MA Reveal: Thoughts and Reflections

With the summer break now on in England and the next modules not starting till September, I’m taking this short opportunity before work claims me to add another post, the genesis again being the MA Education in Virtual Worlds. The MA has to date left me with a lot to think on and the break is a good time to share some of the thoughts and reflections from throughout that journey. The following materials were presented as part of the assessment process; some are short academic pieces with references supplied, others are taped narrations and/or videos.

On Model Fidelity
Relinquishing Control
On Visual Clues
Learning Spaces
On Soundscapes
Identity Tourism
On What Was Missing
Fidelity requirements for 3D models in simulations.
The virtual world tutor’s role in the learning process.
Introducing play into role plays.
The institutionalisation of virtual learning spaces.
The importance of sound in a simulated environment.
On developing a student’s sense of presence.
Aspects of realism in role plays.

As always comments are a welcome addition to any post so do feel free to add your own thoughts or reflections.


On Model Fidelity: Evidence of Learning – Simulations and Role Play Module

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Relinquishing Control: Blog Post (400 word limit) – Orientation in Virtual Worlds Module

It has been noticeable, during the module sessions, just how quickly the community formed, how easily we embraced playing together, how failure was acceptable because we could try again and how easily we could reach out to each other to learn and to share. It is, in my view, a small insight into what is an everyday occurrence in the lives of the up and coming generation.

The propensity of many of today’s learners to play and to engage socially in virtual worlds, whether gaming or worlds such as Second Life, is on the increase (KZero, 2011) and had led me to think that education would embrace such environments, seeing in them spaces that engage and challenge, that support risk taking and skill acquisition, and that generate collaborative, supportive communities. My experience however is that the actuality is far from an embracing of this collaborative culture and in “not recognizing that these shared experiences exist, public education has failed to provide for the impact of that experience on students’ learning” (Simpson, 2005, p. 18). That eight years on the statement still remains true seems untenable.

It does lead me to consider why there is such a resistance to accepting what is blatantly so. Is it, as Simpson (2005) suggests, that to step into the world of their students, tutors must relinquish control? Is it that these are environments where the students are the experts, “in control of their own destiny and the heroes of their own adventures” (Simpson, 2005, p. 17)? Is it that these students are so technically adept that to enter their world would be akin to giving up the keys of the car? Would this be such a bad thing?

Consider the “curriculum” a virtual world environment supports, especially where gaming is concerned; trial and error testing, constant change, learning from your peers, as-needed skill accumulation, taking risks, self-determination and government, communities of practice and collaboration (Carstens, and Beck, 2005). In my view a skill set more in tune with the modern world than that which they are currently taught.

It isn’t that such learner-centric experiences make the tutor’s role superfluous but rather, as de Freitas and Neumann (2009, p. 351) conclude, although the role does change, it still “remains central to the learning processes, in particular for scaffolding learning and ‘choreographing’ learning experiences. It is time tutors relinquished control and began to learn to dance.

Carstens, A, and Beck, J. (2005) Get ready for the gamer generation. TechTrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning [online]. 49 (3), pp. 22-25. [Accessed 17 December 2012]

de Freitas, S. & Nuemann, T. (2009) The use of ‘exploratory learning’ for supporting immersive learning in virtual environments. Computers and Education [online]. 52 (2), pp. 343-352. [Accessed 18 December 2012]
KZero (2011) Q2 2011 VW cumulative registered accounts reaches 1.4 billion. Available from: http://www.kzero.co.uk/blog/q2-2011-vw-cumulative-registered-accounts-reaches-1-4-billion/ [Accessed 18 December 2012]

Simpson, E.S. (2005) Evolution in the Classroom: What Teachers Need to Know about the Video Game Generation. TechTrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning [online]. 49 (5), pp. 17-22. [Accessed 17 December 2012]

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On Visual Clues: Evidence of Learning – Simulations and Role Play Module

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Learning Spaces: Blog Post (400 word limit) – Orientation in Virtual Worlds Module

One of the notable commonalities of educational learning spaces within Second Life is that they often either re-create the physical campus or are representationally institutional.

Given that “the SL platform is completely free of a publisher-imposed narrative” and that “teachers have freedom to weave their own metaphors” (Kemp, and Livingstone, 2006, p.13) it is incongruous to see institutions importing these physical learning spaces into the Second Life environment when such a richer narrative could be presented. There is also evidence to suggest that these spaces fall far short of the expectations of students.

“students were in no rush to take up the opportunities on offer in the pre-planned, pre-built facilities, but had to be forced to use areas purpose-built for their courses with the threat of graded assessments for virtual activities” (Herold, 2012, p. 5)

Learning spaces that create positive emotional states will not only facilitate learning but will develop in students a sense of attachment to that learning space (Graetz, 2006). Creating spaces that students must be forced to engage with can therefore only be counter-intuitive to supporting learning. It behoves virtual world educators to consider that the traditional classroom, whether in the physical or the virtual world, does not encourage student engagement. And though this does not discount the possibility of engaged learning in such spaces “the argument here is that engaged learning is an emergent property of learning spaces and environments that are designed to provide affordances that actively encourage such engagement.” (Thomas, 2010, p. 503)

Rather than brick and mortar, eyes to the front environments, opportunities arise to develop social environments, enabling emergent properties such as social space that “underlies conceptions of social constructivist practice, collaborative learning and engaged learning” (Thomas, 2010, p. 506). Instead of imprisoning learning inside physical world type structures, educators are free to bring their creativity to the fore by developing learning spaces that motivate and inspire. As the JISC (2006, p.8) report states, “entering a college or university building should create a sense of excitement about learning” and so it should be in virtual learning spaces.

