Notes from our project meeting, August 28th

We closed the first quarter of our project with a discussion and clarification of the next quarter’s work.

Specifically, we looked at how we will link, test and examine the learning and cultural factors we’ve discussed thus far (including SL specific expertise, community, credibility and hostility, drama and role-play, creativity, ‘learning curves’ and the ‘SL pain barrier) in relation to pedagogy, and the taught sessions to come.

Andrew has summarised these discussions and his proposals relating to sessions 1 and 2, and his notes are below.

Martin, meanwhile, has devised a way to investigate the topics we’ve been pondering (from community to hostility, expertise, etc.) in relation to learning in online worlds. The method itself has a pedagogic aspect. Martin’s summary of the proposed exercise is pasted below.

The first two sessions we had planned are associated with a module we teach called Computer games, gaming cultures and education, on the MA Media, Culture and Communication. The later two sessions are associated with a module on MA in ICT and Education, on the topic of Computer mediated communication.

We are very conscious of the accessibility issues associated with Second Life. We already teach these modules by a mixture of face-to-face and distance learning, but we can’t assume that all of our students can access Second Life. This will be taken into account when we plan the relationship between these sessions and the rest of the respective course.

Sessions 1 and 2


This part of the project will involve two activities. The first uses Second Life both as the learning environment and as the object of study. The second uses Second Life only as the learning environment – the object of study is something distinct. In relation to media education and media literacy discourses, this distinction is simply summed up as ‘learning about the media’ and ‘learning through the media’ (cf Buckingham, 2003).

The distinction is important in relation to how new media (like old media) have been differently constructed in education generally and in media education specifically, whether at school or HE level. Learning through the media has a historical trajectory from the use of audiovisual aids to the current elaborate theories of e-learning, which promise to transform learning. Learning about the media has its roots in media education and media studies, moving from models intended to encourage critical awareness through analytical study of the media to contemporary models which encourage critical study through forms of creative production, not least with new media authoring tools.

This project, in the context of a media studies course about computer games delivered mainly online, is of considerable interest in both senses of learning with new media, and in particular online immersive worlds. The rationale for both activities begins with theories of drama and learning, and addresses the strand of the project concerned with identity and roleplay. The interest for the researchers is in exploring what kind of learning experience is possible with avatar-based identities. On the one hand, this rationale can be traced back to the theory and practice of educational drama, which has espoused drama, both as simulation and roleplay, as a learning tool across the school curriculum. On the other hand, it is based in theories of roleplay and the agency made possible through dramatic intervention by player-as-avatar in contemporary game studies (Frasca; Cameron and Carroll). (note – there’s a list of relevant ref’s at the end of the Game Diary that’s on the blog)

Session 1: cultures of second life

A small group (approximately 4) will spend time during the second section of the course (3 weeks) exploring the theme of ‘user cultures’ within Second Life. This ties to the work on ‘fan cultures and games’ that we usually do during this part of the course. They will work as apprentice researchers, exploring in role issues such as:

• Different community formations
• Systems and practices of regulation
• Identity, play and pleasure
• Creativity, making and building
• Economic regimes
• Space, topographies, navigation

These students will be asked to keep diaries of time spent in Second Life, and their written assignment for this section of the course will form part of the data for the project. In addition, they will be interviewed.

note: Students will also consider the ethical implications of research within online community settings.

Session 2: the virtual seminar

This activity takes place within the final third of the course (3 weeks), which is generally devoted to Games and Education. Usually, students read a selection of articles on aspects of games in education, responding online to structured questions through message-boards in a VLE. In this case, we plan that at least one group will meet with either a member of the project team or if possible an author of one of the set readings in Second Life to debate and discuss a particular paper. If possible, we will involve two authors/teachers, to debate their respective positions, with student interventions. The aim (in terms of the course) will be to engage with the theory proposed by the author; the project’s interest will be in how (or indeed if) avatar-based debate in a virtual environment contributes to the nature and quality of learning.

The data collected for this activity will be:
• Video capture of the debates
• Interviews with the students
• Interview with the author

Mapping learning in Second Life

We discussed what kind of thing the project might produce, and how this might count as evidence that we have tested an approach to teaching based on the learner we observed.

In a related piece of work I used a table to map data analysis, drawing on activity theory; the left column mapped strategic aims, the next, how these were turned into actions, and the next, the detail of how these actions were carried out. Strategies might map over several “action” cells, and each “action” cell might map over several “operation” cells, creating a nested hierarchy in the table.

I suggested an analogy might work here: that we map theories (leftmost), through the markers of these 
theories, to examples of these processes being enacted in an immersive virtual environment.

So, for example, if a theoretical concern was power or community (either could be an example of a cell in the leftmost column), this might map to a number of markers that might include (for example) “exclusion and inclusion”, and these could be instantiated by things such as “accepting group membership applications”, “ridiculing others”, etc.

These instantiations might differ depending on who a particular user bumped into, or which environment they explored (it needn’t be second life, for example), which should lead to some interesting variety in terms of what’s produced.

A teaching intervention based on this might involve fieldwork, with students being sent out into an environment to create a case study that demonstrated how these theoretical ideas played out. From this experience, they might learn about

(a) the theoretical idea,
(b) the environment and its inhabitants, and
(c) how to connect these.

This work would offer outcomes at two levels.

The most tangible would be examples of this kind of framework/table, for issues that we have selected and taught with in our own modules. The less tangible, but more important, would be a description of the 
process of producing these.

This documented process would be useful to guide (and a potential tool) to other teachers-as-researchers who want to support students as they go off and experience things in immersive virtual worlds.