February 7th discussion event


For reasons of length, the text from our powerpoint presentation is posted at this blog under another category (Slides, Presentations). Look under that category, or follow this link.

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Andrew Burn, London Knowledge Lab, IoE.
Anna Peachey, Open University.
Caroline Pelletier, London Knowledge Lab, IOE.
Catherine Geeroms, Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE).
Celine Llewellyn-Jones, University of East London.
Corrado Morgana, Chelsea College of Art and Design.
Daniel Livingstone, University of Paisley.
David White, TALL, University of Oxford.
Diane Carr, London Knowledge Lab, IOE.
Ed Barker, Eduserv Foundation.
Fiona Littleton, University of Edinburgh.
Genaro Rebolledo Mendez, Serious Games Institute.
Gwyneth Hughes, IOE.
Jim Ang, City University.
Ken Kahn, University of Oxford.
Leonie Ramondt, Anglia Ruskin University.
Maggi Savin-Baden, Coventry University.
Marsha Bradfield, Chelsea College of Art and Design.
Martin Oliver, London Knowledge Lab, IOE.
Patrice Chazerand, Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE).
Siobhan Thomas, University of East London.
Shri Footring, Open University.
Yishay Mor, London Knowledge Lab, IOE.

Summary of discussion 7.2.2008 ‘Researching Second Life’ seminar, London Knowledge Lab
Participants listed above
Summary based on Martin’s notes

Defining Second Life
Topic: How should Second Life be defined? What are the disciplinary, conceptual and methodological ramifications of this definition?
As a tool/stage/toolset
Related to but different from games, which has ramifications for policy (see PC and CG’s position statement)
Dominance of cognition
Different theoretical frameworks construct 2L differently (and the tensions this creates)
A tool, a text or a site of embodiment?
Controlling (experimenting with) identity
Internet, moos, muve…
As researchers from different disciplines we’re each pointing a ‘narrow torch’ on something that can be defined in different ways
Not just the Linden Lab environment but the user-created tools (‘meta-tools’)
Economic or political expression, ownership (comparisons with Facebook)
Regulatory framework
Maybe it looks like a social network, but it is actually not (instead, it has social channels)

Defining Learning
Topic: How do we know learning when we see it? Does learning only count when we can measure it? Is there life beyond ‘assessment-based’ models of learning?

Defining learning
– Formative feedback
– Assessment
– Jonassen’s web of constructivism
– Smooth curricula and disregarded knowledge (see M.S-B’s position statement at the blog)
– Special considerations with minors
– More formal than games
– Situated learning, constructivism & social negotiation of meaning, belonging & identity
– Mix of fantasy & reality
We might all agree that it is a given that learning is taking place, but we also might need to have a way to argue this across interest groups/policy makers, etc.
Holism (learning as an affective, social, cognitive, abstract, concrete, etc.)
Tacit, etc – and the problems that this might raise in terms of assessment or claiming credit
Specialist languages (as per Gee) and role (educational drama and role play)
Learning happens here, but so what? It’s more important to ask what can be done with it and what it means (the question of transference).
It might be easier to demonstrate learning happens with a few concrete examples
There’s a lot of social learning, etc, but there are questions about whether these things change what happens in other settings (situative)
Interest in the boundaries and transitions, but missing a set of tools that enable you to spot new things
Reflection as an important mechanism here?
Failure valued as development
What specific things are you learning?

Literature reviewing
Topic: Is the attention directed at Second Life resulting in the emergence of a compelling body of research? What previous research/fields do researchers ignore at their peril?

Dangers of talking past each other
Diversity of positions vs. coherence
Reinventing the wheel
Does it matter?
Learning by design; Computer Supported Collaborative Work; organisational theory (from Business)
Is this similar to the problem that led to the emergence of Game Studies?
Is it all just tools for particular jobs? (if it’s all bounded, why is this a problem?)
Relationship across related disciplinary ‘zones’ (e.g. art & design, architecture, engineering…
The “glass bead game”
A provocative immaturity, but with times walls and boundaries will emerge
Something will emerge, but it might be rubbish
Danger of terms and concepts being appropriated across fields and disciplines without appreciation of their meaning / baggage / discipline / etc
Declaring a term as a neologism when its actually been around for a decade.
Is there a need for a central location or focus where this stuff can start to be drawn together?
Balancing the breadth of claims (this world, all immersive virtual worlds?) with the risk of fragmentation / loss of coherence (is Second Life “special”?)
What are the research questions that happen to invoke Second Life? (Should we abandon looking at the categories and look instead at problems?)
This isn’t necessarily a continuum – sometimes it’s time to split
If we acknowledge such continuums, what, – if anything – could we say to policy makers or educationalists or…? Continuum at what level (genre, structure, methodology)?
Is there or will there be a SL ‘canon’ – is there one in game studies? (votes 1 yes, 2 no)

