Funded by the Eduserv Foundation
Staff: Diane Carr, Martin Oliver, Andrew Burn
June 2007 – May 2008

Advisory panel:
Diana Laurillard, London Knowledge Lab
Grainne Conole, Institute of Education, Open University
Ken Kahn, London Knowledge Lab
Aleks Krotoski, University of Surrey
Ren Reynolds – VPN
Martine Parry, ANGILS – The trade association for serious games
Patrice Chazerand, Interactive Software Federation of Europe
Yishay Mor, Knowledge Lab
Mark Reid, Head of Education, BFI
Pete Fraser, Long Rd VIth Form College, Cambridge
Hamish MacLeod, University of Edinburgh
Ed Barker, Eduserv Foundation

Project team:

Diane Carr is a Research Fellow in Media and Education at the CSCYM based in the London Knowledge Lab at the Institute of Education, University of London and she teaches games and film theory courses on the IOE’s MA in Media, Culture and Communication. Please check the ‘blogroll’ for further information and contact details, or go to her ‘kind-of-a-blog‘ thing.

Martin Oliver is a Senior Lecturer with the School of Mathematics, Science and Technology at the Institute of Education. Martin is programme leader for the MA in ICT in Education. His research interests include the impact of new technology on roles and practices within Higher Education (including impact on students), evaluating ICT use and research methods. He is deputy editor of the journal, ALT-J.

Dr Andrew Burn is Reader in Education and New Media in the Centre for the Study of Children, Youth and Media at the Institute of Education. He teaches on the MA in Media, Culture & Communication, supervises research students, and works on funded research projects in the field of media and young people. Find out more here

Project description: 

The following is drawn from the project’s proposal and outline

Project start: June 2007
Duration: 12 months

Our aim is to develop theoretical accounts of learning in immersive social spaces and, based on these findings, to develop and test practical recommendations for teaching. In the process, we will engage with methodological issues relating to learner activities, and difficulties associated with defining Second Life itself.

We will examine how different learners ‘create’ Second Life through their selective actualizing of its varied offers. We will investigate how various interests (commercial, industrial, educational) manifest in this online world.

There are high levels of interest in the teaching potentials offered by Second Life (see the references page of this blog). The developers of Second Life have noted and are responding to educators’ interests in the pedagogic potentials of this technology.

Educators are drawn to Second Life, apparently because it is a playful space that is more adaptable, creative, sociable and collaborative than online multi-user games based on fantasy, combat and adventuring. We are interested in the assumptions and evaluations implicit in such comparisons. We are eager to examine how the participants themselves establish and contest notions of content, community, etiquette, sociability, collaboration or conflict in apparently different online worlds, and to investigate how such factors impact on learning. Hence, rather than considering Second Life in isolation, we will compare the world and its user-population with that of World of Warcraft, an online role-playing game.

We will be looking at the discursive construction of Second Life, or ‘Second Life and Education’. For the new user, Second Life can seem a hive of spam, billboards, robotic sex workers, property speculation and gambling. These activities are part of Second Life’s community and economy. We would argue that, actually, educators need to incorporate an admission of Second Life’s complexity into their considerations of the world and its offers. We need to address the discrepancy between the collaborative, socially orientated place that educators might want Second Life to be – and the actual space in which the learners might find themselves.

During our research we will focus on three central questions:

1. How do people learn in online social worlds?
2. How do people teach in online social worlds?
3. How do cultural contexts (gender, convention, genre, expectations etc.) influence these processes?

Learning exists in social worlds and games – but what does it look like, how might it be documented, and how is it supported? What forms of literacy are involved? Participating in immersive social worlds involves learning that is facilitated in various ways; from the community-managed etiquette of the various ‘chat channels’, to the didactic tutorials offered by the software. Is it the case that the more sophisticated the online world, the greater the diversity of potential learning strategies employed by users?


Having identified learning models in online immersive social worlds we will be asking how and indeed if these models translate into effective ‘in world’ teaching. Do factors that facilitate successful informal learning in this context (such as communal learning-by-necessity, for example) translate into successful teaching practices? How do the models of learning we identify relate to existing ‘real world’ pedagogies?

Cultural Contexts

Users have considerable choice in how they represent themselves, and these choices both reflect and create cultural contexts. How do people choose to appear? What proficiencies, preferences or tastes are brought to bear? How do they respond to the identities performed and bodies presented by other users? How do the roles of student and teacher relate to these choices? How are phenomena such as exploration, sociability, resource building and sharing, diversity and mentoring facilitated or constrained in these worlds? Is conceiving of Second Life as a ‘world’ actually useful?


