Beyond outcomes: Liquid Learning and Liminal Spaces in Second Life

Maggi Savin-Baden
Learning Innovation Research Group
Coventry University

Learning in immersive virtual worlds (simulations and virtual worlds such as Second Life) has become a central learning approach in many curricula, but the socio political impact of virtual world learning on higher education remains under-researched. Much of the recent research into learning in immersive virtual worlds centres around games and gaming and is largely underpinned by cognitive learning theories that focus on linearity, problem-solving and the importance of attaining the ‘right answer’ or game plan. Most research to date has been undertaken into students’ experiences of virtual learning environments, discussion forums and perspectives about what and how online learning has been implemented. To date there is a lack of pedagogical underpinning relating to the use of virtual worlds in higher education, an overemphasis on cognitive approaches to learning and there that needs to be a reconsideration of what ‘learning’ means in such spaces.

What is perhaps needed are ‘smooth curricula spaces’ (Savin-Baden, 2007, following Deleuze and Guattari, 1988 and Bayne, 2004) which are open, flexible and contested; spaces in which both learning and learners are always on the move. Movement in such curricula is not towards a given trajectory. Instead, there is a sense of displacement of notions of time and place, so that curricula are delineated with and through the staff and students, they are defined by the creators of the space(s). These kinds of curricula are likely to be seen as risky since they prompt consideration of what counts as legitimate knowledge. In these kinds of curricula students will be encouraged to examine the underlying structures and belief systems implicit within what is being learned, in order to not only understand the disciplinary area but also its credence. What will be important in the creation of these kinds of curricula is the position of disregarded knowledge (1) as a central space, in which uncertainty and gaps are recognised along with the realisation of the relative importance of gaps between different knowledges and different knowledge hierarchies.

Curricula need to be seen not just as content for meddling with, but as diverse spaces of opportunity. It is in such spaces that we can explore the possibilities for creating curricula for living with chronic uncertainty, liminality and spaces of unknowability. Curricula then will become a series of open-ended spaces rather than a series of permissions to proceed that focus on compliance and rule-based models. Such open-ended curricula will be provisional, unstable and uncertain, and will reflect the translocational state of the university of the future.

1. Disregarded knowledge (Savin-Baden, 2007) encompasses knowledge often equated with emotional intelligence, such as when and how to use self promotion, when to keep silent and when to intervene, but also with Haraway’s (1991) concept of responsible knowledge – the need to take responsibility for the position from which we speak.