Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Category: secondLife

"Taxonomies" for understanding applications of educational technology

The group I work with is charged with helping CQUniversity staff make use of various innovations around educational technology. One of the difficulties if giving staff a taste of the breadth of possibilities for what a new technology might be able to do.

One tool for doing that is a taxonomy, conceptual framework or a theory for analysis and description (Gregor 2006). These essentially attempt to generate some sort of classification or mapping of a topic area into a number of distinct (and hopefully useful) components/categories.

Some examples related to our need around educational technology include (though not necessarily strictly speaking a taxonomy/framework)

What makes a good descriptive theory

Gregor 2006 offers the following suggestions about a good/useful descriptive theory

  • little is known about some phenomena,
  • descriptions should correspond as far as possible to “what is”,
  • the classification system is useful in aiding analysis in some way,
  • the category labels and groupings are meaningful and natural,
  • the hierarchies of classification are appropriate,
  • the logic for placement of phenomena into categories should be clear,
  • the logic for the characteristics that define each category should be clear,
  • the classification system should be complete and exhaustive.

A suggestion – the 7 principles

CQUniversity has adopted the 7 Principles of Good Practice in Education by Chickering and Gamson (1987) as important to its learning and teaching. One obvious suggestion would be to use those as part of a taxonomy. Especially if the 7 Principles is widely used elsewhere at CQUniversity. It should theoretically become more useful and more clear to our staff if we use this in many places.

The 7 principles, by themselves, may not be sufficient. Perhaps we need to think of supplementing it with other dimensions. Some options here might include Tony Bates’ ACTION model. Though I wonder if that might be starting to get too overwhelming.

Obviously time to be looking at some literature.

Ideas for "spaces" in Second Life

CQU has recently invested in an island in Second Life for the purposes of finding out how it might be used within learning and teaching. One of the problems we have to face is how and what spaces do we build on the island.

In this post I wonder if there are some lessons to be learned from the work that is being done to develop next generation learning spaces in the real world. In particular, I’m going to rely on a slide or two from a presentation given by Dr Phillip Long at a symposium at UQ last year.

The slides and (some of) the audio from the presentation can be found here. If there were time I’d be taking a more detailed look at this book on the topic from Educause.

Supporting families of pedagogies

Around about slide 150 of the presentation the suggestion is made that next generation learning spaces should be designed to support families of pedagogies. Then a list of 10 spaces are described. The list is

  1. Thinking/conceiving spaces (spaces for deliberating, brainstorming)
  2. Designing spaces (spaces for putting structure, order, and context to free-ranging ideas)
  3. Presenting spaces (spaces for showing things to a group)
  4. Collaborating spaces (spaces for enabling team activities)
  5. Debating or negotiating spaces (spaces for facilitating negotiations)
  6. Documenting spaces (spaces for describing and informing specific activities, objects, or other actions)
  7. Implementing/associating spaces (spaces for bringing together related things needed to accomplish as task or a goal)
  8. Practicing spaces (spaces for investigating specific disciplines)
  9. Sensing spaces (spaces for pervasively monitoring a location)
  10. Operating spaces (spaces for controlling systems, tools, and complex environments)

The list, at first blush, seems to offer a useful framework for thinking about types of spaces that might be usefully developed within a virtual environment. In particular, it identifies that there are many other types of spaces beyond the “presenting spaces” that many will tend towards.

A problem is that the audio of the presentation appears to give out long before these slides are covered which leads to the need for a bit of interpretation about exactly what some of these spaces may be like.

We have some folk here at CQU into the use of technology to enable group-based work including brainstorming etc. A couple of the spaces above could be well informed by that sort of work.

If this is going to prove useful at all, I believe we may need to find some examples in Second Life of spaces which fit into the different categories above.

"CQU Learning" – early days of a Second Life island

The purpose of these posts is to provide a bit of a history of the origins and development of the CQU Learning Second Life island and the initial steps into 3D MUVE’s for learning and teaching. It’s also to encourage a bit of reflection on why and what is happening as well as to make open the ideas, discussions and experiences we’re having for the wider CQU community (and others) if at all interested.

