Open University (OU) students living in dispersedcommunities oten fnd difculty in attending ace-to-acetutorials. Online group communication tools, such as chatand discussion orums, and social sotware, such as blogsand wikis, oer alternatives but lack the immediacy oace-to-ace encounters. Tutorial activities – or example,ice-breaker activities, research and investigation tasks,discussion, collaborative interaction and role play – canseem constrained by the inability to interact with others inreal time.
In a 3D multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) such asSecond Lie, discussions become more real as a result o thepresence and movement o avatars. Tutors can situatelearning within a context devised or that activity. Studentspresented with challenges to solve, or hypotheses to proveare more likely to defne their own pathways to their learninggoals, collaborating and interacting with others as necessary.Learning in a virtual world enables students to discover neworms o understanding through playul interactions with theenvironment and with others: models o, or example, how theinternet works can be ‘walked through’ to gain a clearerunderstanding o what a student needs to know; researchactivities can take the orm o quests or journeys; and,through avatars, hidden or new representations o the selcan be explored. This combination o playul and purposeulactivity is a beneft rom MUVEs that is increasingly recognised.In this example, student eedback suggests that Second Lieprovides a greater sense o physical presence and proximitythan online discussion orums, and so oers an acceptablealternative to meeting ace to ace:
‘It’s as though you havebeen with other people’
is a commonly expressed view.Students taking part in the OU tutorials start with averageIT skills but must have access to an internet-connectedcomputer with a high-specifcation graphics card and astbroadband connection.
Holding tutorials in a virtual world
The Open University
What is a multi-user virtualenvironment (MUVE)?
A MUVE is a virtual world in 3D or with graphicanimations that can be accessed simultaneously overthe internet by many users. MUVEs such as Second Lie
oer virtual spaces in which educators, groups orindividuals can purchase and design their ownenvironments and interact with others as avatars(virtual people).
Case studies o technology-enhanced practice