Research ethics or ‘ethics’ ethics?
Topic: Ethics in relation to privacy, teaching, research practice and priorities, documentation, observation, methodology, culture, policy – and Second Life

Risk aversion can arise because people don’t understand what people are proposing to do (and some people don’t care and consider it trivial so aren’t willing to spend time on this)
No-one says we shouldn’t do ethical research, but it’s a case of who gets to make certain things conventional (cultural constructions of ethics)
What’s the relationship between things generated for teaching and things that get turned into data?
Are there differences between real life data and data collected from Second Life?
Even if this process is hard or unreasonable, at least it might make you think about things more
How should we distinguish between private and public virtual spaces?
When we become aware of issues, does it become our duty to make this a wider issue (e.g. raise it with others)?
To make sense of the issues there is a need to distinguish between legal ethics (what institutions focus on), moral ethics (our integrity) and what we can get away with (!!).
McFarlane’s ‘being a virtuous researcher’
Motivations and vested interests (from who funded the research through to personal reputations)
Cultural specificity v universality
Privacy (expectations of)
End user licences, derivative works, service agreements – what’s prohibited? (e.g. Linden Labs used to demand that you get written permission from them to do research)
Is there a need for the development of basic etiquette guides for people preparing to teach (and research?) in Second Life – some are already online, but they are not specific to our needs.
The recent JISC project will generate user guides.
Is there a need to disaggregate into (say) intellectual property, morality, etc.
Negotiating ownership (of places, buildings, or images)
Seeking consent is not the same as assuming subjects are hostile to research.
Lots of people are happy to contribute to research (as interviewees etc.)
Ethics in relation to agency – the subject-as-participant (various methodological precedents for this).
Internet research guidelines (Bruckman, Ess and the AOIR) as a resource/relevance to SL

The project team would like to thank everyone who came to today’s event, and contributed to a discussion that was lively, entertaining and informative. We will have notes from the slides from our presentation up here soon, plus a summary of the er…summaries that we compiled during the afternoon. Meanwhile, you are welcome to add comments etc here. Thanks once again!

This event is now booked out 

Researching Second Life
Thursday 7th February 2007
London Knowledge Lab
Noon – 4:15 pm
Convened by the project team (Learning from Online Worlds; Teaching in Second Life).
This event is supported by the Eduserv Foundation

Researching Second Life is a half-day seminar RL discussion on topics relating to the researching of ‘learning, teaching and culture’ in Second Life. To allow for discussion, participant numbers will be limited. The event begins with an update of our Eduserv funded project, ‘Learning from Online Worlds; Teaching in Second Life’. The rest of the afternoon will be for discussion.

In order to generate discussion, some participants have kindly contributed short ‘position statements’ in response to any one of the day’s key themes, and these are available to read here.

The four key themes are:

– Defining Second Life: How should SL be defined? What are the disciplinary, conceptual and methodological ramifications of this definition?

– Defining learning in the context of SL research. How do we know learning when we see it? Does learning only count when we can measure it? Is there life beyond ‘assessment-based’ models of learning?

– Second Life Literature reviewing: Is the attention directed at SL resulting in the emergence of a compelling body of research literature? What previous research/fields do SL researchers ignore at their peril?

– Research ethics or ‘ethics’ ethics? Ethics in relation to: privacy, teaching, research practice and priorities, documentation, observation, methodology, culture, policy – and Second Life.

Timetable:
Presentation 12.00
Lunch 1.00
Theme 1. 1:45 – 2:15
Theme 2. 2:15 – 2:45
Coffee 2:45 – 3:00
Theme 3. 3:00 – 3:30
Theme 4. 3:30 – 4:00
Conclusion 4:00 – 4:15

Martin Oliver, Project team member
London Knowledge Lab, IOE

I promised I’d send a position statement, so…

– Defining Second Life

I can’t even try and answer this question without the image of the blind men and the elephant springing to mind. There are various aspects of Second Life that are of interest, and each research tool will allow us to engage with some small section of these; the overall definition remains mysterious. So, we have the base code, which might be studied as a text or using formal methods from computer science; we have the version of second life that people have created (e.g. all the prims and so on constructed using the code), but we’ll never have a complete description of that let alone a total understanding; there’s what people do using those (all the social features of second life, amenable to social research methods but obviously wide open in terms of current analysis); and then wider still be have social constructions of second life, such as accounts in discussion fora, the press, amongst the public, and so on. I’d be hesitant to claim that any of these on its own “is” second life.

