Friday, 25 January 2008

Thinking about learning 'impact' of Second Life

We held an invite-only meeting on Eduserv Island on Wednesday discussing issues around the impact of SL on teaching and learning and, in particular, whether it makes sense to think about how such impact might be measured.

About 18 avatars attended.

The background to this discussion lies in the series of Second Life snapshots that Silversprite Helsinki (John Kirriemuir) is doing for the Eduserv Foundation, looking at the current use of SL within UK education thru 4 snapshots (2 of which have been completed). We've asked him to try to have a greater focus on 'impact' in the next 2 snapshots - i.e. to try and get beyond simply saying who is doing what and to think about whether what they are doing is having a beneficial effect on learning (or at least whether they are thinking about such issues and, if so, how thry are doing so).

This is far easier said than done of course. Before thinking about looking at 'impact', one first has to determine what one means by that word, whether it makes sense to try and measure it and if so how (quantitatively or qualitatively) and what metrics might be used. Given that this is a contentious issue in the real-world, it is not surprising that the same is true in SL, perhaps more so. As Austin Thatcher said early on in the discussion, "Can anyone *prove* a lecture is a worthwhile activity?" :-)

In beginning to think about this area Silversprite sent out a short set of questions to the people previously identified thru the first two snapshot reports, asking them for their views. This resulted in a significant amount of good material, which we have so far kept under lock and key - not because we particularly want to, but because Silversprite promised some level of privacy to the respondents in order that they could speak freely about their own institutions. Having looked at the material with Silversprite, we don't feel that there is anything of a significantly confidential nature, so we have agreed to go back to all the respondents to try and encourage them to allow us to publish their material in some form. I'm hopeful that they will agree to this.

Watch this space!

So, to this particular meeting...

We don't want to make a habit of invite only in-world meetings but in this case we felt it was justified, partly as a way of saying thank you to the people who put such a lot of effort into their initial replies, and partly to keep the size of the group manageable.

We started by asking people at the meeting to give a brief position statement. I'm not sure how well this worked to be honest - in a chat meeting it is quite tedious to wait for people to type in their contributions in a sequential manner, even if the material is pre-prepared (which in most cases it was) - and once it does appear one suddenly has a big chunk of text to read. (I know I say this every time we hold an in-world meeting but it remains true I think - we are still learning how best to do it).

Whatever the effect of the initial statements on the dynamic of the meeting, I am reasonably convinced that having them as part of the session will be useful when we come to analyse the chat logs (which are also available as plain text).

Following the position statements we went into free discussion mode. Chat was much better suited to this part of the meeting, provided you don't mind a slightly chaotic form of discussion! And there was a lot of discussion. With only one or two prods from Silversprite and myself we had no trouble filling another 40 minutes or so with a solid stream of discussion.

As always with these kinds of meetings, sifting out the various threads from the twisting mass of sometimes overlapping postings is non-trivial. Silversprite is going to do some work on this. Rosie Luna made the point early on that we need to consider MUVEs generally, rather than Second Life specifically. I very much agree with this, though to be honest I'm not sure we made much explicit attempt to do so (sorry Rosie). That said, looking back at the chat-log now, I don't think there is too much that is not generally applicable. Remembering to think about the wider lessons for MUVEs generally is a good rule of thumb for everything we do in SL. Perhaps I need a new tee shirt - "I'm only in SL to learn how to MUVE" or something.

One thing that emerged in the initial responses to Silversprite and again in the discussion (and, to be honest, something I hadn't come across before) is the use of Action Learning, an iterative, group-centric approach to improving learning performance. This is an area I'd like to understand rather better than I do currently.

Overall, there were definitely some interesting points to emerge, as has been noted by other bloggers here, here and probably elsewhere. We'll publish our thoughts in due course. We had a wide range of viewpoints in the room and I think it would be foolish of me to claim that we reached any firm consensus. As Rosie Luna noted, "Assessing the impact of using SL/MUVEs is difficult. A lot of the earlier adopters are dedicated teachers, who would do a good job if asked to teach in a barn". That said, there is much to think about and I think/hope we've at least moved the discussion forward a little.


Unknown said...

We have a related post and comment here:

All good wishes...

Sheila Yoshikawa said...

Thanks for this very useful write-up. Finally got round to mentioning this event at
I also held a discussion on 14 Feb which picked up on some of the points at the Eduserv meeting: see chatlog at and the accompanying notecard on the web at