Online Communities on the MUVE

:
Using Second Life to build an Online Peer-support Community for Pre-service Teachers

Bonnie Thompson Long BA (Loyola Marymount University), MA (Loyola Marymount University)

A project submitted to the University of Dublin, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Technology & Learning

2008

Declaration
I declare that the work described in this dissertation is, except where otherwise stated, entirely my own work and has not been submitted as an exercise for a degree at this or any other university.

Signed: ___________________________________ Bonnie Thompson Long, Master of Science in Technology & Learning, University of Dublin Date: 14 May, 2008

ii

Permission to lend and/or copy
I agree that Trinity College Library may lend or copy this dissertation upon request.

Signed: ______________________ Bonnie Thompson Long Date: 14 May, 2008

iii

Acknowledgements
The author wishes to acknowledge the support of family and friends through this academic year. Your warm words of encouragement at times of doubt have been invaluable. Kids, no more frozen pizzas, I promise! Special thanks go out to my good friend Kate, a fellow ‘mature student’, who has shared with me the trials and tribulations of trying to manage family, work and academic pursuits these past few years. Kate, we did it! Thanks as well to Ansa Sautereau, the first to offer me friendship in Second Life, and a truly innovative educator. Your kindness and support have made Second Life a lovely place to inhabit. To my parents, thank you. Your life-long belief in the power of education and continued support for my academic endeavours has reaped incalculable rewards. Thanks go out as well to the PGDE students for their willing and enthusiastic participation in this project. Most of all, thank you to my supervisor, Tim Savage, for his advice and support during the undertaking of this project

iv

Abstract
Learning to teach has been described as one of the most complex activities anyone can undertake (Schifter, 2005) Pre-service teachers today are faced with daunting challenges that can leave them feeling isolated and alone. This study investigates the use of the multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) Second Life as a means of creating an online support system for a group of pre-service teachers completing the one year Post Graduate Diploma in Education course at the National University of Ireland, Galway. An investigation of the relevant literature covers both synchronous and asynchronous uses of CMC to foster a sense of community in pre-service teachers, different types of online learning communities, the role of social presence in a community of inquiry and best practices for the use of Second Life in education. The single case study used a multimethod approach based on the practices and assumptions of qualitative inquiry. Data was collected for analysis from several sources, including chat transcripts, student journals, questionnaires and structured interviews. Findings show that the MUVE Second Life can be used as a vehicle for peer support for pre-service teachers if the technical issues associated with accessing the virtual world are overcome.

v

Table of Contents
Acknowledgements .......................................................................................................... iv Abstract ............................................................................................................................. v Tables and Illustrative Material ................................................................................... viii Abbreviations................................................................................................................... ix Introduction...................................................................................................................... 1 Literature Review ............................................................................................................. 3 Literature Review ............................................................................................................. 3
Pre-service Teacher’s Feelings of Isolation ........................................................................... 3 Computer Mediated Communication.................................................................................... 3 Asynchronous CMC ................................................................................................................ 4 Synchronous CMC .................................................................................................................. 5 Community .............................................................................................................................. 5 Different Kinds of Community .............................................................................................. 6 Building Online Learning Communities ............................................................................... 9 MUVEs ................................................................................................................................... 10 Second Life............................................................................................................................. 11 Conclusion.............................................................................................................................. 13

Design ............................................................................................................................. 14
Artefact Design ...................................................................................................................... 14 Research Questions ............................................................................................................... 14 Instructor Familiarity With the Technology ...................................................................... 14 Setting-up a Group in Second Life ...................................................................................... 20 Data Collection Design .......................................................................................................... 21 Conclusion.............................................................................................................................. 21

Implementation .............................................................................................................. 23
Campus Access ...................................................................................................................... 23 Recruiting Students to the Project....................................................................................... 23 In-World Meeting Structure ................................................................................................ 26 Instructor Immediacy ........................................................................................................... 27 Conclusion.............................................................................................................................. 28

Methodology ................................................................................................................... 29
Data collection ....................................................................................................................... 30 Implementation ..................................................................................................................... 30

Data Analysis ................................................................................................................. 33
Synchronous Chat Analysis .................................................................................................. 33

vi

Data Sample ........................................................................................................................... 34 Social Presence Density......................................................................................................... 34 Student journals .................................................................................................................... 35 Questionnaires ....................................................................................................................... 35 Post Implementation Data Collection .................................................................................. 36

Findings.......................................................................................................................... 37
Quantitative Transcript Analysis ........................................................................................ 37 Rovai’s Classroom Community Scale ................................................................................. 40 Student Journals and Post Implementation Survey Analysis ........................................... 41 Post Implementation Data Collection .................................................................................. 48 Follow-up Interview .............................................................................................................. 49 Conclusion.............................................................................................................................. 50

Conclusions and Recommendations ............................................................................. 52
Suggestions for Further Research ....................................................................................... 53

References ...................................................................................................................... 55 Appendices...................................................................................................................... 59
Appendix 1: PowerPoint Presentation From First Group Meeting ................................. 60 Appendix 2: Consent Form .................................................................................................. 62 Appendix 3: Handout From First Group Meeting ............................................................. 63 Appendix 4: Assessment Rubric .......................................................................................... 66 Appendix 5: Breakdown of Weekly Meetings .................................................................... 68 Appendix 6: Rovai’s Classroom Community Scale (2002) ................................................ 69 Appendix 7: Post Implementation Survey .......................................................................... 71 Appendix 8: Model and Template for Assessment of Social Presence ............................. 81 Appendix 9: Revised Template for Assessing Social Presence .......................................... 82 Appendix 10: Social Presence Density Coding Protocol .................................................... 83 Appendix 11: Coding Table from Transcript 1 .................................................................. 84 Appendix 12: Student Journal Comments by Theme ........................................................ 85