– Defining learning in the context of SL research

This, again, opens up an area that’s not amenable to easy answers. Second life can be used as an environment in which learning, in a conventional curriculum sense, can be tested and measured. But it’s long been recognised that such forms of assessment miss out huge amounts of what’s learnt even in formal education. (All the discussions around the ‘hidden curriculum’ are good examples of this.) They’re obviously going to miss out the majority of what’s happening in this informal setting.

So, instead, I think that it all comes down to picking a position on learning and seeing what (small things) this illuminates. Personally,
I’m interested in the kinds of identity claims that people make on the basis of their participation, and how others react to these. The
development of these (both in terms of what is claimed, and the credibility of these claims) is what I’d point to as an example of learning.

– Second Life Literature reviewing

My impression is that a body of work is developing, but it’s fragmented and disconnected. Work needs to be done synthesising this and identifying gaps so that the topic can be explored in a more coherent manner.

In the meantime, I think it’d be foolish to abandon existing approaches to research from fields such as education, sociology and psychology. Of course, new research approaches might emerge, but until we get a better sense of what it is that the other approaches are failing to reveal to us, any attempt to develop new tools to study that thing are bound to be problematic.

– Research ethics or ‘ethics’ ethics?

These worlds raise all sorts of interesting ethical questions. The TV documentary (last week?) about relationships in virtual worlds makes
a good example – is a relationship enacted virtually using avatars an affair, or not?

Nonetheless, as researchers, we’re not just interested observers of all this. By taking up an unconventional position (enquiry, rather than just casual interest or use) we complicate our relationship with the people and things we’re studying. This has to introduce additional ethical questions. One of the most basic, though, is what it is we think we’re studying – people? Texts? A system? Our positions on this (deliberately plural – see above!) will have implications for how we generate and discuss data, from the technical level of whether or not it’s ok to record or chatlog things we happen
to see, right through to the kinds of claims we make about people, the system and its use. And that’s leaving aside the fundamental issue of what it is we choose to study in the first place, which surely has to be an ethical question.

Position statement
Diane Carr, project team member, Knowledge Lab, IOE

The day’s 4 themes grew out of discussions that the project team (me, Martin Oliver,  Andrew Burn) have had since the project commenced in June 07. Lots of notes and commentary is available here at the blog, under ‘project updates’ as well as on various pages.

Defining Second Life: How should SL be defined? What are the disciplinary, conceptual and methodological ramifications of this definition?

There seems to be a need for more reflection on the ways in which our disciplinary perspective shapes our analysis in the case of Second Life…I’ll be talking about this during our presentation tomorrow.

Second Life Literature reviewing: Is the attention directed at SL resulting in the emergence of a compelling body of research literature? What previous research/fields do SL researchers ignore at their peril?

From the paper I’m working on at the moment…”At the 2007 Association of Internet Researcher’s conference a day-long workshop was dedicated to Second Life and a number of active mailing lists and wikis indicate that there is research underway. Researchers are using sociological, ethnographic and psychological methods to examine questions of online identity. Educators are examining the use of Second Life as ‘classroom’ or considering Second Life as a site for simulations designed to address specific curricula (biology or geology, for example), as a tool that enables the honing of particular skills (such as programming) or as a stage for collaborative practices (drama, art-working, building). It is possible to locate reports, blogs, wikis and reflections on practice, but difficult to find examples of work that share a disciplinary perspective, where the application or suitability of specific theory or methodologies is discussed in depth. This means that the Second Life researcher faces a bafflingly broad range of material that is peppered with significant ‘gaps’.”

Research ethics or ‘ethics’ ethics? Ethics in relation to: privacy, teaching, research practice and priorities, documentation, observation, methodology, culture, policy – and Second Life.

This theme was prompted by some of the discussions that have gone on at Terranova or on the SL Researcher’s mailing list (often generated by Ren Reynolds) on matters of ethics, the difference between bad ethics and bad manners, and the role/influence of US university internal review boards (for example, in relation to the potential emergence of conventions relating to good practice).

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