Massively Multi Learner

The HEA Information and Computer Science subject centre recently ran a workshop, ‘Massively Multi Learner’, on learning in multi user virtual environments which I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.

Perhaps inevitably, the presentations on the day were heavily skewed towards Second Life, a fact that I was glad to see the organisers themselves acknowledged as not necessarily ideal.  Unfortunately, Carl Potts, who had been scheduled to speak on learning within guilds in World of Warcraft, was unable to attend, but Laz Allen of TPLD (standing in for Helen Routledge) provided a non-SL and more game-orientated perspective on emerging technologies.  Of particular interest was the emphasis in this presentation on the assessment of game-based learning and of gaming activities, through reflection and debriefing, and through the logging and interpretation of ingame activities with reference to an identified set of skills.  Unlike commercial off-the-shelf games (COTS) and other resources such as SL, games specifically designed for learning can offer a more effective balance of learning objectives, subject matter content and gameplay, with assessment – often itself highly innovative – integrated from the outset.

The rest of the presentations all referenced SL to a greater or lesser extent.  I hugely enjoyed Aleks Krotoski‘s work on social networking in virtual worlds, in particular her identification of 75 avatars (“they know who they are”) who form “the feted [fetid?] inner core of Second Life”.  Unlike either single-player or MMO games, MUVEs such as SL are inherently socially orientated rather than goal-orientated; ‘success’ doesn’t come necessarily from accumulation of in-game objects or from PvP or PvE pwnage but from occupying key, extremely powerful positions within social networks.  As an infrequent and rather ‘resistive’ SLer, I feel strongly that the lack of scaffolding within SL, in contrast to the carefully balanced quest structure in games such as WoW which directs players through the game world and encourages casual grouping, makes social relationships within SL disproportionately important.

Other presentations explored some of the many purposes to which SL is being put.  Dave Taylor of the National Physical Laboratory discussed some very exciting international collaboration which has been taking place in the Space Island cluster, while Peter Twining demonstrated the Schome island pilot on the teen grid which is trialing SL as a learning space for a group of ‘gifted and talented’ learners.  Jeremy Kemp discussed Sloodle, an integration of SL and Moodle which uses mashups to connect the two systems.  The integration of SL and Moodle also offers the potential for resolving accessibility issues around SL by offering meaningful real time alternatives to inworld communications.

The final three speakers had all integrated SL closely into their teaching practice.  Mike Hobbs of Anglia Rushkin University described scripting tasks undertaken by second year Computing Science students to create learning resources used to explain computing concepts to first year students, while Annabeth Robinson (well known in SL as AngryBeth for her creative and practical objects) described the options her Design for Digital Media students had for woriking in SL and particularly for using it as a tool for machinima.  Mike Reddy provided an entertaining end to the day, looking at various ways in which Second Life can be integrated into a range of courses.