vii

Tables and Illustrative Material
Tables: Table 1: Breakdown of Participant Gender and Teaching Methodologies ..................... 31 Table 2: Social Presence Indicators (Rourke et al, 2001)............................................... 33 Table 3:Unit of Incidents per 1000 Words ..................................................................... 38 Table 4: Number of participants in pre and post-measure questionnaires ...................... 40 Table 5: Crosstab ‘development of relationship’ with ‘helpfulness of peers’ ................ 44 Table 6: Crosstab 'development of relationship' with 'technical difficulties'.................. 45 Table 7: Crosstab 'development of relationship' with 'facilitator accessibility' .............. 47 Figures: Figure 1: Illustration of a Community of Inquiry (Garrison et al, 2000) ......................... 8 Figure 2: The researcher's avatar, after one week in-world. ........................................... 15 Figure 3: The researcher's avatar, after four weeks in-world. ........................................ 16 Figure 4: Example of clothing used by the researcher’s avatar while interacting with students ........................................................................................................................... 17 Figure 5: The house on Flotsam Beach .......................................................................... 17 Figure 6: The Flotsam Beach boardwalk ........................................................................ 18 Figure 7: Meeting Place front room, West view ............................................................. 19 Figure 8: Meeting Place front room, East view .............................................................. 19 Figure 9: The hot tub on the deck of the group house. ................................................... 20 Figure 10: The Tacaiocht Cairdiúil House Sign ............................................................. 21 Figure 11: Snapshot of a discussion in the group hot-tub............................................... 27 Figure 12: Snapshot of an online office hour session with 3 students present ............... 27 Charts: Chart 1: Types and Number of Educational Institutions Currently in Second Life ...... 11 Chart 2: Social Presence Density Rating of Transcripts ................................................. 37 Chart 3: Classroom Community Scale Mean Scores ...................................................... 41 Chart 4: Post-Implementation Student use of Group House........................................... 49

viii

Abbreviations
BERA .......................... British Educational Research Association CMC............................ Computer Mediated Communication IM ................................ Instant Messaging MUVE ......................... Multi-user Virtual Environment PGDE .......................... Post Graduate Diploma in Education SPD ............................. Social Presence Density VLE ............................. Virtual Learning Environment VoIP ............................ Voice over Internet Protocol

Extra Citations: White out before printing!!
(Edens, 2000; Lambe & Clarke, 2003; Levin, 1999; Maher & Jacob, 2006; C. L. Mason, 2000b; S. Nicholson, Bond, N., 2003; Schifter, 2005; Vonderwell, 2003) (Levin, 1999; Maher & Jacob, 2006; C.L. Mason, 2000a; S. Nicholson, Bond, N., 2003; Schifter, 2005) (L. Rourke, Anderson, T., Garrison, D.R., Archer, W., 2001) (Chou, 2001) (Wang, 2003) (S. Robbins, 2006) (Liu, 2006; Palloff, 1999) (R. L. Sanders, & McKeown, L. , 2008) (Palloff, 1999) (Boreen & Niday, 2000; Dinsmore, 2006; D. R. Garrison, Cleveland-Innes, Koole, & Kappelman, 2006; C. L. Mason, 2000b; Preece, 2005; Riel, 2004) (Barab, 2004; Stacey, 2002; Yamashita, 2006) (Johnson, 2007) (Alfred P. Rovai, 2000) (Woods, 2003a) (A.P. Rovai, 2002) (Pelowski, Frissell, Cabral, & Yu, 2005) (L. Rourke, Anderson, T., Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W., 2000) (Koeppen, 2000) (Creswell, 2005) (Cohen, 2007)

ix

Introduction
Learning to teach has been described as one of the most complex activities anyone can undertake (Schifter, 2005) Pre-service teachers today are faced with daunting challenges that can frustrate them and leave them feeling isolated and alone. Providing an avenue of peer support for pre-service teachers during the trying time of student teaching can greatly enhance their learning and help them to stay the course. This study investigates the use of the multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) Second Life as a means of creating an online support system for a group of pre-service teachers completing the one year Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) course at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Currently no formal structure for peer support exists in the PGDE program. It is hoped that providing an online space for peer support in Second Life will increase students’ sense of community and assist them in the successful completion of the course. The main research question addressed by this study was: Can an MUVE be used as a vehicle for peer support and increase social presence in students by facilitating feelings of belonging and sense of community? Sub questions deal with the high learning curve and technical difficulties associated with the MUVE and how they might interfere with using Second Life as a vehicle for peer support. Other sub questions deal with teacher immediacy behaviours and students’ continued use of Second Life as a vehicle for peer support on a voluntary basis. The single case study used a multimethod approach based on the practices and assumptions of qualitative inquiry. Data was collected for analysis from several sources, including chat transcripts, student journals, questionnaires and a structured interview. The participants in the study consisted of 16 PGDE students, 11 female and 5 male, from a wide range of methodological backgrounds. Students chose to participate in the study as an assignment for their Education Technology course. Participants met inworld in Second Life once weekly for an hour in a meeting place designed by the instructor. After the initial 7 weeks, participation in the online support community was voluntary. The researcher, who is also the instructor, took on the role of participant-asobserver and was involved in all group meetings during the 7 week period as facilitator.

1

Findings of the study suggest that the MUVE Second Life is effective as a vehicle for peer support for pre-service teachers if the technical issues associated with accessing the online virtual world are overcome. This paper includes seven chapters, which are broken down in the following manner: In chapter 1, the Literature Review, topics covered include both synchronous and asynchronous uses of CMC to foster a sense of community in pre-service teachers, different types of online learning communities, the role of social presence in a community of inquiry and best practices for the use of Second Life in education. Chapter 2, Design, discusses the creation of the meeting place which was built for the PGDE students in Second Life, and how this design is supported by the literature. The design of the data collection devices used in the MUVE is also discussed. Chapter 3, Implementation, covers recruitment of students to the project, how the project was introduced to the participants and weekly in-world meeting structure. In chapter 4, the methodology implemented by the study and data collection procedures are explained. The Data Analysis chapter, chapter 5, covers the different forms of data analysis employed by the study including synchronous chat analysis, social presence density ratings and coding and theming. Findings are discussed in chapter 6. Finally, the conclusions and recommendations for future study are discussed in chapter 7.

