Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Virtual Learning implications - Part 1

Over the past several weeks, my discussion has focused on a specific use of virtual learning within MUVE such as Second Life. During the next couple of weeks I would like to generalize the discussion towards virtual learning based on the discussion in current research literature on the topic within other realms of virtual learning.

Virtual learning environments (VLE) after all, are defined within the domain of e-learning, which could encompass a-synchronous environments, such as Blackboard, and synchronous environments, such as 3D environments like Second Life -- used by schools to facilitate classes from a distance (Bromham & Oprandi, 2006; Nishide, et. al., 2007).

Questions relating to VLE that I have been asking myself throughout this exercise concern how a real learner approaches virtual learning experience. More specifically, how well are changes in learners facilitated by the virtual learning experience as compared to traditional environments? And, are the changes which take place influenced more by the technology or the pedagogy?

Bromham & Oprandi (2006) studied how the virtual learning experience assisted learners especially when hybridized with face to face classes to create metacognitive change in developing self-study and self-assessment skills in learners. This study would seem to relate with the assumption that learners would need more than just a text based learning environment like Blackboard to best learn. Nevertheless, many learners have completed 100% online classes through Blackboard.

Consider how easy it might be to place someone in a virtual learning environment, noting how the technology creates the environment, and also influences a learner's perception. What I am getting at here is how instructional designers need to consider the holistic nature of virtual learning and how it has implications that are just now being explored. The virtual learning environment is an 'environment', which needs to be analyzed the same as we would analyze a classroom or work environment.


Bormham, L. & Oprandi, P. (2006). Evolution online: Usine a virtual learning environment to develop active learning in undergraduates. Journal of Biological Education, 41(1), 21-25.

Nishide, R., Shima, R., Araie, H., & Ueshima, S. (2007). Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 16(1), 5-24.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Links and Reflection

As I have been continuing my research into Second Life as a virtual learning environment I have begun to face a serious technical issue. That is, Second Life software does not fully support Windows Vista, thus the program keeps crashing. Since this blog is part of an assignment, and not really a soapbox, I will limit my comments about VISTA to one word: USELESS!

Enough said!

Since I can't explore Second Life as I would like, my post this week will focus on introducing a few useful links for educators in Second Life.

First off, is EDTECH Island's site http://edtechisland.wetpaint.com/?t=anon hosted by Boise State University.

The site has links to a few lectures which discuss implications of Second Life education as well as the list of classes for BSU students. One lecture worth noting for instructional designers is the Webinar by Dr. Lisa Dawley, the designer of EDTECH island, who addresses the issues of needs analysis and course design in Second Life. She stated that traditional ID models such as ADDIE are too strict for virtual learning environments and technology enhanced learning. Since most of us are just beginning to learn about these models its nice to hear a different perspective.

Another website worth mentioning is the Second Life Education wiki http://www.simteach.com/wiki/index.php?title=Second_Life_Education_Wiki
This site provides information and links to various Second Life materials for educators.

Finally, the site http://sleducation.wikispaces.com/educationaluses – Second Life in Education provides links and information for both experienced SL users and newbies.

To really understand virtual learning, we as educators need to experience it as learners. The virtual learning environment of SL can be intimidating, or like Tim said, “"The Sims" on steroids”, but I feel that we need to really explore and get a feel for it as soon as we can. More than that, as instructional designers we need to see how virtual learning is understood through the various filters of learning theories and eventually step back to develop and/or support new theories that can help drive our instructional design. We might not particularly be using SL for our future careers, but the implication for our careers in the instructional design field is tremendous.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

MUVE and behaviorism

Since many of us in the IDD&E core classes are beginning to learn more about learning theories, I thought that this week would be a good opportunity to relate to how virtual learning in MUVE such as Second Life (SL) might be understood through the filter of the behaviorist learning theory. In a way, this is also my learning situation to consider for my knowledge base.

