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Presentation (copy of text from slides)
Project introduction and overview, presented at Researching Second Life
London Knowledge Lab 7.2.2008

Learning from Online Worlds Teaching in Second Life
Diane Carr, Martin Oliver, Andrew Burn
Project outline: Start date June 2007, Duration 12 months (ending in May)
Funded by the Eduserv Foundation
Central issues:
Learning from the learning that happens in virtual worlds. What might this learning teach us about teaching in virtual worlds?

The story so far…
‘Game’ diaries
We discussed our experiences of SL exposure, and identified some pertinent themes:
Expertise (demonstrating, measuring, performing of…)
Conventions (socially produced)…about expertise, ‘identity’, etiquette, trust…
Learning curves and the SL pain barrier
Credibility, ‘noobs’ and hostility (gatekeeping and territorialism)
Self presentation and representation – drama and performativity…
Public spaces, social constructions and ritual spaces (‘magic circle’)
Voice, access, assumptions and rhetorics…

Excerpts from a sample diary are online at the blog.

Taught sessions in Second Life
Two trial meetings with students in November, followed by 2 taught sessions with guest presenters in the first week of December
i. Machinima
ii. Role-playing communities.
Our next taught session is coming up this month on ‘Ethics and Online Research’.
Issues: Technological access, motivation and participation (in relation to the amount of time students’ have)
Initial positives: Advantages of presence and simultaneity for the students as a group. The range of activities in Second Life…
Question raised: The difference between a facilitator’s experience of a session, and the students’.

We are going to talk about 3 pieces of ongoing and inter-relating research. This research runs parallel to our teaching in SL

Social conventions, perceptions of expertise, expectations
The SL ‘pain barrier’
Milestones on the trajectory from ‘newbie’ to ‘resident’
Drama and performance
Students and self-representation

We’ll report on those now.

1. Andrew – Drama and performance
(We will insert Andrew’s presentation on teaching in SL, drama and education here).

2. Diane and the SL Pain Barrier
This exercise began because we wanted to look at the ‘Second Life pain barrier’ as one possible aspect of the journey from newbie to resident. The notion of the pain barrier came out of our early experiences in SL (see the game diary at the blog).

Why does it matter? Because:
Many of our students are SL ‘newbies’. We are the reason they enter SL
SL is difficult for new users.
We need to find out what SL pleasures, frustrations and ‘eureka moments’ (passing through the Second Life pain barrier) could tell us about learning and effective teaching in virtual worlds.

Collect short accounts of the journey from newbie to resident, from self-described residents.
Non-intrusive. Create a post explaining ourselves and our request at a forum, rather than approach subjects in-world
Identify ourselves, our research interests and place of work, etc.
By letter: offering greater scope for self-representation by respondents.
Treat respondents as authors (or with anonymity if preferred)
Treat the letters as ‘texts’ about SL
Precedents: Ien Ang’s work on audiences and Dallas, ‘life writing’ (Bassett and O’Riordan)

SV emailed that she had been using SL since late 2006. She had significant problems with the interface initially.
“I hated it! […] All I saw was walls! I had no idea what was where, it was totally disorientating! […] I just couldn’t get used to it. It was only when one of the guys I came here to be with from the old chat [room] asked me to come in for another’s birthday that I did and it just clicked, it was then, in March, I felt ‘right’, it all came together.”
SV’s letter is a close match to our research intentions.
It indicates both initial frustration, and a specific ‘pain barrier’ moment

Things go awry…
We expected the request to be more or less ignored (we’d seen others ignored)
400 read the post and did not comment, 15 people did respond. Not all were negative, but…
To summarise: Either we don’t really exist at all, or we were acting dumb as part of a scam for $$ or we really had no idea of how to conduct Proper Research, because proper research involves lab-coats, clinics, large amounts of data and/or observing people without their knowledge to ‘get at the truth’, and by asking for letters we were just making people do the research for us.

