Teaching, learning, and virtual worlds

Here are the readings for the Researching Online Communities seminars, 2009. 

Session 1: Ethics and research issues

Reading to be discussed during session 1 : Ess, C. and the AoIR ethics working committee (2002) ‘Ethical decision-making and Internet Research. Recommendations from the aoir ethics working committee’, online at  www.aoir.org/reports/ethics.pdf

Additional readings: 

Bruckman, A. (2002) ‘Ethical Guidelines for Research Online’, online here.

Useful selection of papers about ethics and online research is available at http://www.nyu.edu/projects/nissenbaum/ethics_bruckman.html

BERA (British Educational Research Association) Revised Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research (2004)

Basett, E.H and O’Riordan, K. (undated) ‘Ethics of Internet Research: Contesting the Human Subjects Research Model’, online http://www.nyu.edu/projects/nissenbaum/ethics_bassett.html

Kraut, R. Olson, J., Banaji, M., Bruckman, A,. Cohen, J., Couper, M. (2003) ‘Psychological Research Online: Opportunities and Challenges’ APA-Internet Version 3.3 (2003) http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs.cmu.edu/user/kraut/www/RKraut.site.files/articles/kraut03-PsychologicalResearchOnline.pdf

Session 2: Identity, learning and community 

Readings to be discussed during session 2: Communities of Practice: Learning as a Social System by Etienne Wenger [Published in the "Systems Thinker," June 1998] and online at http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/cop/lss.shtml

Goodfellow, R. (2008) ‘New Directions in Research into Learning Cultures in Online Education’ Proceedings of the 6th  International Conference on Networked Learning. Halkidiki, Greece. May http://www.networkedlearningconference.org.uk/past/nlc2008/abstracts/Goodfellow.htm

Additional readings: 

Bayne, A. (2010) Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies. London Review of Education, 8 (1) pp5-13.   Online at : http://www.swetswise.com/eAccess/viewFulltext.do?articleID=152013692

Savin-Baden, M. (2010) Changelings and shape shifters? Identity play and pedagogical positioning of staff in immersive virtual worlds. London Review of Education, 8 (1) pp25-38. Online at: http://www.swetswise.com/eAccess/viewFulltext.do?articleID=152013694

Selwyn, N.   (2007)   ‘Screw Blackboard… do it on Facebook!  an investigation of students’ educational use of Facebook’  paper presented to Poke 1.0 symposium, November http://www.scribd.com/doc/513958/Facebook-seminar-paper-Selwyn

Turkle, S. (1996) Life on Screen. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson. 

Race in Cyberspace (2000) B. Kolka, L.Nakamura and G.Rodman (eds). Routledge

Lin Holin, Sun Chuen-Tsai (2005) The ‘White-eyed’ Player Culture: Grief Play and Construction of Deviance in MMORPGs Conference paper for DiGRA 2005 Changing Views: Worlds in Play, Vancouver June http://www.digra.org/dl/display_html?chid=http://www.digra.org/dl/db/06278.21161.pdf

Bradley, S.A., and McConnell, D. (2008) Virtual Groups in Learning Environments: Collaboration, Cooperation or (Self) Centred Individualism? Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Networked Learning, Halkidiki, Greece. May. http://www.networkedlearningconference.org.uk/past/nlc2008/abstracts/PDFs/Bradley_24-31.pdf

Carr, D., Oliver, M., Burn, A (2008) Learning, Teaching and Ambiguity in Virtual Worlds, Paper for ReLive 08 at the Open University, Milton Keynes, November 2008.   http://learningfromsocialworlds.wordpress.com/paper-for-relive-08-at-the-ou/

Bowker, N., Tuffin, K. (2003) Dicing with Deception: People with Disabilities’ Strategies for Managing Safety and Identity Online Journal of Computer-Mediated Communications 8 (2) January 2003  http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol8/issue2/bowker.html

Carr, D., Oliver, M (2008) Tanks, Chauffeurs and Backseat Drivers: Competence in MMORPGs for “Future and Reality of Gaming (FROG) Conference, Vienna, October http://learningfromsocialworlds.wordpress.com/competence-in-mmorpgs/

Macfadyen, L.P (2008) ‘Constructing ethnicity and identity in the online classroom: linguistic practices and ritual text acts’ Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Networked Learning. Halkidiki, Greece. May http://www.networkedlearningconference.org.uk/past/nlc2008/abstracts/Goodfellow.htm

Session 3: Methods/methodology

Readings to be discussed during session: Wittel, Andreas (2000) ‘Ethnography on the Move: From Field to Net to Internet’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research Vol 1 No 1, Article 21 January 2000. http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1131/2517

Note that for this session, we will talk methods/methodology for the first hour. In the second hour, we will discuss the pros, cons and practicalities of converting this particular course into an online course. To so this, we will be returning to some of the material on communities and e-learning from week 2, such as the Bradley and McConnell paper. 