Our first objective will be to locate evidence of learning in two online social worlds, both by reviewing existing research and conducting our own pilot studies. We will seek to understand the specific offers of different online social worlds, and to examine how these differences impact on learning. Based on these findings we will devise teaching strategies. Our second objective, then, is to test these models in Second Life, by delivering a series of classes over two semesters. We will evaluate the educational offers of Second Life (and we will engage our students in these evaluations). This work will be completed at the end of the third quarter. We will reflect on the methodologies we employ, asking what is revealed, and what is potentially obscured.


Our methodology will build on approaches devised during our previous research into learning and gaming cultures. Data collection will combine in-game participation with player observation and post-play interview. During our analysis of this data we will use tried and tested procedures and instruments, derived from activity theory (Oliver and Pelletier, 2005) drama theory (Burn 2006), computer games studies and ethnographic analysis (Carr 2005, 2006; Burn and Carr 2006) and ‘game literacy’ theory (Buckingham and Burn, 2007).

Methods include:

• Reflective analysis of the researchers’ own experience of ‘learning to play’ Second Life, and ongoing play in World of Warcraft.
• Critical analysis of the game-structure, ‘world’ and in-world representations, and cultural-social aspects of these representations.
• Video-documentation of sample learner in ‘training area’ of Second Life
• Observation of particular in-game ‘instances’ or episodes and users’ responses to these (post-play interview).
• Interview members of existing ‘guilds’ or SL groups about mentoring and communal learning.
• Team members attend a sample of taught sessions or educational content in Second Life.
• Recording of taught sessions, collection, analysis and integration of student feedback.

When teaching in Second Life, we will be exploring:

How social worlds replicate existing models of teaching. How such worlds adapt or transform them. And how (or if!) social worlds introduce entirely new forms of teaching. This will involve recognising the presence of familiar teaching and learning models, and looking at the ways in which the contexts of learning, and the specific features of immersive social worlds, impact on these models.

Most of our students are practicing teachers themselves. We plan to deliver 4 taught sessions in Second Life. 2 sessions from the MA in Media, Culture and Communication, and 2 sessions from the MA in ICT and Education. We will be teaching on topics that relate to learning, social features, cultural aspects, and communication within social worlds, so we do not plan to use a private island.


A review of existing literature: This will not be yet another overview of ‘games and learning’. Our task is to review research into Second Life (and learning in SL) and to examine the ways that this discursively constructs this particular multi-user space.

Methodological approaches that can be shared with other researchers working in this area. We will be asking ‘what people learn’ but we will also be asking how and why they learn in Second Life.

New insights into how learning takes place in such environments that can be shared with educators, policy makers and industry.

Tried and tested proposals for teaching in 3-D virtual worlds that will be of interest to educators, researchers, policy makers and industry.

2 days a week – Diane Carr
1 day a week – Andrew Burn, Martin Oliver
June 2007 – May 2008


5 Responses to “Project Information”

  1. Jacquie Says:

    Can I comment on your description of SL as a ‘game’ please? I’m not sure that it is… A game implies a narrative, goals and objectives. A central core of SL is that there is no core narrative – residents generate their own narrative and construct their own space and objectives. While the collaborative element may seem superficially to be similar to that of online gaming communities such as World of Warcraft it is predicated on a very different premis – freedom, choice and lack of goal/objective in my opinion. Having been teaching in SL for some time now and having also been a keen WOW gamer I don’t see any parallels at all. ‘Creativity’ in WOW is template driven, engagement directed into predetermined narrative strands and while group centric the game is still just that with levels and value judgement. SL is closer to a Web 2.0 social space with sense of physical presence and identity. Even avatar construction is entirely different and not game orientated in any way.

  2. socialworlds Says:

    Hi Jacquie, thanks for your comment.

    Opps no, we wouldn’t call Second Life ‘a game’ either (aside from that typo! thanks for pointing it out..fixed now).
    Although there are games there of course. And play.

    Nice to hear from other wow players.
    (for the horde)

  3. Jacquie Says:

    Nah – Alliance…….lol

  4. Jackie Curry Says:

    Hi – I have just IMd Grog Waydelich inworld with this comment too 🙂

    I am also interested in research in SL – in my case I am interested in a phenomenological study of identity. I am currently studying psychology with OU. I have been a member of SL since July 2006 and a member of Mystic Academy since October 2006 when it was established! Mystic is the largest ‘spiritual’group in SL with over 1500 members and has been providing ongoing inworld education since its inception. I have taught some classes there and a full programme is offered every week – classes take place usually every day. I note from your project proposal: _Have you approached Mystic? The Academy Director is (inworld)Dragon Shichiroji and I am Elborath Gelfand (Mystic Ambassador) If you are interested please IM either of us or email me

  5. Chris Babowal Says:

    I am also interested in research in SL – in my case it is how test candidates taking part in case study formated tests do in a SL situation that allows them to interact as part of the SL world rather than as a test candidate taking part in a web-based test that requires them to interact in a semi-direct case study test format. Will the SL situation enhance or deter the candidate’s interactions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s