Thursday, 22 May 2008

Spring 2008 "snapshot" of Second Life use in UK HE/FE

The second in the series of three snapshots of UK Higher and Further Education activities in Second Life is now available. This is significantly longer than the previous snapshot(s), reflecting a growth in the level of use and development around Second Life.

The snapshots are funded by the Eduserv Foundation. The summary follows:

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The number of UK academics who are developing or operating teaching and learning resources in Second Life (SL) has grown rapidly in the last year. While an accurate figure is difficult to determine (partially due to the non-public nature of some developments), as a rough estimate some three-quarters of UK universities are actively developing or using SL, at the institutional, departmental and/or individual academic level. Of these, many institutions support several ongoing SL developments, often involving groups of people rather than individuals. However, the proportion of UK FE institutions actively using SL was much smaller.

Many of these developments are funded internally, with staff often donating significant amounts of their own time. There have been a few heavily over-subscribed sources of funding for SL work in the last academic year; feedback indicates a need for more resources and funding opportunities. To quote:
Funders are always welcome. That's the question I am asked most at my seminars and workshops – 'where can I look for funding?'

An increasing body of academics are reporting substantial use of their SL developments, and successes in teaching and learning activities. Measuring the usage of these developments tends to be through raw visitor statistics or informal feedback, though a few academics teaching in Second Life use more rigorous evaluation techniques.

Academics who have successfully developed in SL report that their host institution and technical services are largely supportive, though with the latter there are often problems with firewalls, PC capability and enabling voice functionality. Academics report varied reactions to SL from colleagues, ranging from interest and curiosity to suspicion and "hatred". Unlike their US counterparts, UK academic libraries are not significantly involved in SL activities.

Academics described a very wide range of SL activities spanning teaching, learning, research, performance, construction and demonstration. The key advantage of SL in teaching and learning is that there are many activities in which the student must be more than a passive learner in order to progress. The student has to develop "stuff", collaborate and participate. Before these can occur, he or she has to master a new and transferable skill set, meaning that, in SL, learning is done more by participating and doing than by listening and absorbing.

Though use of SL in UK HE/FE is growing, many academics are not "welded" to it, being aware of its deficiencies and open to moving to alternative virtual environments, especially open source and more localised versions, in the future.

Overall, and perhaps not surprisingly, the three most mentioned requirements of UK academic SL developers are:

  1. more funding opportunities

  2. more time to develop

  3. better technical facilities within SL, or a viable alternative environment

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