Additional readings: 

TL Taylor (2006) Play Between Worlds, MIT Press


Ducheneaut, N., Yee, N., Nickell, E. and Moore R.J (2006) ‘Building an MMO With Mass Appeal: A Look at Gameplay in World of Warcraft’ Games and Culture 2006 1: 281-317 http://gac.sagepub.com/content/vol1/issue4/


Boellstorff, T. (2008) Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human Princeton University Press

Mortensen T. (2002) ‘Playing With Players: Potential methodologies for MUDs’ Game Studies, Volume 2, issue 1. http://www.gamestudies.org/0102/mortensen/

Whiteman, N. (2007). ‘The Establishment, Maintenance and Destabilisation of Fandom: A study of two online communities and an exploration of issues pertaining to internet research.’ PhD thesis, Institute of Education, University of London) Online here http://homepage.mac.com/paulcdowling/ioe/studentswork/whiteman.html
Other resources/readings:    

www.digra.org (DiGRA’s digital library – for online worlds and games research)

Cybersociology http://www.cybersociology.com/ (issue 6 is on research methodologies)

Terranova (blog) http://terranova.blogs.com/

Association of Internet Researchers http://aoir.org/

Journal of Computer-Mediated Communications http://jcmc.indiana.edu/

Steeples, C., & Jones, C.(Eds) (2002). Networked Learning: Perspectives and Issues. London: Springer-Verlag. Institute Library: Lev Loz Sab STE.

Thorpe, M. (2002) From independent learning to collaborative learning: new communities of practice in open, distance and distributed learning. In Lea, M. & Nicoll, K. (Ed), Distributed learning: social and cultural approaches to practice, pp 131-151. London: Routledge Falmer.

 McKee, H. and Porter, J.E (2009) Playing a Good Game: Ethical Issues in Researching MMOGs and Virtual Worlds, in International Journal of Internet Research Ethics. http://ijire.net/issue_2.1/mckee.pdf

A report from European SchoolNet on games and education.



Here is a copy of a recent e-mail interview with Daniel Livingstone of Sloodle (Second Life meets moodle) fame. Daniel works at the University of the West of Scotland (formally known as the University of Paisley) and more about his work can be found in this paper: Putting a Second Life “Metaverse” Skin on Learning Management Systems, by Kemp, J. and Livingstone, D., in proceedings of the Second Life Education Workshop at SLCC, Livingstone and Kemp (eds.), San Francisco, August 2006, p.13-18 – online here

For more information follow this link to Sloodle

Q: What are the more pressing design and development issues faced by educators working in virtual worlds?
There are a whole range of issues – the most basic ones are probably in trying to learn how best to use virtual worlds to support learners in the context of your particular discipline and subject, and how best to leverage virtual worlds to add value to your class. With the Sloodle project we are looking at more practical issues - such as trying to provide support for class management, and making the transition from web-based learning to virtual world learning (and back again) easier and smoother for students and educators.

Q. Which of the offers of multi-user virtual worlds (or multi-user virtual worlds in combination with learning management systems) would you say are the most significant in relation to learning?  In relation to teaching?

I think that discipline and subject differences may mean that there is no common answer here. For distance communications and distance learning, virtual worlds seem to make communications more informal, more personal. Virtual worlds certainly offer the prospect of richer, more immersive, simulations than offered by 2D interactive flash demo’s -while also adding a valuable community aspect.

There are certainly a wide range of communication tools, and many different types of simulation packages available. Perhaps the unique offering of virtual worlds is the combination of communicative features, making them social spaces, with the ability to build a wide range of simulations (from role-play through to interactive, scripted, computer-controlled systems).

Q. What theory/model of learning and/or teaching do you tend to use, and how have you needed to adapt this model for teaching/learning in virtual worlds?