2

Literature Review
This review of the literature covers topics relevant to the building of an online community of support for pre-service teachers. Studies into the use of both synchronous and asynchronous CMC to foster a sense of community in pre-service teachers are investigated. The idea of community is explained, and so are different types of online learning communities. Special attention is paid to the literature covering guidelines for the successful building of online communities and the role of social presence in a community of inquiry. Finally, best practices for the use of Second Life in education are revealed.

Pre-service Teacher’s Feelings of Isolation
Stepping into the world of teaching for the first time can be daunting and isolating experience (Boreen & Niday, 2000; Dinsmore, 2006; Mason, 2000a) Pre-service teachers can feel this isolation acutely, being both new to the profession as well as outsiders in the schools where they complete their practice teaching. They share common concerns and face similar challenges (Nicholson & Bond, 2003) and can benefit greatly from a community supported by the affective and emotional skills of their peers (Hawkey, 1995) Moreover, research into teacher preparation has shown that learning is enhanced through a sense of community (Koeppen et al, 2000) Understanding these issues, teacher preparation programs have long employed a variety of reflective, collaborative practices to support the professional growth of pre-service teachers. However, many novices still experience the effects of isolation. Providing an avenue of communication for pre-service teachers to share their concerns and support each other in their year of student teaching can go a long way toward alleviating these feelings of isolation (Mason, 2000a)

Computer Mediated Communication
The use of computer-mediated communication (CMC) has been widely used in recent years by teacher preparation programs in an attempt to further support pre-service teachers and build a feeling of community among the group (Nicholson & Bond, 2003) Both asynchronous and synchronous computer-mediated communications have been used in pre-service teacher programs for this purpose.

3

Asynchronous CMC can refer to computer conferencing, bulletin boards, computer assisted instruction, listservs, or email (Maher & Jacob, 2006) The term ‘asynchronous’ refers to users not needing to be online at the same time in order to communicate. Synchronous CMC is more like a conversation than asynchronous mode (Kurtts, 2005) Examples of synchronous forms of CMC are chat rooms, Instant Messaging (IM), or the use of multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs). These methods of CMC enable users to communicate with each other while they are both (or all) on line at the same time.

Asynchronous CMC
Asynchronous communication was first used in distance learning in the late 1980’s and has been used extensively in online courses since the early 1990’s (Salmon, 2004) Virtual learning environments (VLEs) such as Blackboard© and WebCT©, are commonly used today by third-level institutions to provide virtual support to students in both purely online and in blended courses. A review of the literature reveals the modes of CMC most widely used by teacher education programs are e-mail (Mason, 2000a) and discussion forums (see Edens, 2000; Lambe & Clarke, 2003; Levin, 1999; Maher & Jacob, 2006; Mason, 2000b; Nicholson & Bond, 2003; Schifter, 2005; Vonderwell, 2003) Most researchers into the area of the use of asynchronous communication as a form of support for online and blended courses emphasize the need to develop means of social support for the students in the form of community building. In Lambe and Clark’s (2003) study of the use of a computer conferencing system with pre-service teachers at the University of Ulster, they found that the system was an effective means of reducing student isolation when on teaching practice. Studies done on the use of asynchronous CMC in support of pre-service teachers found that asynchronous CMC supports reflective practice (Levin, 1999; Maher & Jacob, 2006) collaboration (Kurtts, 2005; Vonderwell, 2003) and provides peer support (Nicholson & Bond, 2003) There are, however, limitations inherent in asynchronous tools. Low levels of social cues can lead to more uninhibited behaviour of students, misunderstandings and misinterpretations, which can impede student learning (Vonderwell, 2003) Students using asynchronous CMC have also reported feeling a lack of social presence that is inherent in face-to-face communication (Mason, 2000b) In a study by Sanders (2005) students lamented the lack of face-to-face communication, and desired more realistic

4

opportunities to interact with their classmates. Sanders postulated that “…the use of avatars, three dimensional representations of participants commonly found in many three-dimensional graphical user interfaces might offer one solution to the problem.” (p. 4-5) (Sanders, 2005)

Synchronous CMC
Synchronous forms of CMC have also been studied in relation to their use with preservice teachers. Mason (2000b) compared the use of synchronous desktop video conferencing to asynchronous discussion forums and found that the desktop video conferencing provided more immediate and satisfactory feedback for the participants than the discussion forum. Nicholson (2002) studied the use of Instant Messaging (IM) among pre-service teachers. It was found that students who used IM services “found it easier to communicate, felt a stronger sense of community, and had more venues for informal and social communication.” (Nicholson, 2002, p. 363) (S. Nicholson, 2002) Several different forms of both synchronous and asynchronous CMC have been used over the years in an attempt to foster a sense of community in cohort groups of preservice teachers. Developing a sense of community in a cohort of pre-service teachers can lessen their feelings of isolation (Hawkey, 1995) and enhance learning (Koeppen et al, 2000)

Community
The concept of community has changed significantly over the last century. Earlier definitions of community that focused on proximity and kinship are not adequate to cover the types of communities developing today. In the last few decades, sociologists have turned their attention to communities that are not place-based but connected to each other through a common interest (Barab et al, 2004) As Preece (2005) summarises, “Researchers now consider the strength and nature of relationships between individuals to be a more useful basis for defining community than physical proximity.” (p. 1)

Sense of Community
There is no universally accepted definition of the term “sense of community” (Rovai, 2003) Adapting ideas from McMillan (1996), McMillan & Chavis (1986) and Cristol, Lucking and Rovai (2001), Wilson (2001) describes sense of community among learners as having the following characteristics:

5

Belonging. Members identify with the group and feel a sense of buy-in (at least partially) to the group’s purposes and values.

Trust. Members feel safe within the group and believe that members will generally act for the good of the whole.