If you have any questions, let me know and/or feel free to add your comments down below.

Access to the island

Until the island is somewhat organised we’re restricting access to any interested CQU staff member. If you’re a CQU staff member and would like to look at the island here’s what you need to do

  • Get yourself a Second Life account/avatar.
  • Become familiar with using Second Life – at least a little.
  • Email me your avatar’s name.

I’ll add you to the group that can access the island and let you know.

Current state of the island

The island has been available to a small group of four or five people for about a week. We’ve all been doing some initial playing around with what can be done in Second Life in terms of building and playing with objects.

When a Second Life island is created there are four basic templates to choose from. The following is an aerial view of CQU Learning at the moment. The white area towards the top left corner is a “mountain” in the middle of the island. The landscape drops away from the mountain down towards the ocean.

Overview of CQU Learning Second Life Island.

The entry area

Initially the island was bare. It’s somewhat simple to add vegetation and other simple objects. The first step we did was to create the entry area. The place most folk enter the island. Including some initial “branding” as CQU. Here’s the current look of the entry area.

Current view when entering the CQU Learning island.

And of course, in a virtual world it can be dark. That’s why there are a few lights sprinkled around the entry area. Here’s what it looks like at night.

The entry at night

And yes, we’ve added a bit of CQU branding to welcome folk to the island.

The eventual plan is to add various teleport devices, signs and other forms of guidance to help folk find other locations on the island.

Ignoring first life in Second Life

There are various, fairly essential components of the real world that do not have much of an effect in Second Life. Little things like gravity and the weather don’t really exist. Consequently there is actually no requirement for buildings in Second Life to be built on the ground or to have a roof.

Here’s a simple building placed on the CQU Learning island. You can just make out that we’ve used the roof for something else not traditional. There’s a whiteboard, couch, bookcase and a tree located on the roof of the building.

A floating house

When you get down to it, there is actually no real reason why you need buildings at all within Second Life. The various bits of furniture could be placed just about anywhere.

On the roof

What’s next

In becoming more familiar with the environment there are a range of tasks left to do including

  • Start using these spaces for gatherings.
    How many folk can gather in one place before there are problems? Both technically with the Second Life platform but also in terms of the quality of the experience and subsequent outcomes.
  • See if different sorts of spaces enable different outcomes?
  • Play around with scripting of in world objects to enable them to respond to folk
  • Experiment with the capability of in world objects to communicate with outside web pages, particularly for the purpose of drawing “live” CQU information into the island.
  • Experiment with the creation of machinima.
  • Experiment with the creation of sculpted prims and other advanced content creation
  • Start developing an idea of the different types of pedagogy that make sense within a 3D world
  • Start thinking about how to do a bit of “urban planning” with the island.

Traditional buildings in Second Life – hassle to navigate

Starting to move around a bit more in Second Life and it hasn’t taken long to hate walls. Traditional buildings with a roof, walls, corridors and small doorways seem to be designed to make navigation a hassle.

The following is an example of a navigation experience this morning where as I walk around inside a building, then turnaround I am (or at least the perspective I have from behind my avatar is) suddenly flung out of the building. Somewhat disconcerting.


I would imagine a seasoned navigator within 3D worlds would take this as a given and work around it. But, at least to me, it raises the question of just how far you should go with re-creating the real-world in Second Life.

I’m sure this is not a new question but as we’re starting our journey into Second Life it is a question that needs to be asked. Already some folk are wanting to re-create physical campus buildings in Second Life. Is that the right thing to do?

This certainly seems to be a common trend amongst many other universities. CQU has some major differences with those other universities which makes this practice somewhat less sensible. These include

  • In 2007 we had over 15 different campuses at which students might be located.
  • The largest grouping of students in 2007 were distance education students (who rarely, if ever, come onto a campus) with 33% of the student population.
  • The largest campus in percentage terms was the Sydney campus with 19.4%. It is one of CQU’s international campuses and is based in a couple of CBD buildings in Sydney.
  • Rockhampton, the first CQU campus and the one at which CQU senior executive is housed, had 12% of the 2007 student population (Sydney 19.4%, Melbourne 13.4% then Rockhampton).
  • The institution has only existed for about 40 years and has only been a full university since the early 1990s (see CQU history).
  • At least from my perspective, none of the buildings are all that memorable or noteworthy.

