Virtual world education at the UWE, UK

A response piece in reaction to the blog post by Patrick Hogan
 entitled “We took a tour of the abandoned college campuses of Second Life”


The post that follows is a response piece in reaction to the blog post by Patrick Hogan (original post entitled “We took a tour of the abandoned college campuses of Second Life” can be found here) that I read on my Facebook news thread. The article as I read ran counter to my recent experience of working towards my Masters in Education in Virtual worlds held at the University of the West of England (Bristol, UK) regions in Second Life ™ called Innovation at UWE.


I was not around for the first hype cycle in 2007 and only came to virtual worlds in 2013 and I disagree with his analysis and interpretation. What do I mean by hype cycle:

“The hype cycle is a pattern in the adoption of technologies in Higher Education, cycling through triggers, inflated expectations, disillusionment, and growing enlightenment until the plateau of productivity is reached (Dudeney and Ramsay, 2009, p. 13).”

In the article Hogan describes the many abandoned campuses found in Second Life and wonders about the cost of maintaining these islands when there is little use being made of them over the summer break (here in the UK at least). I do wonder if many of the so called abandoned campuses found and visited by Hogan in light of the definition of the hype cycle may have reached the disillusionment stage of the hype cycle my experience of UWE is of a highly productive encounter with Second Life and in my case transferring this knowledge and understanding to my exploration of OpenSim. He continues:

“it turns out a handful remain as ghost towns. I decided to travel through several of the campuses, to see what is happening in Second Life college-world in 2015.”

Since I read this article response articles have appeared on both Google+ and Facebook to address the inaccuracies and bias many detected in the original. Firstly comparing 2007 as the picture of education in SL now in 2015 has led to a misleading representation and I would like to add my own personal experience to the voices.


My experience covers the last two years and has been a very different experience to one depicted in the Hogan article. The articles by Inara Pey and Ciaran Laval both address from different angles the inaccuracies and lack of research respectively done by Hogan. Inara Pey writes with a view of:

addressing the readership of the piece, its subjective nature and the misconceptions evident within it should be corrected, starting the with false premise of the piece itself (an empty region is in no way indicative of it having been “abandoned”).

Adding to the voices Ciaran Laval suggests that like Inara Peys article that the article is poorly researched stating:

“Where Patricks article goes horribly wrong though is when you consider he does not appear to have done much research at all. I have covered education in Second Life more than once. I have looked at UWE Teaching MA In Virtual Worlds Within Second Life, I have blogged about how Valdosta State University TIES Conference explored Teaching & Learning in Second Life, I have blogged about how education in Second Life still has a healthy pulse, and much more.”

As previously stated the aim of this post is to add my voice to this discussion by providing a live educational institution (not the only either) using Second Life in a productive way for education. Here is a little of my experience of the MA in Education in Virtual worlds at the UWE in the UK.


It all started in August 2013 when I was looking for a Masters level course to continue my academic studies and at roughly the same time I first encountered Second Life. The hunt for a Masters and my recent introduction to SL proved a heady and highly stimulating Masters that a brick and mortar educational experience would never have given me. I submitted my application, visited the Innovation at UWE islands and awaited the start of the course.

We completed the following modules as part of our course:

  • Orientation in Virtual Worlds
  • Designing curricula in Virtual Worlds
  • Scripting and Building
  • Simulations and role play
  • Artificial intelligence, bots and npcs
  • Research methods in virtual worlds
  • Sociology of the metaverse
  • The philosophy of education in virtual worlds
  • Either an extended project or dissertation as the final project for the MA

As part of the UWE islands you can find education being explored from many disciplinary perspectives, for example law, psychology and counselling. You will find simulation and role play areas and new buildings and installations are being added all the time. Much of the UWE island was built by one of the building and script tutors called Madelyn Edwards. Unlike Hogans interpretation the UWE and surrounding sims represent a growing community of educational practices and practitioners somewhat at odds with the picture being presented by Hogan.


Students many miles away and at different points of the globe came together weekly to have in-world tutorials. We visited different locations in SL, we designed teaching spaces and learning curriculum, we have talks from other disciplines and communities across SL, we built AI bots and many other things. Which together was a rich and varied learning that will stay with me and inspire future research and studies to come. This time of year many of us second year (we were part time students so our MA has taken us two years) students are now well underway with our extended project or dissertation modules and is an exciting time.

The reason for this response is that I felt that only a version of the truth was being represented in the Hogan article that compelled me to add something of the experience that I had, other students and our lecturers had whilst learning in a virtual space that seemed missing or ignored by Hogan. Yes admittedly some educational institutions have left Second Life and virtual worlds more broadly. However, this space has been populated with students and their teachers that build on and maximise the affordances of these spaces to teach and educate in new and vibrant ways for adventurous and creative students. The UWE in Bristol is not the only institution in the UK to be found in Second Life and through this blog post I hope to have shown a little of the vibrant and engaged educational experiences that the article by Hogan missed by not doing home work.


References

  • Dudeney, G., and Ramsay, H. (2009) “Overcoming the entry barriers to Second Life in Higher Education”, in Wankel, C., and Kingsley, J. (Eds.) (2009) “Higher Education in virtual worlds teaching and learning in Second Life”, London, Emerald Press.
  • Kapp, K., and O’Driscoll, T. (2010) “Learning in 3D adding a new dimension to enterprise learning and collaboration”, San Francisco, Pfieffer.
  • © Leighton Marjoram MA MBACP ACTO

Originally published at cv.mytherapy.space.

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