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The Spring 2009 Snapshot of Virtual World Use in UK Higher and Further Education

The Spring 2009 Snapshot of Virtual World Use in UK Higher and Further Education

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Published by Eduserv Foundation
This report is the fifth in a series of snapshots of virtual world activity in UK higher and further
education. It is the first to be conducted under the umbrella of Virtual World Watch (VWW).
VWW and the previous snapshots are funded by Eduserv.
This report is the fifth in a series of snapshots of virtual world activity in UK higher and further
education. It is the first to be conducted under the umbrella of Virtual World Watch (VWW).
VWW and the previous snapshots are funded by Eduserv.

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Categories:Types, School Work
Published by: Eduserv Foundation on Feb 16, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/26/2012

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 The Spring 2009 Snapshotof Virtual World Usein UK Higher and Further Education
Virtual World Watchwww.virtualworldwatch.netJanuary/February 2009Funded by Eduservwww.eduserv.org.uk
 
 The Spring 2009 Snapshot of Virtual World Use in UK Higher and Further Education.1
1. Summary
This report is the fifth in a series of snapshots of virtual world activity in UK higher and furthereducation. It is the first to be conducted under the umbrella of Virtual World Watch (VWW).VWW and the previous snapshots are funded by Eduserv and supported by the EduservFoundation.Questionnaire data for this snapshot began to be collected at the end of December 2008.Several staff within the JISC Regional Support Centres provided additional information;together with monitoring mailing lists, ‘soft’ information from contacts and searches of theweb and Second Life, this contributed to a more rounded picture of virtual world activity in UKacademia than was achieved in earlier snapshots. However, this report focuses on the 54 validresponses to the survey questionnaire.Four main geographical clusters of academic Second Life activity have emerged in the UK:• Edinburgh: the University of Edinburgh and nearby Heriot-Watt University.• Milton Keynes: the Open University.• The West Midlands: Coventry and the nearby universities of Birmingham City and Warwick.• Leeds: the universities of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan, and Leeds Art and Design College.A number of universities, such as Lancaster, Southampton, Teesside and the West of England,have seen Second Life developments and teaching across several departments, and there isevidence that nearly every UK university is using Second Life to some extent for developmentor teaching work. However, in further education colleges the picture is more sparse, withevidence of development and student activity in a minority and little or no evidence of activityin the rest.Eighteen uses of virtual worlds in UK higher and further education were identified, eachdescribed in several survey responses. Learning and teaching activities predominated, withthese supporting many subject areas; however, the medical sciences, mathematics and art anddesign were mentioned more often than others. Simulations, the visualisation of complexstructures and safety role-play were also described by several academic respondents.Many universities are studying the use of virtual worlds – mainly Second Life – in education.There does appear to be a large amount of duplicated research in this activity. Some are usingvirtual worlds in courses about e-learning, while others are teaching staff how to use theseenvironments to best effect.Second Life remains the virtual world of choice for learning, teaching and research in UKacademia. However, a cluster of universities, groups and lone academics are starting toexperiment with OpenSim as an alternative.Respondents to the survey reported mixed attitudes to the use of virtual worlds from bothstudents and peers; however the large majority of respondents said they planned to do furthervirtual world learning and teaching in the next year.The practice of solely creating an exact reproduction of the university campus in Second Life isnow somewhat rare. Most institution-wide, in-world campuses make fuller use of availablevirtual world resources, for example providing teaching facilities for departments and courses,and exhibition spaces for student work.
 
 The Spring 2009 Snapshot of Virtual World Use in UK Higher and Further Education.2
2. Surveying the landscape
As the amount of virtual world activity has grown in UK academia, so issues have arisen abouthow best to survey these activities.
2.1 Identifying activity
This snapshot is based on responses to a questionnaire issued in December 2008 and January2009 through the JISCmail virtual worlds mailing list and the Virtual World Watch website, andby emailing all previous respondents to the series of snapshot surveys.The number of valid responses (54) was higher than for any other snapshot. Paradoxically, theamount of data received was smaller than for the previous two snapshots. This is due to:
 
The ‘core’ of respondents to previous surveys who submitted lengthy replies being largelyabsent due to ill health, or being particularly busy or absent from work over the Christmasbreak
 
A deliberate policy of asking as few questions as possible, making responding less onerous,to draw in new people (‘fresh blood’). This seems to have worked, with many newrespondents.Virtual World Watch (VWW) has now built up a data store of responses across five surveys and18 months. However, it should be remembered that these responses do not form acomprehensive picture of virtual world activity in the UK as not all developers respond to thequestionnaires. This is for a variety of reasons; the following have been stated to VWW by non-respondents:
 
They don’t like filling in questionnaires.
 
They don’t want to encourage more enquiries from researchers (‘interview fatigue’).
 
They are busy.
 
Their development is not yet public or official.
 
Their development isn’t known to more senior people and/or central units in theirinstitution, a situation they would like to continue.
 
Their experience of virtual worlds has been largely negative.
 
They do not wish to say anything that may jeopardise their career or future projectfunding, or make their working environment more difficult.
 
There are some negative attitudes to the use of virtual worlds in their immediateworkplace.
 
They didn’t find out about the survey until after the closing date for responses.In addition, even although the number of responses has increased, it is possible that theproportion of reported virtual world activity, as a part of such activity in UK academia overall,has decreased. It is evident even from crude Google searches e.g.
 
site:.bath.ac.uk “Second Life”
 
site:.dundee.ac.uk “Second Life”
 
site:.manchester.ac.uk “Second Life”… that there is a lot of activity in the UK. In fact, in January 2009 there was only one UKuniversity where VWW could find no evidence at all of virtual world activity – teaching,learning, development, institutional campus, e-classes, student design work or researchproject.

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