Expected learning. Members expect the group to provide value, particularly with respect to their learning goals.

Obligation. Members feel a moral imperative and desire to participate in activities and contribute to group goals. (p. 3) (Wilson, 2001)

In online learning courses, students that feel connected to their classmates, feel a sense of community, are more successful academically and more likely to persist with the course (Rovai, 2003) (A. Rovai, 2003) The benefits of a perceived sense of community are many. People feel “…better adjusted, feel supported, have connections to others and to goals that may be above their own limited aspirations, and have stronger levels of social support and social connectedness.” (Rovai & Wighting, 2005, p. 99) (A. Rovai, & Wighting, 2005)

Different Kinds of Community
There are many different kinds of communities mentioned in the educational research. Those that have relevance to this study are described below.

Online Communities
Preece (2005) states that “Pioneers of online community development and research Howard Rheingold (1993) and Roxanne Hiltz (1985) use the term “online community” to connote the intense feelings of camaraderie, empathy and support they observed among people in the online spaces they studied.” Preece (2005) herself prefers to focus on “the people who come together for a particular purpose, and who are guided by policies (including norms and rules) and supported by software.” (p. 1, italics in original).

Communities of Learning
Riel (2004) describes communities of learning as those that are intentionally designed to support learning. She breaks learning communities down in to three categories: taskbased communities, practice-based communities and knowledge-based communities. All three types of community share some common characteristics. They are all goal

6

oriented and they all exist in a working culture that helps members make sense of the work under way.

Communities of Practice
Communities of practice fall under Riel’s (2004) category of practice-based communities. Wenger (2007) describes communities of practice as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” (p. 1) Community of practice members: • • • • • • Have an identity defined by a shared domain of interest Participate in joint activities and discussions Help each other and share information Build relationships that enable them to learn from each other Are practitioners Develop a shared repertoire of resources such as experiences, stories, tools, and ways of addressing recurring problems (Wenger, 2007)

Classroom Community
Classroom community is a specific type of community set in the world of education. The primary purpose of a classroom community is learning. The lifespan of a classroom community has a set length; that of the course or program in which members are enrolled (Rovai, 2001) According to Rovai (2001) classroom community consists of four components; spirit, trust, interaction and learning. Spirit refers to the feelings of belonging, acceptance and group identity. Trust refers to the feeling that the community can be trusted and that feedback will be forthcoming and constructive. This leads to feelings of safety and a willingness to speak openly. Interaction refers to the feeling that closeness and mutual benefit result from interacting with others. Interaction can either be driven by tasks set by the instructor, or socio-emotional in origin. Social interaction is an important factor that supports both the community building process and learning (Rovai, 2001) Learning, the last component of classroom community, is: …the feeling that knowledge and meaning are actively constructed within the community, that the community enhances the acquisition of knowledge and understanding, and that the educational needs of its members are being satisfied. (Rovai, 2001, p. 35)

7

Community of Inquiry
Communities of inquiry are another type of learning community. They are composed of teachers and students in pursuit of an educational goal. In their investigation of the use of CMC in supporting educational experiences, Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000) developed a tool for researchers to use in the analysis of students’ educational use of CMC. In their model of a community of inquiry, illustrated in Figure 1, they identify three core elements; cognitive presence, social presence and teaching presence. Learning occurs within the community of inquiry through the interaction of these elements. (Garrison et al, 2000) (D. R. Garrison, Anderson, T., Archer, W., 2000) Community of Inquiry

Social Presence

Promoting Discourse

Cognitive Presence

Setting Climate

Educational Experience

Selecting Content

Teaching Presence (Structure/Process)

Communication Medium
Figure 1: Illustration of a Community of Inquiry (Garrison et al, 2000)

Cognitive Presence is defined as “the extent to which the participants in any particular configuration of a community of inquiry are able to construct meaning through sustained communication.” (Garrison et al, 2000, p. 89) Teaching Presence consists of two general functions. The first is to design the educational experience. This can include the selection, organisation and presentation of the course content as well as design of learning activities and assessment. The second function is facilitation. This responsibility may be shared among the teacher and some or all of the other participants. The element of teaching presence is seen as a support to both cognitive and social presence. (Garrison et al, 2000) Social Presence is defined by Garrison et al (2000) as “the ability of participants in the Community of Inquiry to project their personal characteristics into the community, thereby presenting themselves to the other participants as ‘real people’.’’ (p. 89) The 8

primary importance of this element is to support the cognitive and affective objectives of learning (Rourke et al, 2001) However, when the goals of the educational process include affective elements, such as feelings of belonging and sense of community in order to sustain membership in the community, then social presence directly contributes to the success of the educational experience (Garrison et al, 2000) It may also lead to greater emotional satisfaction through a sense of well-being (Rourke et al, 2001) For the purpose of this study, where the main objective is to provide a social support for pre-service teachers, the elements of social presence and teaching presence are paramount. They serve as a much needed support for cognitive presence in the community. Teaching presence is intricately linked with social presence in a community of inquiry. Stacey (2002) found that students’ social presence grew in the first few weeks of class as the teacher modelled acceptable social presence factors such as humour, emotion and self disclosure. When these affective behaviours were used by the teacher, they were quickly emulated by the students, and the incidence of social presence factors in student interactions rose.

Building Online Learning Communities
Research into the successful building of online learning communities has shown several factors to be important in the promotion of a sense of community. Rovai (2001) found that instructors who use interactive teaching methods designed to promote interaction among students nurtured feelings of community in their students. He also found that including a course participation rubric which placed emphasis on course discussions, and including course discussions as an assessment task, increased levels of group interactivity. Wang, Sierra and Folger (2003) emphasise the use of student teams and collaborative problem solving as a means for building community in a group of students. Yamashita (2006) suggests strategies such as creating an inviting cyber-environment, instructor availability to students, quick timely feedback and email response and creating a warm, welcoming and supportive learning environment which she terms ‘CyberCaring’. The above guidelines for community building were taken into account in the creation of an online social support community for the pre-service teachers involved in this study.