I must admit however, that I am a little shy about exploring Second Life, namely because I don't really have the time to chat with everyone I come across. Its very easy to get 'sucked in' and not do things like write my blog, or read course materials. Nevertheless, what drives my exploration of virtual learning involves reading the literature and research presented in SL conferences and on SL learning websites, which offers much for virtual learning theoretical analysis.

This theoretical drive has led me to the exploring the behaviorist learning perspective within SL, or any other virtual learning environment.

A friend of mine, who had studied Psychology years ago, once told me that most first person video games and no better than a 'rat in a cage'. Sounds like operant conditioning Dr. Skinner. This led me think that even though there are volumes of literature written on the constructivist perspective of virtual learning, the medium was designed from a behaviorist model. Ask yourself, how does learning occur in video games?

Ummmm...stimulus...response. After killing the bad guy at the end, or reaching a goal, what response is given? Usually some visual que, or radical 'explosion' on the screen.

Another question: ever play a video game with a 'shock' controller. Sounds like a punishment to me and indeed very behaviorist (Ormrod, 2008).

Specifically relating to SL, Weusijana et. al. (2007) created a kind of Skinner box in SL where users have to navigate through a maze by solving puzzles. The research focus was to teach students the concept of adaptive expertise by experiencing it in a problem solving situation. During the experiment participants had to try to get through a virtual maze of rooms both using the adaptive expertise concpets of efficiency and innovation. If a wrong choice was made their avatar was stunned. Although this study did not have a behaviorist objective, the idea of learning to adapt was reinforced by stimulus.

Learning then occurs beyond just reading about it, but by experiencing what it feels like to be the rat in the change.


Ormrod, J.E. (2008). Human Learning. (5th edition). Pearson: New Jersey.

Weusijana, B.K., Svihla, V., Gawel, D., Bransford, J. (2007). Learning about adaptive expertise in a multi-user virtual environment. Paper presented at the Second Life EducationWorkshop 2007. Retrieved September 9, 2008 from http://facstaff.buffalostate.edu/polvinem/SL/slccedu2007final.pdf#page=73

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What does Second Life have to offer?

Greetings from Second Life's
EdTECH island!

In this posting I will focus on Second Life from an educators perspective and list some advantages and disadvatages of this enormous multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) application.

As I dive into the academic research on MUVEs and specifically Second Life, a whole world (virtually and literally) begins to reveal itself. In essence, as with considering learning technology, research on MUVEs is describing learning from a constructivist perspective with students being "co-creators of their own learning environments" (Evans, Mulvihill & Brooks, 2008).

However, as instructional designers, we need to as focus on the prescriptive aspects of developing a pedagogy, which focuses on how to best foster the construction of knowledge. Doolittle (1999) pinpoints some excellent assumptions and recommendations, which have somewhat guided my advantage/disadvantage list.

Advantages of Second Life
  • the application is synchronous with virtual face to face communication
  • communicating with others in a learning situation fosters a sense of belonging and camaraderie as virtual immigrants
  • the MUVEs bring a human quality of images (bodies, faces, buildings) unlike text based learning environments such as Blackboard
  • the learning environment of MUVEs are best used in learner centered curriculum
Disadvantages of Second Life
  • difficult to navigate
  • the program requires familiarity with navigation, so a Second Life 101 type class would be needed for new users before focusing on other content
  • the Second Life teacher should be a pro user and strictly organize lessons - teachers really need to rethink their strategies when using the program (does constructivism always explain learning then?)
  • Second Life on the surface is economically focused with many people selling services or objects in $L (which are traded for real US$)
  • the economic focus and shear size of the Second Life virtual world is overwhelming - you have to know what you are looking for
Despite my reservations, I feel that Second Life as a learning environment is going to be the wave of the future. The technology is still so new, however as educators, we should at least start to become familiar with this MUVE, as a precursor for what's yet to come.

