High student satisfaction in SL

On June 16th, 22 students graduated from the Master’s Program on ICT & Learning (MIL) at Aalborg University, and this is where I’ve been running courses on SL for my PhD-project since 2007. As always, graduation day was an exciting day combining student anxiety and great relief and joy. After all the exams, there was a reception where the Masters received their diplomas, the daily manager of MIL, Ulla Konnerup and the Dean of Humanities, Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld spoke about the students’ achievements and their new roles as “ambassadors of ICT & Learning”. Finally, we finished off the day with a wonderful dinner/dance at the Utzon Center, downtown Aalborg.


22 very happy Masters of ICT & Learning 2011.

As something new, the steering committee behind the MIL Program had decided to award the Program’s “Teacher of the Year”. All courses/modules are anonymously evaluated by the students, and based on these evaluations; I was fortunate to receive this award :-)


1 happy Teacher of the Year 2011 and 1 happy Dean (right).

Ironically, I’ve not (yet) seen these particular students evaluations, however, based on the evaluations the students and I did as part of the SL course, I do have a few ideas as to why the students find teaching and learning in SL so satisfying. To understand this a little background information is necessary. In my PhD-project, I’ve conducted 4 research cycles, spanning from 2007-2010. Each cycle consisted of designing, implementing, and evaluating a 6-8 week online course on ICT and instructional design based in SL and a conventional 2D VLE. From a theoretical point of view, I’ve been inspired especially by Wenger’s (1998) social theory on learning as participation in Communities of Practice (CoP), Schroeder’s (2011) ideas on presence and co-presence, and Bolter & Grusin’s (1999) concept of remediation. From a methodological point of view, I’ve been inspired by Insider Action Research (Coghlan, 2007), and ethnographical methods such as longitude participant-observation (Boellstorff, 2008). 53 adult MIL-students (majority are educators) in total have participated in my study. The table below provides a brief overview of the research cycles.


PhD-overview – July 2011.

Based on my data, I’ve been able to identify 3 analytical units that will inform the answering of my research question; namely what it means to learn via 1) a new, virtual environment, via 2) a new, virtual body, and finally via 3) new, virtual activities. The picture below shows the 3 units and the related topics that emerged in all four research cycles.


3 analytical units; virtual environment, virtual body, and virtual activities.

In this short post, I will not go into details with the units, but my findings show that being remediated as avatars in a new, virtual environment where it is possible to participate in a variety of new virtual activities greatly influenced the students’ perceptions of presence and co-presence, and from a Distance Education perspective this is one of the most valuable contributions SL has to offer. Conveying a sense of “being there together” as Schroeder puts it, is essential in Distance Education, not only in terms of student satisfaction, but also in terms of learning outcome. Further, SL also provides the participants with unique opportunities of “doing things together”, and as such it is possible to attribute some of the students’ satisfaction to SL’s affordances. I would, however, like to stress that relevant affordances do not necessarily guaranty satisfaction, and though this holds true for all technology, especially in a complex system like SL, the instructional design becomes pertinent. Basically, my PhD-work has been about designing for optimal learning via SL, and in this respect, I’ve found great inspiration in Wenger’s four dimensions of learning;

  • Learning as a process of experiencing – outcome: changed meaning
  • Learning as a process of becoming – outcome: changed identity
  • Learning as a process of belonging – outcome: changed community
  • Learning as a process of doing – outcome: changed practice
Even though, I’ve not designed exclusively for the creation of a community of practice in SL, e.g. by solely using Wenger’s proposed design principles*, the ideas of the theory are part of my, and the MIL Program’s general pedagogical foundation, and I do believe that SL is a medium that offers very good opportunities for creation of communities of practice, both in educational and other settings. Looking at my data, I’ve found a distinct connection between elements from CoP-theory and presence/co-presence as shown in the figure below.


Connected elements of presence and CoP-theory in 3D-remediated learning.

In short, the figure shows how the sense of presence facilitates the creation of meaning and identity, while the sense of co-presence facilitates the creation of community and practice. In practice, the elements overlap, and it is in fact the oscillation between the elements, which constitutes the dynamics of SL as teaching and learning environment as seen from a CoP-perspective. Based on the findings from my study, I believe that the combination of a social pedagogical strategy and the use of a medium that affords a strong sense of presence/co-presence and which is rich in terms of co-creative possibilities, actually can promote student satisfaction. Evidently, this is a very brief description of my work … more details will follow in my forthcoming dissertation that is due in September.

/Mariis

*) For an excellent example of integrating Wenger’s principles and ideas in design for teacher development in an online community, please have a look at my (now former) colleague Dr. Mayela Coto’s PhD-work.

My first presentation at UCB’s Center for New Media

Today I did my first presentation of my PhD project at UCB. Sadly only a few people turned up, but they seemed engaged and asked a lot of questions, so that was good. It was the first time I presented some of my recent ideas on remediation, so that was quite interesting for me personally. I clearly need to refine my thoughts and the lack of proper English vocabulary, when I want to make a specific point, is really, really frustrating, but it is all part the learning process and I feel confident that it will become easier as time passes.

