Toward a strategy for remediation of pedagogical practice in SL

I’ve recently reviewed findings from three completed research cycles based on the primary case (MIL) and SL in my PhD-project. The case study was conducted at the Danish online Masters program on ICT and Learning (MIL) at Aalborg University and consisted of remediating a course in three consecutive research cycles spanning from 2007-2009. Based on the findings I’ve started to outline a strategy for remediation of pedagogical practice in SL. In a newly published article Hunsinger & Krotoski (2010:94) state that “trying to reproduce experiences that exist in our physical world is often not the best strategy for designing learning and research experiences in virtual environments”, and they call for strategies that go beyond replicating and reconstructing physical environments. Combining my own findings with ideas from Vygotsky (1978), Wenger (1998) and especially Bolter & Grusin’s “Remediation. Understanding New Media” (1999), I’ve found that it is possible to identify two different strategies;

  • Respectful remediation. Main objective is to reproduce prior practice with no apparent critique – often focusing on a quantitative outcome. Other media are represented without manipulation in the mediation. In general, this type of remediation enhances the authenticity and enforces the authority of the original media and practice. Tradition, familiarity, and certainty are keywords in this strategy. Changes are experienced as minor, evolutionary modifications and typically only involve change in modality, not specific activities.
  • Radical remediation. Main objective is to reinvent prior practice based on critical review – often focusing on a qualitative outcome. Other media are represented manipulatively in the mediation. In general, this type of remediation challenges both authenticity and authority of the original media and practice. Innovation, alienation, and uncertainty are keywords in this strategy. Changes are experienced as major, revolutionary transformations, and typically involve change in both modality and activities.

Given the technologic, pedagogic, and not least ontological complexity of a rich medium like SL, I’ve found that an overall respectful remediation strategy isn’t a viable choice, but it is also possible to distinguish between respectful and radical remediation at the tactic level, and here I’ve found that a combination is fruitful. Furthermore, since SL not a an abstract space for interaction, but a remediated world, also the participants (remediated as avatars) and the teaching and learning environment (remediated as places) can be remediated either respectfully or radically.

In “Learning in 3D – adding a new dimension to enterprise learning and collaboration” Kapp & O’Driscoll claim that the first step to escape Flatland and avoid routinization is to “distance oneself from existing processes and practices and examine a newly emerging technology on its own merits“, and they speak of right and wrong ways of dealing with teaching and learning in 3D:

Done right, 3DLEs provide the opportunity for instructional designers to overcome their captivation with the classroom and move in a direction that is more congruent with the needs of the increasingly digitized and virtualized enterprise. Done wrong, 3DLEs will remain the domain of digital avatars in digital classrooms discussing content on digitally rendered PowerPoint slides. (Kapp & O’Driscoll. 2010:56).

While I do agree that any technology/medium should be examined in its own right, I do find it a bit hasty to dismiss prior experience and practice, and I find the dichotomy of right/wrong inappropriate. Naturally, it is possible to talk about more or less suitable ways of designing and using media, but it’s a very complex issue and should involve consideration of all elements of the practice. In my case study, I experimented with the use of slideshows in the two last research cycles, and found that this kind of respectfully remediated practice could have the same benefits and pitfalls as in the world outside SL. However, I also found that the build-in backchannel made it possible to draw use of the mediums more unique affordances by combining simultaneous use of text-chat and voice. By encouraging the students to comment and post questions during a presentation, an otherwise inactive one-way presentation can turn into quite an engaging teaching and learning activity. Nonetheless, by adding this component to the activity, the “rules of engagement” changed, as far as both the teachers and students needed to learn new roles and communication skills. Learning to deal with this kind of multi-voiced communication takes time, but it has the potential to open up and democratize the dialogue. My point here is that a seemingly respectful remediation in SL actually can result in radical changes, and another important aspect is that I don’t see respectful and radical remediation as a dichotomy, but as a dualism. Further, whether or not something is perceived as being respectful or radical will differ between individuals, communities, and cultures.

I’m not arguing that we should cease from experimenting with completely new ways of doing things, but my findings clearly show that an element of respectful remediation is important – at least until the participants have reached a certain level of experience and mastery of the medium. As an educator, I find that one of the advantages of respectful remediation is that it’s based on recognition and familiarity enabling the user to build on prior experience, and changes are experienced as minor, evolutionary modifications, which potentially leaves more energy for the participants to focus on the task at hand, rather than on the medium and the mediation. I’m currently working on designing a model to illustrate the complexity of different remediation strategies, so more on this will follow …



Hunsinger, J. & Krotoski, A. (2010): Learning and researching in virtual worlds. In: Learning, Media and Technology, 35:2, p. 93-97

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978): Mind in society. The development of higher psychological processes. (trans. M. Cole). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wenger, E. (1998): Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bolter, J. & Grusin, R. (1999): Remediation. Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kapp, K. & O’Driscoll, T. (2010): Learning in 3D. Adding a new dimension to enterprise learning and collaboration. Pfeiffer.

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