Doolittle, P. E. (1999). Constructivism and online education. Virgina Polytechnic Institute & State University. Retrieved September 8, 2008 from

Evans, N., Mulvihill, T., Brooks, N. (2008). Mediating the tensions of online learning in Second Life. Innovate 4 (6). Retrieved September 11 from http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=537

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Virtual Learning - considering the issues

To depart from the Second Life discussion - and probably prove to everyone how crazy my mind can work - here is a quote from an article I just found, which embraces the core discussion of virtual learning (Lowes, 2008).

It is these transformations—of the teacher and of the course—and the two-way
interactions, or flow, between face-to-face teaching and online teaching, that are the
focus of this study. Much as immigrants leave the cultural comfort of their home
societies and move to places with very different cultures and social practices, those who teach online leave the familiarity of the face-to-face classroom for the uncharted
terrain of the online environment, which has constraints and affordances that lead to very different practices. Face-to-face classrooms are closed environments—a teacher and his/her students together in one room for 50 or so minutes a day—and online classrooms are no different. What is different is that the teacher now moves between the two, transferring ideas, strategies, and practices from one to the other. This“trans-classroom” teacher is a mental, rather than a physical, migrant (Introduction section, paragraph 2).

Describing the virtual experience of online learning is very much akin to being in a new culture. Their are new practices, habits, and langauge functions that are foreign to those familiar in a face to face learning environment.

To demonstrate, think of teaching in an inner city school or a rural school when you have never stepped on a farm or road the subway. What about teaching in a foreign country? Virtual Learning, when thought of as a migration metaphor, is the same as being in a new culture. The advantage to teaching in a virtual world is that all participants are migrants, thus learning how to learn in a virtual environment.

How then can instructional design theory be applied when considering this migration metaphor?

Lowes, S. (2008). Online teaching and classroom change: The trans-classroom teacher in the age of the internet. Innovate 4 (3). Retrieved September 6, 2008 from http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=446

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Virtual Worlds - Education in Second Life

The topic for my blog for the first part of this semester is virtual worlds. As a computer game player and lover of science fiction, this topic is a very exciting one for me.

To grasp the concept of virtual worlds, consider these questions:

* What if you could be anyone or anything you like - gender, age, species, object - it doesn't make a difference?
* What if you could live in a different time?
* What if you could break the laws of physics to do things like fly, walk through walls, and grow from tiny to enormous?

Within virtual worlds, these things can happen and often do.

Think of the movie "The Matrix", or the concept of the 'holodeck' from the TV show Star Trek. These are examples of virtual worlds.

Science fiction aside, virtual worlds are being used today and starting to become a tool for distance education especially in the virtual world known as Second Life.

As some of you may or may not know, the web application Second Life has become a social networking 'virtual world' where individuals create an avatar to represent themselves, roam and interact through a 3D world. However, this is really nothing special, people have been playing 3D games for years. Instead, what has made Second Life really spectacular is its creation of literally another society with its own economy, money, virtual land to purchase, and any opportunity its users can imagine.

Here is a link to the introductory website


Regarding the learning opportunities of Second Life, the program is becoming a tool to present information unlike any previous process. Not only can studenst attend lectures and interact with each other synchronously, but they can also experience a situation virtually to get a hands-on understanding of a concept.

Here is a link to a video explaining some educational applications of Second Life

BTW - I don't have an avatar on Second Life - more on that later

Monday, September 1, 2008

Adult Learning and Global Change

My previous Masters degree was a collaborative online program called Adult Learning and Global Change. The classes were shared between 4 different universities: Linkoping Universitet (Sweden), University of West Cape (South Africa), University of Technology Sydney, and University of British Columbia (Canada). This truely global program made for some interesting challenges such as time differences and technological barriers. For instance, I was in China during the 1st year of the program and could not reach certain websites due to government restrictions, or how group work was on a 12-20 hour time gap working with both 'yesterday' and 'today' from our local perspectives.

Here is an interesting blog from a former student

In the end, I gained tremendous experience with online learning, made lots of international connections (whom I have never met face to face), and learned that 'global learning' is a concept so new that its difficult for current learning theory to fully explain how it transpires.

To give readers here a further idea into what I learned I will paste the copy of my final porfolio project, which encompasses what ALGC has done for me.

