Main research question

What are the pedagogical implications of Second Life in education?

If learning for an uncertain future requires students to have more than just knowledge and skills then creativity and lifelong learning in individuals should be nurtured. Hence helping learners begin these skills in the process of learning and teachingbecomes an important factor apart from the course and programme learning outcomes. Helping learners build an online identity and develop as a person overall is also important. All these factors have implications on facilitation, (context) where the learning is happening, the learner and the teacher. The amount of control and ownership in the learning process also determines the types of learner interaction with each other, the teacher and other experts and resources. As such, learning in an overall context is a multifaceted process where pedagogy and learner and teacher are the critical elements. Learning in a digital age or where technology is involved adds a third dimension ‘technology’ thus pedagogy, learner and teacher and technology form the critical platform for learning and teaching. The emergence of Web 2.0 over the years and the ‘social’ element attributed as its strength such as communication, co- creation, user empowerment and collaboration has serious positive and negative implications in learning and teaching. Learner-generated content and learner- generated context have the ability to invert the learning pyramid (teacher-determined and controlled) to a process that engages learners actively in the process and are seen as some of the pedagogical affordances of the Web 2.0 world.

In this course of study the researcher has attempted to explore the learning and teaching implications of Second Life. What sets Second Life apart from other Web 2.0 tools is the apparent lack of real world logics and rules and this creates unique affordances for learning and teaching. Educators have harnessed this affordance in many different ways, applying pedagogies that worked for their teaching context. These pedagogies formed a continuum from collaborative learning to instructivist learning. While some perceived that recreating the traditional approach in-world offered the most benefit, others tried to leverage off the unique opportunities Second Life offered. Creating context aware learning activities (authentic learning), problem- based learning, where the learner is actively involved in solving a problem collaboratively with others, and adaptive learning, the design of the learning activity is such that the learning path is determined by the knowledge and understanding of the learner. In experiential learning, learners are building knowledge and understanding through constructing objects or partaking in the design process in- world without the constraints of real life issues and socio-cultural learning where learning is situation within a community and the learners’ participation within the community enables knowledge and identity formation. This produces blurring the formal and informal learning boundaries and context, where learner-empowerment plays an important role. Findings from this research outline that right pedagogy and Second Life allow the learners this empowerment that in turn helps blur the formal and informal boundaries.
Second Life in turn offers both learners and teachers a platform for being creative. The one degree less reality offers the students the opportunity to be creative and imaginative thus nurturing the creativity side of the learner. On the other hand it offers distance learning teachers and students a sense of presence and place, which arguably has been the downside of distance education - lack of teacher and social presence. As such it allows teachers to target the affective domain of learning. If learner development, as emphasised in the literature, has three domains, cognitive, psychomotor and affective, Second Life if applied correctly, has the potential to aid learners in all three domains. This is validated in this research and pedagogies applied by the educator’s in this study.

Second Life has the capability to offer and enhance social, teaching and cognitive presence in learning inclusive of distance learning. It offers the change needed in higher education from delivery to creativity, from teacher to students. Second Life enables student-generated content inclusive of text and pictures, the 3D models and data visualisations enhance learner collaboration, articulation and understanding as the learners are able to immerse themselves in the content provided to build an understanding, while creating their own. In the process of building or creating the learner’s tacit knowledge is made explicit, which aids the teacher and others to help and guide the learner. It can also give rise to ‘conceptual collision’ a phenomena that brings into question and creates an opportunity to critique a learner’s conceptual understanding of an event or topic against other valid forms of data and information to form new understanding and meaning. The ability to prototype or manifest a creative idea or concept is only restricted by the imagination and capability of the user itself. To do this in the real world, the learner would need considerable financial backing but would still be limited by the logic of the real world. The apparent social nature, comfort, realism, motivation and encouragement reported in this study creates a social environment where learners are able to approach others for help or are able to build a network or community based on certain areas of interest. As such the role of someone of higher expertise in the zone of proximal development of the learner is not only played by the teacher but also played by people and users who are able to facilitate and provide guidance and information to help the learner through his/her learning.

This study also provided clues to the ability of Second Life to promote or accommodate contemporary pedagogies such as connectivism. Connectivism posits that knowledge exists within the network of people rather than in the head of individuals. One such approach that is beginning to gather momentum recently is personal learning network (PLN). The cases studied in this research showed that the social factor of Second Life enabled a formation of a PLN, where users in Second Life are able to seek guidance and expertise from people they do not necessarily know or have only met in virtual spaces such as Second Life. Given the apparent nature of user shaped/created space in Second Life, this study revealed that either teachers create content to immerse their students in it to enhance learning or they enable the students to create content to build knowledge and understanding. Students and teachers also have access to content that is created by other users or residents.