9

The community of inquiry model best describes the type of community being fostered here, with greater emphasis being placed on the social, affective role of the community.

MUVEs
Several types of both synchronous and asynchronous forms of CMC have been discussed up to this point in regards to their ability to promote social presence and a sense of community in online communities of learning. One form of CMC, multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs), has been mentioned as having a high rating for social presence (Chou, 2001) and could possibly provide an online environment that far surpasses other forms of CMC in regards to social presence and interactive communication (McKerlich, 2007; Sanders, 2005) One aspect of the MUVE that takes it beyond other forms of CMC is its immersive environment. Johnson and Levine (2007) describe virtual worlds as “inherently immersive”. (p. 1) They say virtual worlds are “richly expressive environments that immerse the participant in a setting that includes sound and visual cues, rich textures, and realistic perspective…and vividly create a sense of place.” (p. 1) In terms of building online communities, MUVEs offer more than other forms of CMC in that they were designed to foster social interaction and the formation of groups and communities. (Johnson & Levine, 2007) They have the potential to “significantly reduce the subjective feelings of psychological and social distance often experienced by distance education participants.” (McKerlich, 2007, p. 35) MUVEs are online three-dimensional (3D) virtual worlds. Users are connected via the internet and move around and interact in simulated 3D spaces (Dickey, 2005) There are several MUVEs available, a few of which are Active Worlds, blaxxun interactive, OnLive! Traveller, Adobe Atmosphere, There and Second Life. All of these applications provide: An interactive 3D environment Avatars that serve as visual representations of users An interactive chat tool for users to communicate with one another. (Dickey, 2005) Residents of these virtual worlds can customise their avatars to make them look like anything they want. They can change their clothes, hair, race, gender or even species to create their own social presence. McKerlich et al (2007) state that “the avatar

10

characteristic is unique to MUVEs and can afford an engaging and salient educational experience.” (p.38)

Second Life
The MUVE Second Life was created by Linden Labs in 2003. Its population has grown immensely in the last 2 years. Up to now, only people with above-average computers and bandwidth were able to access Second Life. Its recent phenomenal growth could be attributed to the fact that the computing power of the average PC has become more powerful and is now able to support the platform (Stevens, 2006) The immersive environment that allows educators to manipulate scale and form at will, where avatars can take any form, and where setting can be adjusted endlessly (Johnson & Levine, 2007) has captured the imagination and interest of educators all over the world. Many institutions purchasing islands in Second Life are educational ones (Stevens, 2006) Figure 2 below shows the number of educational institutions with a presence in Second Life.
Educational Institutions in Second Life, May 2008
Universities, Colleges and Schools National Organisations Not-for-profit Educational Organisations For-profit Educational Organisations Libraries Museums 140 120 100 80 60 40 20 0 Number of Institutions 1 31 6 7 4 134

Chart 1: Types and Number of Educational Institutions Currently in Second Life

(Kemp, 2008)

Communication in Second Life
Residents in Second Life have a choice of communication styles. The can engage in synchronous chat using the public chat facility. They can also choose to communicate privately via the Instant Messaging (IM) facility built into the program. Residents can also use the IM facility to communicate asynchronously with each other, when one or the other is off line. In 2007, Linden Labs added the facility of voice chat as well. Using a standard VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) headset residents communicate using their real voices.

11

Second Life Best Practices for Education
With the amount of educational institutions using Second Life for educational purposes on the rise (Robbins, 2006), information is becoming more readily available to assist educators with best practices when attempting to teach in-world (Ragan-Fore, 2007) Robbins (2006) suggests creating communal social spaces for students and instructors to share in world, allowing students and instructors to become more familiar with each other. She also encourages ‘living’ spaces for students and teachers be decorated in the style of the inhabitant’s choice. This allows teachers and students to learn more about each other, encouraging the development of both teacher presence and social presence. When entering the world of Second Life for the first time, the learning curve can be high, especially for non-gamers and those not of the ‘digital native’ (Prensky, 2001) generation. Carter (2006) suggests encouraging students to make full use of the Orientation and Help islands that new avatars are born into when they first join Second Life. She also suggests integrating a Second Life student orientation into your curriculum. If this is done, she states, “Students are more likely to acquire the skills necessary to make their involvement in your SL assignments more participatory and engaging.” (p. 27) (Carter, 2006) Conklin (2007) makes the following suggestions for using Second Life in an educational setting: • Ensure the lab computers have sufficient bandwidth and graphics card capabilities to allow Second Life to run smoothly. • Since avatar’s first names can’t be changed once an account is created, give students time to think up their avatar’s first name before they create their account. • The SL community standards document should be read and understood by all students. • Create your ‘home’ in Second Life in a safe, PG rated island. Allow students to set this location as ‘home’ so they can use the ‘teleport home’ feature to immediately get back to a safe place if needed. • Second Life allows formation of user groups, which enable the sending of group messages among other things. Create a group for your class and invite your students to become members. This makes in-world student management easier.

12

Make students aware of the different sim ratings of PG, Mature and Unsafe. o Mature sims do allow nudity and bad language, and some allow violence. o Unsafe areas allow violence and your avatar can even die.

Students should be briefed on how to handle abusive situations and how to use the ‘abuse reporter’ tool,

Remind students that they are chatting with strangers; they shouldn’t use their real name or give out personal information in their profile

Create an in-world scavenger hunt activity to help your students get acquainted with the features of Second Life. (Clonkin, 2007)

Conclusion
In an effort to reduce feelings of isolation, and engender feelings of community among cohort groups of pre-service teachers, several forms of CMC have been studied as a means of support for them. Many of these forms of computer mediated communication have been shown to support community building in cohort groups of pre-service teachers. Several, however, have fallen short in their attempt to engender a sense of social presence among students. The immersive environment of Second Life offers more than other forms of CMC in that it creates a sense of place for the user (Johnson & Levine, 2007) and can significantly reduce feelings of psychological and social distance often experienced by distance education participants (McKerlich, 2007) The strength of the MUVE Second Life is its ability to bring people together from anywhere in the world to engage and interact with each other (Urban, 2007) MUVEs have been shown to provide a space in which community can be formed and nurtured (Sanders & McKeown, 2008) It has been suggested that MUVEs could enhance the element of social presence that students feel is missing from many forms of CMC. As a place for pre-service teachers to meet, socialise and support each other while engaged in the sometimes difficult experience of teacher training, the MUVE Second Life is a promising possibility.