In my courses generally speaking practical project lab work tends to be a major component (computer science and related), with a significant taught (lectures) component and variable amounts of tutorials and seminars. A fairly traditional mix, though  I do also try to encourage use of online forums, with limited success. For the class using Second Life, I have moved even the lectures into the lab space – allowing for more interactive use of technology as part of the lecture itself. The course has definitely moved significantly more towards a social constructivist model than my other classes. Students also had a larger role in deciding what their group projects would be about, and what they would do within fairly loose parameters. Some guidance on topics and minimum goals were required to give initial direction. When I first ran the class I discovered that I needed to provide more scaffolding in this respect than I had expected to.

Q. How does your research in relate to your teaching as practice?

I’m curious about the classes and about student experience, and students’ expectations/confusion. For instance, what do different students (based in different disciplines) look for and get from Second Life?

Q.  What elements of SL or the classes do students tend to struggle with? (and are these struggles productive, or something that need to be fixed?)

I’ve had quite varied reactions from students, though there have been discernable patterns. My intake is usually a mix of Game Technology (programming & software engineering), Computer Animation, and Multimedia students. The negatives first. Students who are already experienced 3D animators or modellers invariably find the modelling tools in Second Life incredibly bizarre and awkward – and often struggle more than students with no prior 3D modelling experience. Technically minded students in a taught lecture and lab based class (on campus) may not see the point of Second Life – they want to do ‘real programming’ rather than play about in a toy world. A minority discover the scripting language early on and like to play with it to see what they can do with it, and if they can push it to the limits or just have fun doing stuff. Multimedia or web-development students often have more general skillsets, and also seem less likely to have the negative reactions.

The user interface and sheer number of things that are ‘needed to be known’ in SL are an issue that needs resolved – my approach has been to increasingly scaffold the initial activities in SL, and this seems to work reasonably well. I am interested in trying out OpenSim for this – giving students a world without avatar customisation or communication to worry about. Just movement and building!

Comments about teaching in Second Life, and about how it can go wrong – are linked to and discussed here at Eloise Pasteur’s blog.

The proceedings from the 2007 JISC online conference ‘Innovating e-Learning 2007: Institutional Transformation and Supporting Lifelong Learning’ are now available in the form of 2 e-books, one of which, ‘Institutional Transformation’, has a section on Second Life. More information and access to the e-books is here.

A series of interviews with new residents in Second Life conducted by Tateru Nino are online here.

A 2006 article by Angela Thomas, My Teaching Semester in Second Life: Pitfalls, Challenges and Joys – about teaching New Literacies to English educators, published at SLATE (SL Arts and Total Entertainment)

Article from 2006 by Kevin Lim (who works in the areas of social technology/educational technology) at his blog, Theory.isthereason that is an interview with th founder of the Second Life ICT Library, Milosun Czervick. Ideas of SL ‘tools’ for teachers, and SL specific teaching practice are discussed.

Article: Teen Machinimists to get Filming Path Camera HUD for free
from May 2007, by Moo Money at Second Life Insider
This article has a nice list of links at the end, and reference to the new machinima tools that are reputedly arriving in Second Life.
Interesting point made also about how steep the learning curve on the Alt-Zoom camera is. Actually, the last couple of times I’ve tried recording in Second Life it freezes, then crashes (so my learning curve has temporarily turned upside down…).
Re preferred terms: Machinimists? Machinimators?


The idea of conventions is becoming an important theme in this project.
Performing ‘professionalism’ and knowing what is ‘appropriate’ in terms of self-presentation does matter to educators working in SL. See this post from Second Life Insider about teachers, avatars and outfits.

And here’s a picture of a nice suit (fm Onikuya, Sugamo).

photo mini rabbit avatar


We got a message from Dan at Schome about new reports that are available. Dan’s comment is under another post (scroll down these posts) but I’m copying it here as well, so that it’s easier to find.

Dan here (from Schome, the OU, and author of the Glass Houses blog). Following on from Jacquies previous comments we now have a report available covering our findings from Schome Park (http://kn.open.ac.uk/public/document.cfm?documentid=9851) and there are new posts on my blog covering a Second Life event I spoke at last week at The University of Twente in Holland (http://conclave.open.ac.uk/glasshouses/).

Ed Lamoureux is based in the New Media Center at Bradley University (Peoria IL, USA) and he’s been teaching undergraduate classes in ethnography and field research, in Second Life.