This study also reveals that it is the teachers’ application and choice of pedagogy that either enhances or restricts the role students play in the learning process and the context where learning happens. The authenticity and the ability for student-generated context is also associated with the continuum of teacher-centredness and student- centred; higher student-centredness with right pedagogy and scaffold gives rise to student-generated content and context provided the platform or technology chosen is able to aid this process.

Sub-questions for the research

1. What are the pedagogical affordances of Second Life?

The perceived affordance of Second Life stems from the 3D nature of the platform, user freedom in creating, shaping the look and feel of the space, the social elements and the flexibility of Second Life itself in accommodating other web tools and services. These factors combined give the users unique experiences and opportunities, such as the SL vs RL factor, the one-degree less reality in Second Life that creates limitless opportunities in learning and teaching. This also enables creativity and innovation in learners and also for teachers in revisiting their own pedagogical practice and how they can improve it. The combination of the 3D environment and the social factor provides a sense of shared presence and increased sense of presence and place; a combination that provides benefits for online or distance learning educators and students. This combination also enables networking and formation of personal learning networks that give learners and educators a network of knowledge that can be accessed regularly or whenever required. The combination of 3D, social and SL vs RL factors enable the formation of communities, which in turn provide learners another medium to gain or build knowledge and skill and at the same time form an identity for themselves. This combination also creates opportunities for educators to facilitate learning that are underpinned by learner-centred and social- constructivist pedagogies. This study has revealed several learner-centred and social constructivist pedagogies that have been applied in Second Life with students. The true power of using a platform like Second Life in education is in the perceived ability to allow learner-generated content and social or collaborative learning. While learner content with 2D tools meant texts, pictures and audio, learner content in a virtual environment is a combination of text, pictures, audio and 3D digital artifacts without the limitations present in the real world. Thus, learners are empowered in the process as they have increased innovative and creativity power without the consequences of failure.

Second Life was not designed as an educational tool thus there are shortfalls. The perceived open nature of Second Life allows its users to overcome the shortfalls by integrating other Web 2.0 tools, such as the last collaborative document editing function - this could be overcome by integrating a wiki in-world.

2. What impact does the use of Second Life have on the teacher?

The perceived new experience and environment of Second Life impacted the teachers most. The data revealed that teachers themselves were required to go through a steep learning curve in using and creating in Second Life. Considerable amount of time needed to be set aside, before, during and after class to help the students become acquainted with the environment or in scaffolding the learning curve associated with using Second Life. There was an expectation from students for teacher support and presence at odd hours.

However the ‘disruptive’ nature of technology, in this case Second Life, had a positive impact, as it disrupted the teachers’ trend of usual thinking and encouraged innovative and creative practices in facilitating learning. The teachers were required to pre-plan the learning activities before implementing them in-world. Considerations were also given to the assessment, learner role and activity in the process, social and affective factors and context where learning was eventuating thus impacting on the teachers’ pedagogy. The integration of Second Life led teachers into exploring new techniques and creative ideas, and at the same time, helped them build and conceptualise the relationship between pedagogies and technology. The educators, in using Second Life as a learning platform, viewed their role in the process as a facilitator or as the ‘lead learner’, where they were guiding and mentoring students in the learning process to achieve the desired outcome.

3. What are the issues, barriers and limitations of using Second Life in education?

The issues and barriers associated with Second Life in education fell under four categories as also identified in the literature reviewed. These were pedagogical, technical, operational and perceptual. The perceived pedagogical barrier identified by the Second Life residents was the incorrect use of pedagogies in using Second Life for learning and teaching. Applying inappropriate pedagogy does not exploit the affordances of Second Life thus learning and teaching ends up as a duplication of traditional teaching paradigms in a classroom. The perceptual barrier that emerged in this study was that uninformed people perceived Second Life as a game. The mindset or stereotyping associated therefore was that games have no place in education. This misconception created barriers as students and fellow colleagues alike needed to be persuaded into using or considering Second Life as an educational tool. Technical requirement and accessibility are also perceived as barriers to using Second Life in education. The high-end hardware and connectivity requirements posed accessibility and equity concerns. Institutional firewall settings limited access and the stability and reliability of the Second Life platform itself proved problematic. The usability and operational factors in using Second Life was also perceived as a barrier (ability to create and navigate). The educators and students alike perceived the steep learning curve as an issue that impeded on teaching and learning. The cost associated in setting up in Second Life from an educator’s point of view is expensive and obtaining funding for these types of projects is not always easy. Educators also viewed the presence of ‘unknown’ avatars in Second Life as a distraction for students.

Based on the perceptual interpretations of the Second Life educators, Second Life lacks authentic body language. The educators perceived the gestures of Second Life avatars in-world as ‘fake’ as the gestures are not voluntary but rather an action instigated by the users whenever they felt it was appropriate (including times when they were not appropriate). Another limitation perceived was the inability of the avatar to communicate subconscious body language and eye contact.