Understanding the Adult Learning and Global Change experience

The Adult Learning and Global Change (ALGC) Masters Degree program is a unique educational experience utilizing online education technology to overcome the challenges of a global learning experience. The program supersedes borders, politics, and cultures in learning, creates an education experience immersed in social justice, and unifies adult learning practitioners. To summarize what the course work has provided for me this short introduction presents several key points expressing how the ALGC experience shaped my career and professional outlook in adult education. While reading these points, please consider that each statement and description contains a concentrated representation of my experience of over two years of online collaboration, academic writing, and analysis of literature related to adult education within a global perspective.

ALGC provided an extensive theoretical understanding in adult education within a modern global and local perspective

The ALGC program provided the language, background, and modern interpretation of adult education theory. In experiencing and interpreting adult learning from the academic perspective combined with both global and local analysis a notion of learner-centered education began to develop within my teaching experience. As I familiarized myself with learning theories such as Popular Education, and Community of Practice, I developed an understanding of how the local and global are able to merge in an equitable manner. Therefore, the paramount importance of the ALGC program was the establishment of a theoretical understanding of global adult education, which I interpreted and understood through academic work in re-evaluating the concept of global civil society from a parallel global and local perspective.

Immersion within the ALGC program established the global learning practitioner identity

Within the ALGC program, the concept of ‘global learning’ began to emerge through my understanding of the complexities involved in collaborating with different cultures. This involved my experience an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in China in learning to understand how local learners in China approach English language learning and what my role as a foreign teacher meant in their learning dynamic. Through the interpretation of my experience, I was able to see myself as more than a teacher, but as a cultural ambassador. Combing this international teaching experience with the ALGC learning experience, I saw a new career identity emerging within the ‘teacher’ identity. Therefore, the notion of learning practitioner and then global learning practitioner became the appropriate identity for my career as an international educator. In this role, my duties involve more than merely language education, but also involve fostering global understanding within the interactions of my students.

ALGC provided an understanding of the value of critical learning within global and local learning perspectives

Involved in the understanding and application of critical learning, students are engaged with local and global issues that affect their political and economic status. Therefore, they begin to learn not only the skills needed for work, but also the understanding of their learning circumstances from both the global and local perspectives. Through the introduction of Popular Education, the ALGC program provided me with the critical lens to approach learning and knowledge creation within a non-prescriptive sense encouraging reinterpretation of learning theories including Popular Education itself to meet local education needs appropriately. Through this understanding, I was able to establish a critical outlook on Popular Education and interpret it within the perspective of volunteer literacy educator training, which became the theme throughout my academic writing cumulating into my final Masters Thesis.

AGLC established interpretation of my work experience involving global understanding of local issues

When I first began the program, I had accumulated three years teaching experience in China. Living and working in China was challenging, but the ALGC program provided the means for a positive critical interpretation of the Chinese education system. As ALGC introduced concepts of adult learning from theoretical and global perspectives, I was able to analyze my Chinese work and learning experience based on conversations with my classmates on their local interpretation of adult learning perspectives and on the readings from the coursework. As I concluded my teaching stint in China, I was able to write an analysis report on the future of adult education in China utilizing knowledge gained from ALGC curriculum.

ALGC enhanced my understanding of the concept of learner ownership within an individual’s education practice

Early in the program, thoughts on student-centered learning first established through my undergraduate coursework began to develop the concept of learner ownership. Much of this was because I used student-centered learning in my teaching work. However, through interaction with the AGLC program, the concept of learner ownership had begun to articulate my experience. The concept of learner ownership eventually evolved into understanding learner identity within the education process. Much of this understanding resulted from reading and applying the Community of Practice learning theory. More specifically however, as I observed group dynamics within both my classroom and the AGLC classes, I saw how the periphery-participant dynamic expressed how particular learners related to classroom knowledge. This knowledge is especially useful in understanding how adult education should consider the learner within a socially just outlook.

Google Library

Here are a few books that I have come across which express some of my personal and research interests.