom Burns, with Sandra Sinfield, has just produced the third edition of Essential
Study Skills: the complete guide to success at University with its accompanying
website http://www.uk.sagepub.com/burnsandsinfield3e/main.htm. He is interested in
harnessing ICT for emancipatory and empowering practice, including via Second
Life. Together they have built an inspiring website for staff and students - see
http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/studyhub/index.html and
http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/studyhub/worries.html.
Sandra Sinfield Teaching Fellow Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and
Teaching London Metropolitan University
Sandra Sinfield, with Tom Burns, has produced the third edition of Essential Study
Skills; the Study Hub for staff and students at London Met; and is launching the
AniMet Challenge http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/animation/index.html to
seed real student research and resource development. Find Sandra on Twitter or
follow her blog http://lastrefugelmu.blogspot.co.uk/
Debbie Holley is a Reader the Department of Education at Anglia Ruskin University.
Debbie uses a range of innovative technologies to engage her students inside and
outside the classroom. Her research interests include second life, where she is
evaluating a ‘mixed reality’ 2D/3D logistics warehouse, web 2.0 technologies and
mobile technologies. Debbie is interested in digital literacies to enhance student
learning. You can follow Debbie on twitter at @debbieholley1.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Article
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Evaluations of AR experiences in an educational setting provide insights into how this technology can enhance traditional learning models and what obstacles stand in the way of its broader use. A related video can be seen here: http://youtu.be/ndUjLwcBIOw. It shows examples of augmented reality experiences in an educational setting.
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Online virtual worlds, electronic environments where people can work and interact in a somewhat realistic manner, have great potential as sites for research in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences, as well as in human-centered computer science. This article uses Second Life and World of Warcraft as two very different examples of current virtual worlds that foreshadow future developments, introducing a number of research methodologies that scientists are now exploring, including formal experimentation, observational ethnography, and quantitative analysis of economic markets or social networks.
Learning and Virtual Worlds, in Education 2.0? Designing the web for teaching and learning available from:www
  • D Carr
Carr, D (2012) Learning and Virtual Worlds, in Education 2.0? Designing the web for teaching and learning available from:www.tlrp.org/pub/commentaries.html [accessed 30/11/2012]
The production of space (trans D.Nicholson-Smith). Oxford Technology Enhanced Learning: A Story from Higher Education in Ireland
  • J Dewey
  • Blackwell
  • M Glynn
  • R Thorn
Dewey, J. (1938/1997) Experience and education. London; Macmillan Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space (trans D.Nicholson-Smith). Oxford; Blackwell, Glynn, M. & Thorn, R. 2011. Technology Enhanced Learning: A Story from Higher Education in Ireland. EDULEARN11 Proceedings, 3140-3147
Bee-ing' in Second Life: Student Representations in Virtual Worlds presented at: Reflecting on our achievements – what's next for technology-enhanced learning? Seventh International Blended Learning Conference The Urban Revolution
  • D Holley
  • T Burns
  • S H Sinfield
Holley, D., Burns, T. and Sinfield, S. (2012) 'Bee-ing' in Second Life: Student Representations in Virtual Worlds presented at: Reflecting on our achievements – what's next for technology-enhanced learning? Seventh International Blended Learning Conference, University of Hertford, UK, 13/14 June Lefebvre, H. (2003) The Urban Revolution, University of Minnesota Press.
The art of case study research Thousand Oaks, CA; Sage Turkle, S (1999) Cyberspace and Contemporary Sociology
  • E W Soja
  • R Blackwell Stake
Soja, E.W., (1996) Journeys to Los Angeles and other real and imagined places Oxford; Blackwell Stake, R. (1995). The art of case study research Thousand Oaks, CA; Sage Turkle, S (1999) Cyberspace and Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 28, No. 6 pp. 643-648 Published by: American Sociological Association URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2655534 Accessed: 30/11/2012
has produced the third edition of Essential Study Skills; the Study Hub for staff and students at London Met; and is launching the AniMet Challenge http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/animation/index.html to seed real student research and resource development
  • Sandra Sinfield
  • Tom Burns
Sandra Sinfield, with Tom Burns, has produced the third edition of Essential Study Skills; the Study Hub for staff and students at London Met; and is launching the AniMet Challenge http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/animation/index.html to seed real student research and resource development. Find Sandra on Twitter or follow her blog http://lastrefugelmu.blogspot.co.uk/
Second Life www.secondlife.com
Second Life www.secondlife.com [Accessed 20/05/2012]
New Media Consortium. [Online] Available from www.nmc.org/publications/2012-horizon-report-k12
NMC 2012. Horizon Report 2012, New Media Consortium. [Online] Available from www.nmc.org/publications/2012-horizon-report-k12 [Accessed 1 July 2012]
/1997) Experience and education
  • J Dewey
Dewey, J. (1938/1997) Experience and education. London;