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PhD accepted for public defence

phd_frontIn November 2016, I finally managed to hand in my dissertation, and earlier this week I received the preliminary assessment, which was positive insofar as the assessment committee unanimously recommends that my dissertation should be accepted for public, oral defence – BIG YAY :-)

The defence will take place at Aalborg University in Copenhagen (AAU-CPH) on January 26th 2017 . The assessment committee consists of the following people:

My PhD-supervisor, Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld (Aalborg University) will moderate the defence, which is set for three hours:


The abstract of my dissertation reads as follows:

The purpose of this study is to understand and conceptualize the transformation of a particular community of pedagogical practice based on the implementation of the 3D virtual world, Second Life™. The community setting is a course at the Danish online postgraduate Master’s programme on ICT and Learning, which is formally situated at Aalborg University. The study is guided by two research questions focusing on the participants’ responses to the avatar phenomenon and the design of the course.

In order to conduct and theorize about the transformation of this community of practice due to the 3D-remediation a research-led Action Research approach has been chosen to enable research with focus on both actions and critical reflections carried out in four consecutive research cycles from 2007-2011. 53 master students, one main teacher (the author), and several guest teachers have participated in the study. The findings are predominantly based on analysis of asynchronous student discussions in FirstClass™ (1.104 postings) and synchronous participant observation in Second Life (130 hours). A Grounded Theory-inspired approach has been used to generate and analyse the data in this study, meaning that no predefined theoretical framework was used to guide the design of the research cycles from the onset of the study. However, as the research progressed more and more elements from situated learning and the communities of practice theory influenced the design.

The study has demonstrated the importance of the avatar as pedagogical design element given that it is through the avatar the participants identify themselves and others, create meaning and experience learning in the virtual world. Furthermore, the findings show that the avatar cannot be understood devoid of context, devoid of other pedagogical design elements.

In summary, the study contributes with knowledge about 3D Virtual Worlds, the influence of the avatar phenomenon and the consequences of 3D-remediation in relation to teaching and learning in online education. Based on the findings, a conceptual design model, a set of design principles, and a design framework has been developed.

The preliminary assessment is 3 1/2 pages long and includes a summary and a critical evaluation of my dissertation. In my lecture, I will present my research while trying to address some of the critique given by the committee. Based on the evaluation, I anticipate a discussion of some of the following topics:

  • The concept of virtual/virtuality
  • My literature review strategy (State-of-the-art review)
  • My analytical strategy, Grounded Theory (GT) and the role of theory in GT
  • Insider research and positionality
  • The differences and similarities between Action Research (AR) and Design Based Research (DBR)
  • The Communities of Practice framework
  • The challenge of using learning theory for pedagogical design (and perhaps a discussion on the difference between anthropological and psychological perspectives on learning and education)
  • Socio-cultural vs. socio-material theories and approaches to understanding the world (of education)
  • The status and future of SL and other 3D virtual worlds in education

I’m currently in the process of preparing my defence, and I have to admit that I’m somewhat nervous. The main text of my dissertation is approx. 250 pages long, so there are a lot of issues to consider. I am, however, hoping that I will be able to put aside this nervousness and enjoy the whole thing. It truly is a unique opportunity to discuss some of the issues I care deeply about with some very clever people :-)


SL and Physics lessons – between Heaven and Hell!

Since December 5th, 2011 I’ve been running a PD class with students from the Master’s Program on ICT & Learning (MIL) at Aalborg University, and in order to pass the course, the students were asked to do in-world team presentations on the teaching and learning potential of SL. On Wednesday January 25th, Team E had to do their presentation, and this is the final post describing the students’ presentations. Background information on the course/the presentation task can be found in the post describing the first presentation, and here are links to the second, third, and fourth presentations.

Team E and their focus

Team E: Anina & Happytown

Team E’s members, Anina & Happytown are both K-12 teachers, and one of the challenges they have experienced in relation to teaching Physics in RL, is that the pupils often find it to be a boring subject matter, and so they wanted to investigate the possibility of using SL to design for fun and engaging activities, leading to the following investigation question:

How can physical activities be remediated in Second Life?

Well knowing that SL doesn’t allow for users below 16, Team E made a point out of explaining how their work should be seen as a pilot test for later exploration in a closed environment in Open Sim.

Team E’s sandbox
Just as the previous four teams, Team E also had a sandbox available from December 9th, 2011, and the pictures below reflect the progression in their work.

On December 17th, nothing much seemed to be happening in Team E’s sandbox.

A couple of days later on December 19th this shape – looking like The COI model – appeared.

