Researching Learning in Virtual Worlds (Peachey et al, Eds.)

I’ve been reading Researching Learning in Virtual Worlds this week. Things that spoke to me included:

– the “pain barrier” (Carr, Oliver and Burn, Ch.2)

Carr, Oliver and Burn’s description of the “pain barrier” which they describe as ” the moment when sufficient learning or competence has been accrued to tip the new user from bafflement and annoyance to pleaseure or even flow” (pg19). The cost of entering Second Life is certainly high and much learning research draws attention to this and the suitability of this new type of environment for learning because of the time it takes to become accustomed to the environment.

In another paper, I just re-read this week, Deutschmann, Panichi and  Molka-Danielson (2009) describe how they perhaps assumed that students were, or would soon be familiar with the affordances of SL to the detriment of the activities. They felt that the students could not concentrate on the role-playing activities because they were too involved with trying to decipher the functions of the interface and therefore the human-machine interaction was taking up too much of the working memory leaving too little for human-human interaction. This really seems to stress the importance of including introductory training sessions with the students (and teachers!) as part of any course taught in SL.

The way David Richardson approaches this in his Spoken Business English course (presented at SLanguages10, see picture) is really great: he pairs up his Scandinavian students with students from a twin University in the US, who are more experienced SL users and asks them to meet regularly during one week to be shown around. He described that typically the students were taken clothes shopping or hair shopping. The American students are given credit for describing their outings in a paper and the Scandinavian students use this as oral English practice: I think this discovery method, rather than formal introductory teaching sessions is probably really effective as personally, I feel that I am getting somewhere to breaking the pain barrier in learning by doing.


– the chapter entitled “The Second Life Researcher Toolkit” (Moschini, Ch.3)

This chapter sets out some considerations for the design of any research project in Second Life. These include  the type of project, the learning activity to investigate, the research questions, the venue, the participants, research methods, ethical considerations, data analysis and dissemination. Moschini draws the readers attention to SL Terms of Service and community standards and gives some advice on data collection. She recomments adquiring a SL camera kit should researchers wish to ‘video’ SL sessions as it allows you to produce more accurate video documentation and suggests the programmes Fraps for PC and CaptureMe for Macs.  Moschini also talks about tracking devices which were new to me. These tracking systems can keep quantitative data on avatars’ origins, beahviour and frequency of visits including measuring avatars’ itneractions with existing objects. Hoping to study Second Life from a multimodal viewpoint this could be of interest; although cost will most likely be an issue.  Lastly, Moschini suggested that questionnaire kiosks or simply questionnaires written out on notecards were a good data collection method to use to evaluate your study.

– the design of SL spaces (Peachey, Ch.6)

Lastly, Peachey’s secrtion on key points to take into consideration in designing attractive SL spaces was interesting. These points are from informal interviews with in-world educators.

1. Ambient sounds, as long as they’re not too intrusive, add richness and depth.

2. Places that reflect physical world nature, with lots of green, are seen as welcoming. The physical world generally helps visitors feel grounded and safe. (This makes me think of the kamiko island.)

3. The island should not reveal itself all at once. It should not be flat.

4. Paths that link key spaces will encourage visitors to explore. (This makes me think of Avalon’s design and also the use of paths to guide visitors at the London School of Economics’ French Art Exhibition in SL.)

5.Finding small things which surprise visitors encourages them to return.

The Use of Negotiation of Meaning Functions in Second Life

One of the presentations at Slanguages 2010 which was of great interest to me was the presentation of Sedat Akayoglu’s research into the discourse patterns in terms of negotiation of meaning functions which were used during an undergraduate course entitled ‘Advanced Reading and Writing’ in Second Life.

The research looked at 60 undergraduate students at the Middle Eastern Technical University who were not familiar with SL before the course. The course in SL focused on writing activities and in particular on different paragraph types. These included descriptive, classification, process analysis, narrative, compare and contrast and argumentative paragraphs. The course had a home in SL but the scenarios used other SL sites as resources. For example, during the class on descriptive paragraphs, students were asked to teleport to a different location, to take a photo of this location and then produce a written descriptive of this photo or for the process analysis paragraph, students teleported to a sandpit where they worked in groups to build houses and then they were asked to write an analysis of their group building process.

During Akayoglu’s research, quantitative and qualitative data was collected. Sessions were captured using Camtasia and a seperate avatar and students were asked to email their chat logs. A taxonomy developed by the researcher and Altun (2008) of the different discource functions (e.g.clarification request or confirmation check) was used to analyse the data. To facilitate the analysis stage the data was coded using the Hyper research qualitative analysis tool (v5.2).

Analysis of the data collected showed that the most frequent negotiation of meaning functions were confirmation, elaboration request and clarification request whereas reply vocabulary, reply comprehension and vocabulary check were the least frequently used functions. This apparently is similar to similar studies on text based CMC.

The presentation slides can be found by clicking on the link in the first paragraph and otherwise here is a photo of the avatars following Akayoglu’s presentation.

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