Among other things I addressed one of the challenges I currently have in relation to my thoughts on remediation. I’ve incorporated several dichotomies in my models for remediation, but I only see them as theoretical/analytical tools – reality (in whatever shape it represents itself) is much more complex and I don’t necessarily consider them to be mutually exclusive. Another problem is that some of the concepts I’m using are ambiguous, so I have a lot of work ahead of me in determining how I will define these concepts, and as examples of this uncertainty I presented the following three slides:

BTW, for the presentation I’d found a nice template displaying an Ethernet cable, which I thought suited the topic very well – only later I realized that as part of the terms of use I’m not allowed to upload them to any sort of file sharing site and this is why they can only be found here in pdf format … and so I will not use that type of template again!

/Mariis

Case MIL09: Didactic Design Discussion – 2

In the 2. Didactic Design Discussion in the MIL course I’d chosen to focus on some of the central points from my own PhD-project since it also deals with analysis of SL as teaching and learning environment. Discussing some of my own ideas with the students naturally is very inspiring and rewarding for me personally, but I’m also hoping (and sensing) that the students benefit from seeing my approach to the problem, and judging from the vivid discussion I do believe, I managed to challenge some of their presumptions. I’m not able to reproduce all of it, but I will try to highlight a few issues.

Essentially my PhD-project is aimed at improving Blended Learning within Higher and Further Education through remediation and redidactization. Through a process of designing and redesigning two specific Blended Learning courses within 6 research cycles the aim is to enhance learner experience and learning outcome by using new augmented/immersive 3D media and a learner centered Problem Based pedagogical approach. In both cases the target group is adult teachers/ trainers from the educational and the private/industrial sector from different countries.


PhD-project overview – Fall 2009

The concept remediation (in relation to new media) was coined by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin (2000), but there was no explicit value or quality identified with different ways of remediating in the original concept. However, Tringham, Mills and Ashley (2007) further developed the remediation concept in their Remediated Places Project and came up with two distinct strategies for remediation, respectively respectful and radical. In my point of view these two strategies can be extended to include pedagogical considerations and thus inform more general implementation strategies for blended teaching and learning using new media.

I first introduced the MIL students to the concepts of respectful and radical remediation in the course last fall and like this year’s students they immediately adopted the terminology. If you’ve ever been in SL you’d know why – it makes perfect sense to distinguish between the two both with regard to people, places and practices. The interesting question nonetheless is whether remediation changes anything in the way we think and practice teaching and learning …


Is a slide show presentation in SL an innovation?

According to Peter Denning an innovation can be defined as a transformation of practice in a group, community or culture – it is not enough just to come up with a brilliant idea or create a new artifact. Surely there are many different definitions of innovation, but I agree with Denning and it aligns very well with Wenger’s 1998 social theory on Communities of Practice, which is one of my core inspirations. Changing practice is easier said than done and Steven Warburton has identified 7 barriers to innovation in 3D environments like SL:

  • Technical – machine and human related [and standards related]
  • Identity – the tension between playfulness and professionalism
  • Culture – reading the codes and etiquette of SL
  • Collaboration – building trust
  • Time – even simple things take time 
  • Economic – nothing is for free
  • Design – perhaps this is a meta-barrier but SL does offer up very particular design challenges

Besides these I would add another meta-barrier, namely the inherent paradox between (re-)production and innovation that all participants in education are facing. This is what I call the didactic double bind. In general double bind is described as dilemmas in communication, and SL seems to be filled with conflicting messages. After the session one of the students posted this photo as her take on a in-world double bind:

The text for that photo could read: ”SL is an open environment. Join us if you can”. Naturally, the experienced SL resident would know that the dilemma in this particular situation is metaphorical – a shift in camera angle and you’d be there… the perspective on the situation would change and shifting perspective, looking at dilemmas at a higher level of abstraction is one way of solving double bind situations and would according to Bateson. 1972 mean learning at level III. And this is actually one of the reasons why I find SL so interesting – if we assume that the learner overcomes the initial difficulties and gets accustomed to the environment it provides rich opportunities for learning at higher levels, because SL inevitable challenges the learner both ontologically and epistemologically due to the whole meta-cognitive nature of the in-world experience.

After this we moved on to discuss the concepts of immersion and augmentation and what these two apparently conflicting ways of engaging in an environment like SL could mean – not least when it comes to teaching and learning practice. Again the students were eager to discuss and we covered a lot of important points on which I will return in a later posting. Suffice to say that we all agree with Tateru Nino on this:

It’s not all black and white.
The whole immersion versus augmentation debate is clouded by one trivial little detail. One is not the opposite of the other. The two aren’t even mutually exclusive.

We ended the session by trying out the Opinionater – it really is a very efficient and fun tool for stimulating discussions :-)

/Mariis