As Graetz (2006) points out coherence, complexity, legibility and mystery are four cognitive determinants of environmental preference, but he also suggests an additional concept; enchantment. Surely it is virtual worlds above most other learning spaces that afford us the opportunity to enchant our students.

Graetz, K. A. (2006) The psychology of learning environments. EDUCAUSE Review [online], 41 (6) pp. 60-75. [Accessed 15 December 2012].

Herold, D.K. (2012) Second Life and academia – reframing the debate between supporters and critics. Journal of Virtual Worlds Research [online]. 5 (1), pp. 1-22. [Accessed 15 December 2012].

JISC (2006) Designing spaces for effective learning. A guide to 21st century learning space design. Available from: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/publications/learningspaces.pdf [Accessed 16 December 2012].

Kemp, J. and Livingstone, D. (2006) Putting a Second Life “Metaverse” Skin on Learning Management Systems. Available from: http://www.sloodle.org/whitepaper.pdf [Accessed 15 December 2012].

Thomas, T. (2010) Learning spaces, learning environments and the dis’placement of learning. British Journal of Educational Technology [online], 41 (3), pp. 502-511. [Accessed 15 December 2012].

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On Soundscapes: Evidence of Learning – Simulations and Role Play Module

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Identity Tourism: Blog Post (400 word limit) – Orientation in Virtual Worlds Module

This reflection looks at a task for exploring identity that required confronting an in-world social group with an avatar antonymous to that group, a task that challenged me, as I am normally a passive and shy person.

More than this aspect though was that in my view, engaging in a form of “identity tourism” (Taylor, 2002) would achieve little in the exploration of identity. Childs (Peachey, Childs, 2011) aligns this term with Lee and Hoadley (2007) that this “experimentation may be part of an exploration of possible selves”, and looks at how it can be used to test different aspects of identity with the objective of finding out whether they fit into our concept of self.

While I agree that forms of role-play can constitute this type of experimentation, Nakamura’s view (Nakamura, 2000), whom Taylor was referring to when using the term “identity tourism”, was that this form of engagement did not involve “progressive forms of self construction” (Taylor, 2002) and allowed little scope for reflection on identity. Though Nakamura was relating her experiences from the text based spaces, the task felt similar.

Due to the confrontational nature of the task I used an alternative avatar, not my main. My main constitutes a six year investment in an identity, which is persistent across a number of virtual worlds in name, physical appearance and attire. It is the avatar whose function is, in Gilbert et al’s words (Peachey, Childs, 2011), “to reflect a stable or “persistent identity” within the virtual world, to build and maintain stable connections to other avatars and the virtual community as a whole.” It is the avatar to whom I relate to most as being an extension of my physical self in virtual worlds, work wise and relationship wise, again in line with Gilbert et al’s findings, and using my main for the task would have felt like a betrayal of that self.

There is evidence to suggest that the success of learning activities conducted in virtual worlds has a correlation to the degree of embodiment and presence students have been able to form (Peachy, Childs, 2011) and that identity and embodied presence are interrelated (Mennecke et al., 2011). However it is my view that this form of experimentation, i.e. “identity tourism”, does little to enhance this cause and would not be a strategy that I would use as a means to develop students’ sense of presence.

Lee, J.J and Hoadley, C.M. (2007) Leveraging identity to make learning fun: Possible selves and experiential learning in massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs). Innovate [online]. 3 (6). [Accessed 5 November 2012].,

Mennecke B.E., Triplett J.L., Hassall L.M., Conde Z.J. and Heer R. (2011) An examination of a theory of social presence in virtual worlds. Decision Sciences [online]. 42 (2), pp. 413-450. [Accessed 5 November 2012].

Nakamura, L. (2000) Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet. Available from http://www.humanities.uci.edu/mposter/syllabi/readings/nakamura.html [Accessed 5 November 2012].

Peachy, A. and Childs, M. (2011) Reinventing Ourselves: Contemporary Concepts of Identity in Virtual Worlds [online]. London: Springer Verlag. [Accessed 5 November 2012]

Taylor, T.L. (2002) Living Digitally: Embodiment in Virtual Worlds. Available from http://tltaylor.com/2009/07/living-digitally-embodiment-in-virtual-worlds/ [Accessed 5 November 2012]

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On What Was Missing: Evidence of Learning – Simulations and Role Play Module

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2 thoughts on “MA Reveal: Thoughts and Reflections

  1. Pingback: MA Reveal: Thoughts and Reflections | Augmented...

  2. Pingback: MA Reveal: Thoughts and Reflections | Flexibility Enables Learning

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