13

Design
Much research has been done in the area of creating social spaces for students participating in online courses, specifically the need for the use of such spaces as an area of peer support and community building. In online learning courses, students that feel connected to their classmates, feel a sense of community, are more successful academically and more likely to persist with the course (Rovai, 2003) Most of these social spaces have been created using the asynchronous discussion boards available in VLEs such as Blackboard© and WebCT©. Research into the area of using MUVEs for this purpose is scarce. Therefore, for the purpose of this study, the guidelines suggested in the literature for community building in online classes using mostly asynchronous CMC were incorporated into the design of the social space created for the students.

Artefact Design
The objective of this study was to create a space in the MUVE Second Life that can be used by pre-service teachers as a form of CMC for peer support and community building. It was hoped that providing this space for students to meet with and support each other would increase their social presence in their cohort group and assist them in the successful completion of the course.

Research Questions
The research questions addressed by this study were: Can an MUVE be used as a vehicle for peer support and increase social presence in students by facilitating feelings of belonging and sense of community?

Sub questions:
1. Does the high learning curve of the interface interfere with the use of the MUVE as a vehicle for peer support? 2. Does the high incidence of technical difficulties associated with MUVEs interfere with their use as a vehicle for peer support? 3. How will teacher immediacy behaviours influence students’ social presence? 4. Will the students continue to use the MUVE as a vehicle for peer support when it is no longer a requirement of the course?

Instructor Familiarity With the Technology
One of the factors stressed in the literature for the successful design of an online learning community is the need for the instructor to be knowledgeable about the 14

technology and comfortable enough to help students with problems should they arise. (Liu, 2006; Palloff & Pratt, 1999) If students are unable to participate in the learning community due to technical difficulties, they feel frustrated and are not able to participate fully in the developing community. It is up to the instructor to familiarise themselves with the technology well before the course begins so that they may assist students who are having difficulties when necessary. Being neither of the gaming, nor the ‘digital native’ generation (Prensky, 2001), the researcher felt it was necessary to spend a great deal of time in Second Life before ever attempting to lead students around this virtual world. Knowing that the project with students would start at the end of September 2007, the researcher joined Second Life early that summer. Many hours were spent in-world learning how to navigate in the virtual world.

Figure 2: The researcher's avatar, after one week in-world.

Eventually, she became more comfortable with the interface and began to explore the other aspects of the virtual environment. Through the virtual shopping capabilities in Second Life, the researcher was able to change her avatar’s appearance, clothes, and hair. While sourcing furnishings for the eventual student meeting place, she mastered the search and teleport capabilities of Second Life. By the end of the first month, she was feeling quite comfortable navigating in-world.

15

Figure 3: The researcher's avatar, after four weeks in-world.

Researcher’s Avatar Appearance
Teachers in most educational settings are aware of the affect their appearance has on how their students interact with them and perceive them as an educator. In Second Life, where you can change not only your clothes, but your gender, race and even species, the decision on how the researcher’s avatar should appear was not taken lightly. Robbins (2006) discusses the importance of a teacher in Second Life being aware of how their appearance in-world represents them to their students, but gives no guidelines as to what this appearance should be. A search through the archives of the Second Life educator’s listserve SLED (Linden_Labs, 2008), revealed that this topic is discussed often among Second Life educators, but no consensus could be found. Some educators mentioned teachers in Second Life who had presented themselves as spiders, and even foxes. In a thread following the lines of this discussion, Robbins (2007) stated: … I think that even in SL we have a responsibility to present a professional, incontrol appearance, if only while we're actually teaching. I don't wear anything in front of my SL class that I wouldn't wear in front of my RL class…I think the bottom line is that it's all intentional and we should be contemplative and reflective about our avatars as we are about our teaching personas and our pedagogy. Our students are in charge of their own learning but we are in charge of creating environments that are conducive to that learning. If our avatars distract from that then we're hampering SL as a tool. (S. Robbins, 2007) The researcher found that she agreed with Robbins’ view, and chose to present her avatar in a relaxed yet professional manner, appropriate to the purpose of meeting up with students in a ‘social’ setting. This usually included jeans and a conservative top, as shown in figure 4.

16

Figure 4: Example of clothing used by the researcher’s avatar while interacting with students

The Meeting Place
Conklin (2006) emphasises the need to create a safe home base in Second Life which students can ‘set as home.’ If students find themselves in a dangerous or uncomfortable situation in-world they can use the ‘teleport home’ feature to immediately get back to a safe place. In her travels around the different islands in Second Life, the researcher discovered a quiet, safe island called ‘Flotsam Beach’, fashioned after the Outer Banks east coast beach communities in the U.S.

Figure 5: The house on Flotsam Beach

Many places in Second Life can be overwhelmingly crowed and difficult to navigate. One of the aspects of the Flotsam Beach island that impressed the researcher was its

17

open spaces and easy to navigate layout. There is also a calm atmosphere that the researcher felt would not be overwhelming to the students when they first arrived here.

