Teaching and Learning in First and Second Life

Lester, P. M., & King, C. M. (2009). Analog vs. Digital Instruction and Learning: Teaching Within First and Second Life Environments Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 14(3), 457-483.

Article Review
Teaching and learning in an online environment is not innovative nowadays. The difficult financial climate makes online learning a more attractive option for many students with limited resources. Many scholars have been trying to explore the effects of online learning in comparison with the traditional face-to-face one. Lester and King’s (2009) paper provides new empirical findings in this regard, and explores an unique online instruction approach that combines both Second Life (SL) and Blackboard for instruction and learning. 334 undergraduate students who attended a semester-long visual communications lecture class participated in this study: 161 took the class in the traditional face-to-face manner, and 173 attended it via online instruction. Pretest and posttest were administered to gather students’ learning of course content and attitudes toward their learning experiences. Although authors hypothesized that students choosing online format might be more computer literate and knowledgeable about the content, results did not support this hypothesis. Furthermore, course format did not impact knowledge gained from this course. Students in both online and offline courses offer both positive and negative responses to this course. More online course takers, however, are critical of the course format. In addition, this study provides rich appendixes including sample transcript of online interaction in SL and sample student responses to weekly discussion boards.
While the major finding that online students learned just as much as offline students is encouraging, a further analysis of qualitative data of online learning (e.g. transcripts of online course interactions, in-depth interviews of participants, etc) would greatly enhance our understanding of learning experience in online environment. This is important because it could expand the narrow definition of learning as content attainment, which is popularly employed in most of similar studies, and potentially lead to new research agenda for effectiveness and effects of online learning.

EdLab Connection
For this past semester, many Development & Research team members have developed various online courses that aim to build a community of expertise sharing. While most of our current works are housed in TC Moodle, and some on Ning and PBWorks, the online model of Second Life in combination with Blackboard (or Moodle) deserves our consideration for new course development. Teaching and learning in virtual worlds such as Second Life could provide more visual and audio cues of participants that are missing in LMS such as Moodle, and thus could offer richer learning experience. A good example of virtual world used in meetings is reported in Digital Nation (clip7). Surely, the cost of such development (e.g. training for SL usage and longer time for course development) is one concern for this initiative.