While the forum responses were not what we asked for, they were very interesting in terms of the work we’d been doing on
hostility, control, credibility and authority in Second Life AND in terms of the respondents’ assumptions about research, and research in Second Life.

We suspect that had we adopted a more authoritative, institutional tone in our original post, these respondents might not have been as liable to suspect our methods. Inversely, if our methods were regarded as less ambiguous and more ‘pure’, ‘scientific’ or indeed ‘proper’ then our decision not to phrase our request in clinical language may have been moot.

Bassett and O’Riordan’s paper, ‘Ethics of Internet Research: Contesting the Human Subjects Research Model’ The authors question a dominant paradigm – The assumption that Internet research involves human subjects research. We considered this in relation to the assumptions made about research by the forum respondents about ‘proper research’ and asked: What if we are taking the ‘social’ in Second Life too literally?

What if we look at the themes in these posts (authority, credibility, reputation, community, hostility, territorialism, protectionism…)
And see these things as pervasive in SL ‘as a collectively composed text’.

What might such an analysis look like?
Second Life as a text with certain persistent and pervasive rhetorics
Approaching these elements as being ‘about Second Life-as-text’ (rather than being about its individual participants)
Questions of discourse.
Consider the aforementioned themes (authority, credibility, reputation, community, hostility, territorialism, protection…)
As patterns in discourse…
That circulate and eventually accrue certain ‘consolidations’ – discursive agencies or constructs…
If there are such constructs in SL discourse, what are their properties and their function?

The construct itself does not judge, but is implicitly evoked when judgments are made, as, for example, a ‘them’ or an ‘everyone knows’ or ‘the community’
This construct is associated with credibility within SL culture and discourse, evoked (implicitly or otherwise) in assessments of non-legitimacy, exclusion, etc.
As such this construct recalls the Lacanian Other – the Other who we imagine judges us, through who’s eyes we imagine ourselves known and exposed, and in relation to whom we assess ourselves and others

Consider a second theoretical precedent:

Foucault’s author function…? (from ‘What Is an Author?’)
The author as discursive construct that…
Will alter culturally and historically
That will manifest differently, in new forms of text
That emerges as an organizing function within the text
And whose function is to regulate meaning

Foucault’s ‘What Is an Author’
The ‘author-function’ resonant of the complexity/ambiguity of SL because it is about the controlling and containment of multiplicity (and anxieties over meaning)
(P 118-9) The author-as-discursive construct: ‘allows a limitation of the cancerous and dangerous proliferation of significations […The author is] the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning
(P 119) As society changes and new forms of fiction emerge, new systems of constraint (of meaning, signification and fictions) will also emerge.

What if we combine the ‘Other’ with Foucault’s ‘Author function’…?

This Other-as-author-function, then, is a collaborative construct in Second Life discourse; an infallible phantom that is evoked or implied when definitions of SL, or questions about legitimate participation in SL, are at stake, and who’s function is to control or constrain the proliferation of possible meanings.

If the Other-as-author-function was applied to specific issues or incidents in Second Life, schisms inherent to the construct might quickly reveal that the model is untenable. For our purposes, however, the Other-as-author-function does not need to be particularly robust, permanent or adaptable.
It only had to exist long enough to help us imagine alternative approaches to the study of hostility, credibility and gate-keeping in Second Life.

3. Martin, ‘Gate-keeping’

Picking up two strands of the project:
Second Life as a discursive construct
Managing the relationship between in-world and out-of-world identities

Fit together within a wider interest in learning as successful participation in a community (drawing on Wenger, 1998)
What does it look like?
How is it achieved?
Constructions of Second Life
Building on the position identified in Diane’s presentation
The social construction of Second Life

Exploration of the social construction and negotiation of identity
Boundaries, inclusion and exclusion

Boundary work
Negative aspects of Communities of Practice
‘Othering’ to establish boundaries
Excluding to enforce mutual accountability
Antagonistic communities

Analysis of a thread from a Second Life forum
Introduction of voice chat, and implications for people with hearing impairments

Why this?
A ready-made text positioning Second Life and its users, authored by Second Life users
Discourse analysis, exploring the rhetoric of postings
How is inclusion or exclusion achieved?