Figure 6: The Flotsam Beach boardwalk

Yamashita (2006) talks about creating a warm, welcoming and supportive environment. The Flotsam Beach community seemed like the perfect place to establish this welcoming and supportive social space for students. After discussing her intentions with the island’s owner, the researcher was able to rent a house on Flotsam Beach that would suit the purpose. Once the house was rented, the social space for students to meet together could be designed. This place would also serve as the researcher’s Second Life ‘home’. Robbins (2006) discusses the idea of creating an instructor’s living space in Second Life that students should be able to wander around in. Being able to see where the instructor ‘lives’ allows the students to feel more familiar with the instructor, leads to a greater sense of trust for the instructor, and can add to teacher presence in the learning community. In keeping with Robbins’ suggestion, the house was decorated in a relaxed, vintage style, preferred by the researcher. This was intended to create a welcoming atmosphere for the students as well as give them some insight into the styles preferred by the researcher, their instructor. It was decided to leave as much open space in the front room meeting area as possible. Residents new to Second Life usually have a great deal of difficulty navigating their avatars around objects. A balance was needed between providing enough places for all the avatars in the group to sit in the room at the same time, while still allowing room for 18

the new residents to easily navigate the space. As it was, many of the students’ avatars ended up on top of or stuck behind the furniture in the room during the first few meetings.

Figure 7: Meeting Place front room, West view

Figure 8: Meeting Place front room, East view

19

Figure 9: The hot tub on the deck of the group house.

Furniture was sourced in-world by the researcher. Avatars in Second Life ‘sit’ on furniture by clicking on ‘pose balls’ incorporated into the piece of furniture. These pose balls control the position and the activity of the avatar while it is using the piece of furniture. There is an acknowledged sexual side to many areas of Second Life (Wright, 2006) and a great deal of furniture available for purchase in Second Life includes pose balls of a sexual nature. Great care was taken by the researcher to ensure none of the furniture in the house included pose balls of a sexual nature.

Setting-up a Group in Second Life
Second Life has a facility which enables the setting up of user groups in-world. Conklin (2007) suggests using this facility as it makes in-world student management easier. Once a group is set up in-world, the group management facilities such as sending group notices, group IM’s, assigning members group roles and archiving of group notices can be used. Such a group was set up by the researcher before the students were brought in to Second Life. The researcher chose ‘Tacaiocht Cairdiúil’ as the name for the group, which means ‘friendly support’ in the Irish language.

20

Figure 10: The Tacaiocht Cairdiúil House Sign

Data Collection Design
Communication
Second Life allows for communication between residents in several formats. In-world chat and instant messaging (IM) are both text based forms of communication. Residents can also communicate in-world through Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). The researcher made a decision to utilise only the text based forms of communication for this project. Voice communication was introduced only a month previous to the project implementation, and bugs in the system were still being worked out. Additionally, a VoIP headset needed to be purchased in order to use the facility. The researcher felt that using voice might further complicate the technology for the students, increasing the learning curve encountered by them in their first few weeks in-world.

Data Collection
Second Life has a built in facility for recording all chat and instant messaging that occurs during a session in-world. Text-based communications can also be recorded through the use of chat-loggers. Chat-loggers record any chat or IMs within a certain radius and can be purchased in-world. Both forms of data collection were utilised in this study to record communications between participants. Students were made aware of and gave their consent to the use of these data collection methods in the group house. Text communications between students outside of the group house or away from the presence of the researcher were not recorded.

Conclusion
In order to create a community meeting space in the virtual 3-D world of Second Life, design ideas suggested by the online community building literature were incorporated into the artefact used for this study. Particular attention was paid to those suggestions

21

that dealt with the development of social presence and teaching presence. Students were provided with a meeting space that was warm, welcoming and designed with their new resident status in mind. The scene thus set, it was time for the implementation to start.

22

Implementation
Campus Access
It was believed by the researcher that making Second Life available to the students on campus was important as not all students have their own computers. A request was made to university computer services at the beginning of September to install the Second Life software in the Education Technology computer labs. Unfortunately, the software wasn’t up and running properly until the third week of implementation due to firewall and graphics card issues.

Recruiting Students to the Project
Participation in the Second Life project was offered to students on the post graduate diploma in education (PGDE) course as a practical assignment for their Education Technology class. The students were introduced to the topic of Second Life during their 3rd Education Technology lecture. A short movie was created by the researcher to show students what Second Life was about and how it could be used for educational purposes. Students were told at the end of the lecture that they could choose to participate in the Second Life group in fulfilment of the practical requirement for the Education Technology course. Those who wished to participate in the Second Life project were asked to email the researcher, who is one of their Education Technology instructors.

Getting the Students Started
The first meeting of students interested in participating in the Second Life group was held in the Education Department’s computer lab. Thirty-four students attended this initial meeting. Students were taken through a PowerPoint presentation (Appendix 1) that explained the project and their participation in it. The project was presented to students as both a means of peer support for them, as well as a chance to investigate the educational possibilities of Second Life. The research project was explained and consent for recording of chat and group interactions was discussed. Consent forms were signed by the students during the meeting, and collected by the researcher. (Appendix 2)

Confidentiality
Rovai (2001) discusses trust as being one of the building blocks of a sense of community. In order to encourage a sense of trust among the students, confidentiality

23

was discussed, stressing that what was shared during in-world interactions would not be shared with non-participants. Students were also informed that their participation in the research would be anonymised, and that neither their names nor the names of their avatars would be used in the research dissertation.

Hardware and Software
The hardware and software needed to run Second Life was discussed. Many students realised at this point that they didn’t have the proper hardware or broadband connection needed for participation. As the Second Life program was not yet available on the Education Department’s computer labs, many students who wanted to participate in the project were unable to. (Of the 34 interested students who attended the meeting, only 16 were able to participate in the end.)

Registering for a Second Life Account
During the initial sign-up process, people registering for Second Life are able to choose their avatar’s first name, but have to pick the avatar’s second name from a list supplied by Linden Labs. Students were asked to think of two possible first names for their avatar before coming to the meeting, as suggested by Conklin (2007). They were then able to choose a second name from the list supplied by Linden Labs. During the meeting that night, the group all logged into the Second Life website (http://secondlife.com) in an attempt to set up their accounts. A handout (Appendix 3) was created by the researcher to assist students with this process. Unfortunately, only a few students were able to complete this process successfully in class due to Linden Labs blocking multiple account creation from the same IP address. The researcher was unaware of this problem before the meeting. This meant that several students, who were unable to complete the account creating process during the class, had to set up their accounts at home once they left the meeting.