Just a few days before the Midway presentation Team E’s sandbox still looked quite empty on January 1st, but we were in for a big surprise :-)

During their midway presentation on January 3rd, Team E showed us examples of how physics can be applied in SL.

… and Team E had designed animated sleighs, which their fellow classmates were invited to try out.

And then by January 11th, Team E’s building process had really taken off.

Team E also had a cute angel hovering above their sandbox on January 11th.

January 13th; more things started to happen in the air surrounding Team E’s sandbox.

On January 17th, I met briefly with Team E’s Anina to show her how to create a shared media screen.

On January, 21st it became very clear that something different was going on in Team E’s sandbox …

But exactly what, remained to be seen …

Team E’s presentation
Team E’s agenda looked like this: 

  • Remediation
  • Physics
  • Exercises
  • Reflections on our design – What have we been thinking?
  • Visit to Oddprofessor’s Museum and Science Center
  • A heavenly closure in the sky

Team E’s slide display on one of the clouds.

Team E made extensive use of the shared media feature throughout their presentation, and chose to show their slides on one of the clouds. The tricky issue with shared media is that each user sees the displayed media individually and so the start and stopping point of a video differs. However, Team E had sent out instruction prior to their presentation and after further elaboration in-world, everybody seemed to be on the same “slide”. The team explained how they had wanted to investigate Bolter & Grusin’s concept of remediation and use it to redesign some exercises from an existing instructional design from a Physics class.

The continuum of remediation.

As part of Team E’s design strategy, they had chosen to remediate the activities in the exercises in a respectful manner drawing on RL examples, and then remediate the setting in a more radical manner based on a Heaven-Hell analogy. By drawing on different aspects of the remediation continuum, Team E wanted to design authentic exercises that would stimulate their target group’s learning and engagement due to the more fun and interesting surroundings.

Graphic overview of some key elements in Physics.

After this brief introduction to their design ideas, Team E went on to explain about the exercises that the other teams had to do, and we were asked to follow the “highway” and enter Hell …

On the Highway to Hell … aka to the Physics exercises!

Each team had been assigned their own place in Hell …

With some help from my co-facilitator, Inge Team E had designed four sound-proof rooms, one for each team, that all contained three different exercises. For each exercise, different information was displayed as text or videos, and the teams had to complete at least one exercise, and write the results in shared documents.

Gravity exercise with a ball of lava to calculate mean acceleration.

Pendulums to calculate cycle time in Factor Physics.

Calculating friction of different materials.

Results from the exercises had to be written in the shared docs on the walls.

I didn’t manage to visit all teams, but all of them seemed to be fully engaged in the exercises, which was no surprise with the great designs and devilish teachers:


and Happytown – their mere appearance made me listen carefully too ;-)

After the exercises, it was time to resurface and go back to Heaven.

The Stairway to Heaven.

Back in the clouds, Happytown and Anina returned to their investigation question and elaborated on some of the theories (Wadley, The COI-model) they had used to support their work. Based on Nielsen’s work, Team E spoke of the necessity of the users’ ability to use their imaginative powers to feel immersed in an environment such as SL, and about the need to design for active knowledge construction via in-world artifacts.

The COI model on display.

For the mandatory tour outside the team’s own sandbox, Team E had chosen Oddprofessor’s Museum and Science Center, and we were asked to go there and explore the many fine examples of interactive objects and activities for further inspiration. The place has been created by Oddprofessor Snoodle who uses it to teach Physics/Chemistry for deaf students, and the place is filled with fun and engaging learning activties.

Exploring the many activities in front of the Free Fall Towers.

Learning through bowling :-)

My co-facilitator, Inge volunteered to stand in the line of fire from the canon!

Back in Team E’s sandbox, it was time for reflection and feedback.

Truly a beautiful setting for the final team presentation in the course.

Team E had wanted to show us, how SL can be used for teaching RL Physics, and I think they made a very convincing case. Their ambitious design impressed all of us, and it was a pleasure to witness such a good use of many of the features in SL. Anina & Happytown really have embraced SL, and their enthusiasm shone through their presentation, making many of us wonder what we could have learned, if only we had had the opportunity to learn Physics this way! In summary, Team E provided us with a very fine closure of this course on the educational use/potential of 3D Virtual Worlds :-)


SL as learning environment for Midwifery education

This is the fourth post of five describing the work of the students from the PD class, I’ve been running since December 5th, 2011 with students from the Master’s Program on ICT & Learning (MIL) at Aalborg University where the students have to do presentations in-world. Background information on the course/the presentation task can be found in this first post, and here’s the link to the second post, and the third post.  On Monday, January 23rd Team D had to present their analysis of SL as teaching and learning environment.

