Learning Taken To the Next Level – Virtual Learning in Coventry University

The launch of Coventry University Island on Second Life

A Coventry University Professor believes online teaching will evolve ‘undoubtedly’ over the coming years as students see it as a cheaper alternative to paying £9,000 tuition fees.

Professor on Higher Education Maggi Saven-Baden was speaking on the launch of her new book ‘A Practical Guide To Using Second Life’ – a resource for teachers to seek guidance on teaching techniques on the online virtual 3D world ‘Second Life’ where people can create characters and socialise.

Second Life is a free online text and chat world where users create characters and visit various fictional destinations, and is also categorised into topics such as business, fashion and media.

The software is already in use at Coventry University, which is named on Second Life as Coventry University Island. A virtual 3D building has just been created for the engineering and computing courses. Theatre studies and child nursing are also taking advantage of the text and voice-call social platform. Writes Adam Manning…

Although ideal for close networking of four to five people, the system can incorporate up to fifty people from all over the globe – posing the question that could online learning really be a realistic alternative to going to university to avoid paying expensive fees?

“Undoubtedly” answered Saven-Baden, who is just releasing her tenth book on learning and research. “I think online learning is going to be one of the ways universities will choose to go because it will be seen by students as a cheaper option.”

“However, learning at a distance is quite hard work as it can be time consuming for staff, and some students don’t like it because they want to see a lecturer.”

Having been familiar with the software since its creation in 2003, Saven-Baden warned that online teaching should be used tactically and sparingly, as it has the potential to become bureaucratic.

“You could run a lecture if you wanted to although I wouldn’t encourage the use of lectures because that’s not the best way of using the technology.”

“Small group learning and problem project based learning works very well because Second life is really a collaborative medium.”

At a first glance the Second Life phenomenon looks very much like computer game The Sims, but Saven-Baden denied it can be more distracting than productive, arguing that the more realistic it becomes for students and teachers, the better the learning experience will be for students doing work when away from the lecture theatre.

“First of all I’d say Second Life is better than The Sims!” she joked. “There has been a lot of criticism to begin with where the technology was quite clunky, but the refined version that was released earlier this year is graphically much better.”

“But once you get the hang of it people like the sense of being in there which is something you don’t get in virtual learning environments like Blackboard.”

Although Saven-Baden indicated it wouldn’t be effective to have a whole university course taught through the virtual 3D world, she is hoping the social platform will evolve its scope. This includes augmented reality where users participate in real world time and events in fictional surroundings, to educating vital medical practices more frequently.

“I think we’re on the move in a big way at the moment” continued Maggi, “We haven’t quite anticipated where this technology is going to go next.”

“There are things such as augmented reality, and ways of combining things like medical simulation or just simulation in general to make these worlds more real.”

“The interesting thing is how we begin to combine different types of online learning together to be something more holistic.”

The book ‘A Practical Guide to Using Second Life’ is priced at £24.99, and is available online and at Waterstones next to the Lanchester Library.

Picture Source: http://www.coventry.ac.uk/researchnet/secondlife 

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