If we were to re-create some real CQU buildings in Second Life. Which building would we choose? From which campus?

Walls are needed in real life to keep the weather out, the roof up and provide some privacy. the first two of those reasons probably don’t exist in Second Life. Does the third? Do we need to retain walls for privacy? Are there alternate Second Life means to provide privacy?

Retaining a semblance of reality in Second Life can, theoretically, help folk feel familiar and more comfortable. But I wonder if the hassles of navigating within real life buildings in Second Life overwhelms that benefit.

I wonder if you could instead, create spaces that small indicators of real life but don’t go the whole hog. For example, have a meeting space within a small forest clearing that includes a few logs to sit on, a whiteboard and a few other artifacts from a class room. The artifacts provide the familiarity but the open space makes it easy to get around.

Getting started in Second Life

It’s almost official. CQU has an island in Second Life. Going under the name “CQU Learning” the purchase of the island is for the express purpose of examining what can be done in the environment to improve learning and teaching at CQU. The purchase is being funded by Curriculum Design and Development Unit and is connected with the Carrick Web3D project the unit is involved with.

Currently, the island is bare/empty and access to the island is restricted to a few CQU staff. This will change during January 2008, hopefully very quickly, but it all depends. I’m thinking that the open source ethos of “release early and release often” might well apply to the island. i.e. allow folk to access the island earlier and have them help in the improvements to the island, rather than limit it to a few people who are responsible for everything.

I’m hoping to use this blog to save some of the reflection on the experience of setting up this island and our eventual use of it. The rest of this post will reflect on the experience in the last couple of weeks in getting the island purchased.

Information is all over the place

Even the act of finding out how to go about purchasing and island, what is required and how much it will cost seems to be more difficult than it needs to be. The official Second Life information is all over the place, stored in different parts of their web presence (e.g. the official Second Life website, their Wiki, the “grid education page”, the land store and finally the “shopping cart”.

Even the way you pay for the island is different from how you pay to get a premium membership. At least in my experience, paying for the island is very different.

All of this separation and jumping over the place made for a very confusing time.

Then the actual process for purchasing the island seems more complex than it needs to be with

  • arbitary limits; and
    An island name only be between 3 and 25 characters and 3 words or less. So “CQU Learning and Teaching Island” had to become “CQU Learning Island”. And no, for some reason I hadn’t picked up that limitation before actually purchasing the island. I had to change the name after the order had been placed.
  • funny workarounds.
    I’m sure CQU would love to know that the sales order we have from Second Life has a total of over $USD30,000. Which appears to be a necessary workaround in order for them to charge monthly for maintenance on the island.

I don’t think wrinkles like this are unique to Second Life. I’m quite sure students studying at CQU can point to similar sorts of issues.

I’m also quite sure that at least some of the problems I encountered were due to it being the end of the year and me being in holiday mode and skimming much of the information.

Non-second life help

There are some very useful non-second life sources of information about using Second Life (e.g. Second Life in Education and many others) but none seem to have been a really good fit for what I needed during this process.

I don’t mean to sound churlish. There are many great and useful resources on Second Life out there and many have been very useful.

I guess I’ve grown accustomed on the web to being able to Google a problem and very quickly find someone who has already had the same problem and written about how to work around it. This didn’t happen with the purchase of the island.

Obviously, this should be seen as a challenge to me to either search a bit better or to create tat resource. But, like many others I suspect, I probably don’t have the time (I shouldn’t really be wasting time on this post).

Problems paying

Of course the totally unexpected problem was that I couldn’t pay. I couldn’t enter my credit card details, it got rejected. This has apparently been fixed and the details are in. However, the account is still showing up as “awaiting billing” and the island still doesn’t appear to be visible to other folk.

Current status

So the current status of the CQU Learning Island is that it exists, it is completely bare except for a couple of experimental trees and is only accessible by me (the purchaser of the island).

The current focus is on opening up access to a broader (but still limited) group of CQU staff and getting some areas built.

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