Details and reports about his work can be found here, and there’s also lots of interesting information and presentations here at the New Media Consortium’s website.


I’ve spent a few sessions in second life now, and am keeping a reflective diary (as I did with the previous Warcraft study) plus grabbing videos of what I’m up to. Which will, I’m sure, be compulsive viewing. So far, I’ve made it off of the starting island (a saga in itself – this nearly turned into a new season of Lost… I should never have logged out once I’d completed that first task…) and have spent some time customising my avatar so that it when I bump into other people I don’t feel so embarrassed – like I’ve made no effort to present myself well. That, plus a little modest playing around with prims in a sandbox.

I got to wondering about how to start trying to explain this to people, and how it might develop. I think there’s some useful analogies with the notion of risky practices in Communities of Practice theory. The idea there is that people start off by doing safe things, and are allowed to take on more and more risky things as they grow in experience and people start to trust them. This movement often follows a kind of curriculum – in the classic examples, it’s a curriculum of apprenticeship. Here, there seems to be a similar sort of curriculum – learn to move, learn to talk, learn to wear things, learn to find things, learn to make things… But so far, there’s no community to practice in. I can do all this stuff, but it’s like a rehearsal; it’s vacuous. I think it’ll only start getting interesting – only start to be meaningful – once there’s some other people who might take some interest in what I’m doing.

So, pretty soon I’m going to have to go looking for people to hang around with. No obvious groups, though (in the way that Warcraft organises you in relation to people seeking to complete the same quests, etc), so I think it might just be a case of seeing which groups I bump into first.

Martin Oliver

Britta’s avatar at a galleryBritta Pollmuller joined Second Life two months ago and she already has an online exhibition of her first life paintings in a skybox gallery. Britta is a former art teacher who is studying for a MPhil/PhD at Norwich School of Art and Design (Andrew is co-supervising). Britta’s research involves animation in education and its potential impact on learning, creativity and literacy.

Britta kindly offered to take me (Diane) on a introductory tour of SL galleries.

We started at the group show in the skybox where Britta was showing some pictures. We then teleported over to Virtual Starry Night, the Van Gogh museum (where I got lost and found a few times) and then moved to the institutionally-scaled VMOA.

Based on these brief visits it’s easy to imagine how SL might be useful to art teachers, especially as an alternative to conventional textbooks (are textbooks still used in art lessons?). The images look great, and they are beautifully presented. For art educators, the replication of first-life/real life conventions might also be interesting – from group shows in independent or little commercial galleries, to the high-status-with-a-high-ceiling solo-show, to the venerable museum. In each instance, the shows involved work that was produced in first life/real life (paintings, drawings) and scanned into Second Life.

There’s other work out there (installations, video art stuff) and Britta will be adding some ‘landmarks’ and links to this post (see comments). I’m not sure yet how or if these practices intersect with more SL-specific creative practices (from avatar personalisation, building and scripting, to er…’creative interventions’ like grief play…)

Thanks to Britta, and here are the addresses from Britta’s Introductory Tour to Art in Second Life:

SIM 2.0 Art Gallery – Free Space, SINNIQ SIM 01 (165, 24, 23)
Virtual Starry Night – Vincent’s, Luctesa (50, 210, 66)
VMOA, VMOA (150, 75, 27)

Image from a visit to VMOA during the Gottfried Helnwein exhibition.

photo at art gallery

This document by Dr Megan S.Conklin, ’101 Uses for Second Life in the College Classroom’, looks really useful. Over 31 pages, Conklin provides an introductory overview of Second Life while describing teaching experiences, technical logistics, in-world cultures, issues and student assignments.


Ian Lamont interviewed Harvard’s Rebecca Nesson for Terra Nova, and a longer transcript of the article is here. The logistics of teaching in SL, the notion of a learning curve and ‘culture shock’, class participation, and the differences between SL and other e-learning options, are discussed. Some aspects of the introduction of voice to SL are mentioned.


Josephine Dorado visited the Knowledge Lab recently, and presented her work on ‘Creative Collaboration and Cultural Exchange in Second Life’, and here is an abstract, the powerpoint slides and a video of her talk (sorry, the video is not subtitled). 

Here’s an article from the Guardian about a project at the Open University, Schome, that aims to ‘develop new education systems in both real and digital worlds’.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.