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A Spring 2008 “snapshot” of UK Higher and Further Education Developments in Second Life

A Spring 2008 “snapshot” of UK Higher and Further Education Developments in Second Life

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Published by: Eduserv Foundation on Oct 17, 2008
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A Spring 2008 “snapshot” ofUK Higher and Further EducationDevelopments in Second Life
John Kirriemuirwww.silversprite.comMay 2008Funded and supported by the Eduserv Foundationwww.eduserv.org.uk/foundation
 
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Summary
The number of UK academics who are developing or operating teaching and learning resourcesin Second Life (SL) has grown rapidly in the last year. While an accurate figure is difficult todetermine (partially due to the non-public nature of some developments), as a rough estimatesome three-quarters of UK universities are actively developing or using SL, at the institutional,departmental and/or individual academic level. Of these, many institutions support severalongoing SL developments, often involving groups of people rather than individuals. However,the proportion of UK FE institutions actively using SL was much smaller.Many of these developments are funded internally, with staff often donating significantamounts of their own time. There have been a few heavily over-subscribed sources of fundingfor SL work in the last academic year; feedback indicates a need for more resources andfunding opportunities. To quote:“Funders are always welcome. That’s the question I am asked most at my seminars andworkshops – ‘where can I look for funding?’”
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 An increasing body of academics are reporting substantial use of their SL developments, andsuccesses in teaching and learning activities. Measuring the usage of these developments tendsto be through raw visitor statistics or informal feedback, though a few academics teaching inSecond Life use more rigorous evaluation techniques.Academics who have successfully developed in SL report that their host institution andtechnical services are largely supportive, though with the latter there are often problems withfirewalls, PC capability and enabling voice functionality. Academics report varied reactions toSL from colleagues, ranging from interest and curiosity to suspicion and “hatred”. Unlike theirUS counterparts, UK academic libraries are not significantly involved in SL activities.Academics described a very wide range of SL activities spanning teaching, learning, research,performance, construction and demonstration. The key advantage of SL in teaching andlearning is that there are many activities in which the student must be more than a passivelearner in order to progress. The student has to develop “stuff”, collaborate and participate.Before these can occur, he or she has to master a new and transferable skill set, meaning that,in SL, learning is done more by participating and doing than by listening and absorbing.Though use of SL in UK HE/FE is growing, many academics are not “welded” to it, being awareof its deficiencies and open to moving to alternative virtual environments, especially opensource and more localised versions, in the future.Overall, and perhaps not surprisingly, the three most mentioned requirements of UK academicSL developers are:
 
more funding opportunities
 
more time to develop
 
better technical facilities within SL, or a viable alternative environment
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Fiona Littleton, Educational Development Adviser for Second Life, University of Edinburgh
 
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1. Introduction
1.1 The “snapshot” series
This report is the third in a series of four, stretching from July 2007 to October 2008. As thename suggests, the reports attempt to give a “snapshot” impression of SL developments withinUK Higher and Further Education. The underlying research has four main goals:1.
 
to determine the state of play of SL developments within the Higher and Further Educationsector2.
 
to discover how these developments are supported, in terms of time, funding and otherresources3.
 
to explore the functionality of these developments, i.e. which types of media orinteractive service they incorporate4.
 
to establish how busy, or well-used, the developments have been and discover any impactsresulting from their implementation and useThe previous reports in the series are available
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on the Eduserv Foundation website.
1.2 Methodology for this snapshot
During the spring of 2008, the following searches were carried out to find instances of SL use inUK HE and FE:
 
on the web in general
 
in specialist domains, e.g. .ac.uk
 
across the blogosphere
 
through mailing lists
 
in SL itselfWithin SL itself, the search mechanism returns disappointing results. This is partially due toacademics giving their developments different names to that of their host institution. However,a technique for finding developments that proved surprisingly fruitful was to look two or threeislands in each direction from an academic institution’s island, as SL seems to cluster similartypes of development together.Every UK university was examined in two ways:1.
 
An email was sent to the most central email address that could be identified on theuniversity website that was considered likely to result in a response. It was interesting tonote how differently universities handled research enquiries, from distribution internally onthe one extreme, to having no suitable enquiry email address or not replying on the other.46 universities did respond. Many said there were no SL developments at their institution(in several instances this was incorrect), or that they were unaware of any.2.
 
A search was done of the university website. Due to the poor results (precision) producedby many university website searches, I switched to doing a Google search across eachuniversity website domain. Usually, this generated much better results in terms of recall
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Snapshot series of reports:http://www.eduserv.org.uk/foundation/studies/slsnapshots 

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