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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.

2009 in retrospect

2009 was undoubtedly the worst year of my life both privately and professionally. The illness and death of my mother clouded the entire year, but as I’m not used to life being easy it is not a complaint, but rather an explanation as to why I didn’t reach all the goals I had set for my work.  Looking back on some of the posts I wrote early in 2009, I had hoped to enter a phase where I would be able to dig deeper, analyze and reflect more critically on my findings and start working on my strategy for remediating people, places and practices, which essentially is the goal of my PhD. And so the question is, what did I achieve professionally in 2009?

  • I managed to write 56 posts – on average they consist of more than 500 words, so even though it was less than the previous year (72 posts), I think it is ok
  • I managed to write a few posts, where I compared some of the findings from my research cycles, and even though I clearly need to dig deeper, it is satisfactory that I started this part of the work
  • I managed to start the work on a model for remediation that I will use as part of the strategy, and even though this also needs much more work, the important point is that I got off to a good start on this
  • In January I participated in a PhD Master class on Knowledge Media where I had the opportunity to meet one of my professional heroes, Terry Anderson. This later lead to an invitation to collaborate with both Anderson, Ross McKerlich and Brad Eastman, and this collaboration is something I’m really looking forward to continuing in 2010
  • In June I was invited to participate in a research group on Dialogic Education and Research. Unfortunately, I only managed to find the time to participate in one meeting with this group, but it did influence my thinking very much, so the work with this group has not been futile
  • Together with co-facilitators, Heilyn and Roland, I ran two very successful 6-week courses in-world in the fall and they both provided valuable data for my work – this is the work I’m most satisfied with … and proud of
  • Together with co-editors, Ulla, Søren and Lone I managed to finish the work and publish an anthology on ICT and Learning. The anthology has been well received and this is also something I’m quite satisfied with
  • I managed to write a Danish article on my first research cycle (Fall 2007), which was set to be published in 2009 in an anthology on Knowledge Media. The publication has been postponed, but it was nevertheless satisfying to wrap-up that particular research cycle
  • Once again I participated in the SLCC, which I consider to be highly relevant and important for my work as a means to strengthen my invaluable network. In SF I also had the opportunity of meeting Professor Tringham and later I received a scholarship to visit her at UC Berkeley spring 2010. I’m convinced that my work with Tringham will strengthen my PhD, so of course this is also something I’m very satisfied about
  • Besides these achievements that are directly related to my PhD, I also managed together with especially educational coordinator of the Master in ICT and Learning (MIL), Winnie to rewrite the curriculum and write an accreditation report of the education
  • Again together with Winnie, I managed to get a rather huge grant for the MIL education that will enable MIL to further develop and research its use of especially video-tools
  • In June I took over the responsibility of managing the local part of a research project I have been participating in since 2008 together with several colleagues from e-Learning Lab. Even though we have managed to deliver what was expected of us, I personally found this work dissatisfying – mainly because I really do not care for management tasks
  • In June I also took over the responsibility of daily management of the MIL education in close collaboration with Winnie. Even though MIL plays an important role in my work and I care deeply for the education, I don’t think daily management is compatible with being a PhD Candidate, and one of my best decisions in 2009 was if fact to discharge myself from this responsibility in the future. Starting this month the daily management will be conducted by Winnie, my PhD colleague Ulla and the rest of the steering committee – and I will return to being a full time PhD Candidate for the remaining of my project period.

In retrospect, I think I did ok in 2009 given the circumstances, but there’s plenty of room for improvement.  I had hoped to find the time and energy to immerse myself into theoretical and methodological aspects of my PhD, and I didn’t. I did, however manage to start on some of this work, and so I enter this New Year with an optimistic sense of being on the right track…


“Wonderful Denmark” – review/log

On Wednesday September 10th the NoEL group visited Dr. Asp on 3 Danish islands to learn more about 5 specific attractions.

Wonderful Danish Island Complex, including Heidi Ballinger‘s PowerMatch and the Virtual Worlds Research project’s island; Research Island Denmark.

As usual some of the NoEL members meet at 20:00 at the town square on Wonderful Denmark for informal chat and sound rehaersal. Here we also had the opportunity to welcome a SL newbie, Preben Mortenwold and invite him to join our group :-) Don’t give up, Preben – you’ll get the hang of it .. it is a whole new world!

Here Dr. Asp told us a bit about his SL-based company, his work as a realtor and the services he and his team have to offer in-world. Please see the log below for further information on this.

Then we headed off to our first location, Holodækket (The Holodeck), which offers 9 different settings/contexts.

We were all quite baffled when standing inside the uterus of a pregnant woman looking straight at the fetus – what a surreal experience! Imagine the learning potential if the different stages of a pregnancy were made like holodecs. A great example of using SL to create things NpIRL!

In fact we all agreed that the holodeck technique has a huge pedagogical potential – both in terms of respectful and radical remediation, role-playing, living history and more traditional informative purposes.

Next location was e-lærings huset (House of e-learning), where Dr. Asp showed us different 2D and 3D techniques applicable for e-learning in SL.

A recurring topic in our NoEL conversations is to what extend educators should remediate RL into SL. There are no easy answers, but in my opinion the overload of respectful remediation, doesn’t necessarily stem from lack in pedagogical imagination, but is also a consequence of the steep learning curve. I think most educators will experiment with more radical remediation as their building and scripting skills improve … but I may be naive …

Our third location was Baltic Sea Solutions, which serves as a Community for Testing Facilities within Energy and Environmental Studies build also with the upcoming Climate Conference in Copenhagen, 2009 in mind. On location Dr. Asp and his team have build a Hydrogen test facility (RL), and on the ground you’ll find orange dots, that will guide you through in the most pedagogical/informative manner.

Looking through the lens of climate change we continued the tour to Science on a Sphere, a respectful remediation of NOAA’s similarly named project;

Science On a Sphere (SOS)® is a room sized, global display system that uses computers and video projectors to display planetary data onto a six foot diameter sphere, analogous to a giant animated globe. Researchers at NOAA developed Science On a Sphere® as an educational tool to help illustrate Earth System science to people of all ages. Animated images of atmospheric storms, climate change, and ocean temperature can be shown on the sphere which is used to explain what are sometimes complex environmental processes, in a way that is simultaneously intuitive and captivating.

As I understand it the RL SOS has been extremely expensive and complex to build, so there is a reasonable cost-benefit argument for re-building in-world and potentially more people will have access. This is a project in progress, and Dr. Asp hopes to be able to animate the Sphere in more ways (based on RL data e.g. wind, temperature, demographics) in the future.

Finally we went to see one of Dr. Asp’s personal favorites, Mariager havnekran (Crane of Mariager Harbour). Dr. Asp is fascinated by old buildings and enjoys rebuilding them as authentically as possible in SL.

Dr. Asp’s SL version of Mariager Havnekran and below RL

All in all it was a very inspirational tour, and even though I personally was jetlagged, I sensed that the NoEL group had a very nice evening. Dr. Asp and his team often build new things and we only saw a few of the many possibilities these islands have to offer, so I’m pretty sure we’ll return!

Thanks to Dr. Asp for not only guiding us, but also for helping me out in filling out the blanks in the sl-meetinglog_wd_091008 :-))



At the town square on Wonderful Denmark you’ll find landmarks to all sorts of interesting locations