Friday, March 23, 2007

Educational Uses of Second Life (Notes from FridayLive!)

We just had a fascinating online discussion about Second Life and its educational uses in our free FridayLive! webcast series. The session was led by Ilene Frank and Drew Smith of the University of South Florida, and there were tremendous contributions in the chat room by many of the 75 participants.

Here are a few notes I took about educational applications of Second Life that were mentioned in the discussion. I've tried to emphasize functions where Second Life might have an educational advantage over other online formats as well as over feasible face-to-face interactions. Under each item, I've listed a potential concerns that occur to me, concerns that a feedback survey should address.

Each of these items would lead to a cluster of items for use in evaluative or feedback surveys or interview guides that I'm designing for the Flashlight Program. We'll put the survey items into Flashlight Online as a template, once it's ready. (If you post a comment here or send me an e-mail, it would encourage me to finish this up and share it with our subscribing institutions).

1. Lectures (e.g., people who couldn't attend a face-to-face lecture; might be centered in Second Life, or streaming video from a f2f lecture)

  • Compared with a f2f lecture, are listeners more or less likely to be distracted by their immediate environment?

2. Student projects that involve building or creating something

3. Faculty or students creating something that people can walk through or manipulate: something where learning benefits from happening in a simulated three dimensional environment.

  • For various participants, is the simulation real enough and engaging enough to create lasting memories and insights?

4. Both #2 and #3 create an occasion for comparing simulation and reality: that activity has its own educational value. (This might or might not happen in Second Life, but it's an educational opportunity created by these uses of Second Life.)

5. Activities that benefit from the participant's sense of being part of a group or crowd. A sense of "presence" can be an important part of engagement for learning, working meetings, perhaps even lectures.

  • Any down side to this sense of presence, when compared to a competing way of holding the gathering? (more or less group think?)

6. Using setting, physical design, furniture to create a mood that's useful for the particular function

7. Learning a new language and culture by interacting with people from that other culture, perhaps in a simulated environment that mirrors their environment. For learning another language both chat (a slower pace of interaction, where novices don't need to worry about their accents as they learn to think in a new language) and voice chat have advantages.

A question common to all of these uses, especially those that involve student creation of artifacts (buildings, laboratory experiments, garments, devices, etc.): Time and effort are needed to learn to use Second Life to build things. Is there enough payoff from the activity to justify the effort (not just payoff from this project but from other projects that students might create)? Was the initial experience with the activity sufficiently motivating for the learners and leaders to keep doing this sort of thing (and thus get more payoff from the initial experience with Second Life.)

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