Team D and their focus

Team D; tomsteff, danamaia, mouritzen & Saxodane.

Just like the previous presenting teams, Team D’s members come from very different backgrounds working as College Teacher and IT-consultant, Midwife and Educational consultant, Assistant Engineer and AV-Lab consultant, and finally as Cooperate Psychologist and HR-consultant. danamaia was already familiar with some of the people behind the SLenz Virtual Birthing Unit-project, and the team decided to further investigate the use of SL as a supplement in Midwifery education leading to the following investigation question:

How can immersion facilitate Midwifery students’ learning of clinical skills and competences in a 3D-mediated learning environment?

Team D’s sandbox
To support the MIL students’ work in SL, each team was assigned a sandbox on December 9th (after they had learned the most basic SL skills), and the pictures below show the progression in team D’s sandbox:

December 17th; Team D has set up a shared media screen.

January 1st; Team D’s sandbox now only contains my building instructions …

However, a few days later on January 4th Team D’s building process has really taken off.

And a week later on January 11th, Team D’s sandbox is starting to get filled up with a nice addition of phantom walls based on transparent/green binary codes.

January 12th; Plywood here, plywood there – the basic building material of SL now seems to fill up Team D’s sandbox.

January 13th; The Matrix inspiration continues with the addition of a video-trailor for the movie.

On January, 20th part of the sandbox has been removed in the NW corner.

A closer look of the interior of Team D’s sandbox on January, 22nd.

Team D’s presentation

 Team D’s agenda and investigation question on display.

Team D’s agenda looked like this:

  • Intro
  • Historical perspective on 2D and 3D
  • The psychology of immersion
  • Learning in Plato’s cave
  • Didactic Design
  • Tour
  • Reflection/discussion
After we were welcomed in the team’s sandbox, Team C’s mouritzen gave us a brief overview their investigation question and of some influential games/systems in the field of 2D/3D VR/VE.

Posters with some of the influential games in game history,

and Cisco’s TelePresence system .

We were then asked to move up-stairs where Team D’s Saxodane literally walked us through Wirth et al.’s model of Spatial Presence that focusses on the construction of a mental “spatial situation model” as a prerequisite for a satisfactory user-experience in new media and VR-technology.

Team D’s representation of Wirth et al.’s Spatial Presence model.

By the end of Saxodane’s talk we were asked to take a step forward, the floor disappeared, and voila!:

… we were now prisoners in Team D’s Matrix/Plato-inspired cave!

In the cave, Team D’s tomsteff, made a very interesting comparison of Plato’s cave allegory, SL, and Beaudrillard’s thoughts on Simulacra and Simulation.

Plato’s cave allegory displayed on the walls in the cave – meta-meta?

Evidently, ontological questions on reality/virtuality/hyperreality come to mind when entering an environment such as SL, and tomsteff challenged us to consider what impact such issues would have in relation to learning.

Presence and learning – what’s the relationship?

Based on Qvortrup, tomsteff reflected on different kinds of knowledge forms in SL.

Next up was Team D’s own Midwife, danamaia, who gave us a nice introduction to the Midwifery-project in order to set the scene before visiting the place. The project has been well documented, and it was very interesting to hear about some of the research results, and not least how participating students had reacted to the project.

Team D’s danamaia explaining the didactic design behind The Birth Place (displayed on the walls) based on Riis’ model on the floor.

MIL11 students gathering in front of  Te Wāhi Whānau/ The Birth Place .

We were asked to take a tour and explore the premisses. The place is highly informative with many clickable objects leading to the extensive wiki and other materials.

Up-stairs danamaia explained the role-play that two students had to try based on materials from the purple pyramid.

Anina volunteered to become pregnant-in-a-click.

Even an avatar-pregnancy can be exhausting!

Anina gave the tub a try, but no luck in delivering the baby there …

With the help of “midwife”, JaneOlga Anina finally gave birth to a boy :-)

Big congrats from the cheering crowd …

Due to time constraints, we were not able to explore the role-plaing possibilities in full detail, but we did get a good impression of the potentials. After the successful birth of a new Netizen, we all went back to Team D’s sandbox, where Saxodane wrapped-up their presentation.

Saxodane presenting Team D’s final comments on SL as learning environment.

Team D has has had a strong focus on games throughout the course, and as I told them, I don’t think comparing and judging SL too much based on gaming theory/practice is appropriate. In my experience, the absence of a gameplay makes SL a very different VE – especially in terms of teaching and learning potential. Nonetheless, there were many fine elements in the team’s presentation and in their design, and once again, I think we all ended up having a very good and fun joint learning experience.

MIL students celebrating Team D’s presentation with some wine,

… and some dancing :-)