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!