Iterative process
13 postings analysed individually
(Identification of objects and agents, claims about them, classification of claims and exploration of counter-claims, labelling of claims as discourses, revisiting each posting to explore the rhetorical effects of these discourses)

Discourses aggregated
100 postings reviewed, leading to some new discourses being added
Organised by including or excluding function

Inclusive rhetoric
Membership was claimed by
Declaring it (e.g. poster claims to be a deaf user, use of phrases such as “one of us”)
Linking to a group (e.g. claiming a friend is in that group)
Expressing contentment
Claiming to have been invited in
Declaring technical proficiencies

Exclusive rhetoric
People were excluded by
Declaring exclusions (e.g. personal experience, phrases such as “your kind”)
Expressing discomfort
Claiming a lack of understanding (e.g. “I can’t begin to imagine…”)
Dismissing experiences
Contrasting personal preferences with those of others

Judging claims or motives as morally unacceptable
Judging claims or motives as rhetorically unacceptable

For example…
The original posting
Asserted writer has a hearing impairment, was user of multiple social worlds, was ‘begged’ to join, has been happy here. Deaf people as a minority, and experience is embarrassing and humiliating. Exclusion is an ongoing problem, as most people were too lazy to type when asked.

Author positioned as included in community of deaf people (by declaration) and of Second Life users (declaration, expressed comfort)
Deaf people positioned as excluded by the majority (declaration), particularly by communicative preferences (contrast)

Another example
An exclusive posting
This poster ‘in’ the Second Life community (links: defending an offensive poster, claiming a deaf friend; choice: a ‘good’ player because operating within “allocated rights”, dictated by Linden Labs)
Previous poster ‘out’ of that community (language: “your kind”; postings rhetorically suspect: hypocrisy; morally suspect: un-American, pole dancer, trying to represent a group without a democratic mandate)
Previous poster ‘in’ the community (dismissing experiences: deaf people cope fine in normal life, so need no special consideration)
Second life claims (should be fun for all)

Other points
Some specific issues that were discussed
What it is to be deaf (and should or does happen if you are)
Authenticity and verification (linked by participants to commerce and education; implications for trust?)
Claims about technology, progress, text chat, voice chat
The relationship between text, voice and the creation of identities
The range of rights and choices that were assumed to apply

Examples of how people established (credible, successful) identities for themselves and others
An illustration of the process of managing community membership (including, excluding, holding to account)
Illustrates the kinds of values that may be encountered in Second Life (commerce, ‘being American’, democracy)
In-world & out-of-world

The other part of the picture:
Multi-membership, risk and negotiations

World of Warcraft, interviewing player-couples.

Looking for overlapping social groups and how people learned to balance competing demands. Chose couples: self-contained, plenty of interaction, overlap of play and other areas of life. Look for areas with clearly defined tasks
Clearer in Warcraft than Second Life

Ten people: four heterosexual couples; one mother-son pairing
Two couples selected for convenience, then others invited to build diversity
Mother & son
Couple who share an account
Couple where one has stopped playing
Interviewed in game, /chatlogged, c. 1 hr

Transcripts split, categorised and categories related to theory (ongoing)
Top-level categories being produced through analysis. Still a work in progress, but currently these categories are:

Who got who started and how
Managing the game
Backseat driving
Affective outcomes
Real space
Managing time
Learning explained by theory

Key: learning to balance the demands of multiple social groups

Inward trajectories
Supported, then independent, then taking on responsibilities (risk)
Outbound trajectories
Leaving guilds; conflicts and exclusion
Mutual accountability
Jealousy, role played relationships; squabbles and duels
Generational encounters
Backseat driving; ‘chauffeurs’ and walk throughs

Summing up
Evidence of the processes of learning in two social worlds
Communities of practice theory a useful framework to account for this
Does not imply a single, cosy community
Clearer description of the kinds of learning that these social worlds support