Second Life Basics
Other items discussed during this meeting were Orientation and Help islands, Second Life basics such as the toolbars, getting around, walking, flying and communicating by chat and Instant Message. It was also explained to the students that the researcher would

24

send them an invitation to join the Tacaiocht Cairdiúil group as well as an offer of friendship, and asked them to accept both when they were received.

Second Life Community Standards Document
An important part of the meeting was the discussion of Second Life rules and etiquette. Conklin (2007) stresses that students should read and understand Second Life’s Community Standards document before they enter the virtual world. This document was incorporated into the PowerPoint presentation and discussed with the group.

Assignment Rubric
Simply providing a social space for students to use does not insure that they will actually use it. They need some form of incentive to access and utilise the space. (McPherson & Nunes, 2004) Rovai (2001) states that student participation in online group discussions increases if students are given a course rubric outlining how participation will be marked. Therefore, an assignment rubric was created by the researcher prior to the first meeting and disseminated to students on the night. The rubric was discussed by the group, making students aware of how their participation in the project would be marked (Appendix 4). As suggested by Rovai (2001) the marks were designed to encourage participation. Higher levels of participation in the community would result in a higher mark.(Alfred P. Rovai, 2001)

Homework
Students were given homework to complete before the first in-world meeting which was to be held the following Wednesday evening. As part of the homework assignment, they were asked to work their way through the introductory activities on Orientation and Help Island during the week, as suggested by Carter (2006). After completing the activities on Help Island, students were asked to search for and teleport to the island of Flotsam Beach, where the group house was located. They were asked to explore this island on their own before the first meeting. They were told they would be sent a landmark to the researcher’s house on Flotsam Beach prior to the first in-world meeting.

Handouts
Students were given photocopies from two different books about Second Life to help them get through the first week in-world on their own. Following Fair Use policies as outlined by Yost (1999) no more than 10% of either publication was photocopied for student use. Chapter 1 of A Beginner’s Guide to Second Life, pages 10-25 (v3image,

25

2007) and pgs 323-342 of Second Life, the official guide (Rymaszewski, 2007) were used. (Yost, 1999)

Avatar Profile
In online class groups, students are often asked to provide information about themselves on a personal homepage. This allows students in the group to get to know each other a bit better and can assist in the development of a learning community (Palloff & Pratt, 1999) Residents in Second Life can right click on an avatar and choose ‘Profile.’ The profile opens and the resident can read the information that the avatar has provided about themselves. As part of their homework for the week, students were asked to fill in their avatar’s profile to help them get to know each other. However, they were asked to include nothing that would allow strangers to figure out who they were in real life, as suggested by Conklin (2007).

In-World Meeting Structure
Second Life has a high learning curve at first, and can be very frustrating for new residents (Warburton, 2008) In order to assist students in acquiring basic Second Life skills, it was decided to build skills lessons into every group meeting. These skills lessons were not taught overtly, but were incorporated into the activities the group was undertaking during the meeting. Providing opportunities for group activities and collaborative learning can enhance a sense of community in learners (Palloff & Pratt, 1999; Rovai, 2000) Weekly meetings were designed to include small or large group activities which would allow students to interact with and support each other. Time was allowed at the end of every meeting for unstructured group interaction. During the first in-world meeting, students were shown by the researcher how to set the meeting house to ‘home’ and how to use the ‘teleport home’ facility as suggested by Conklin (2006). They were also invited by the researcher to make the house their home base while they used Second Life. The group met once a week in-world for six weeks. Skills covered during the weekly meetings ranged from how to ‘wear’ food and drink, building in Second Life, receiving

26

and using landmarks, receiving and saving group notices, and teleporting to particular locations within Second Life. A detailed breakdown of skills and activities covered each week can be found in appendix 5.

Figure 11: Snapshot of a discussion in the group hot-tub

Instructor Immediacy
Instructor availability to students and quick, timely feedback is integral to the creation of teacher presence in an online classroom (Garrison et al, 2006, Rovai, 2000, Woods, 2003a, Yamashita, 2006) The researcher made every attempt to respond quickly to students both in-world and out, via the Instant Messaging facility in Second Life and by email. Virtual office hours were held in-world twice a week, on Monday and Tuesday evenings from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m., where students could meet in-world with the instructor and each other.

Figure 12: Snapshot of an online office hour session with 3 students present

27

Conclusion
Best practice guidelines for introducing students to Second Life, as suggested in the literature, were followed in the implementation of this project. Students voluntarily chose to participate in the project in fulfilment of the practical assignment for their Education Technology class. They were assisted with the initial Second Life registration process during the first group meeting which was held face-to-face in the Education Department’s computer lab. Subsequent in-world meetings were structured in a manner that would both allow for the acquiring of necessary in-world skills, as well as provide group activities in order to foster a sense of community in the group. The researcher was aware of issues of teacher immediacy and every effort was made to respond quickly to student queries and requests, and to make herself available both in-world and out to students.

28

Methodology
This single case study used a multi-method approach based on the practices and assumptions of qualitative research.

Case Studies
Purposeful sampling is the most common strategy in qualitative research (Hoepfl, 1997) One type of purposeful sampling is the case study. Case studies can be single or multiple case designs (Yin, 2003) Multiple cases enhance the results of a case, increasing confidence in the strength of the theory. However, when no other cases are available for replication of the research, the research can be limited to single case designs (Tellis, 1997) Creswell (1998) describes a case study as “an in-depth exploration of a bounded system (e.g. an activity, event, process or individuals) based on extensive data collection” (p. 439) According to Cohen et al (2007) the single case study can provide a “unique example of real people in real situations, enabling readers to understand ideas more clearly than simply by presenting them with abstract theories or principals.” (p. 253) A descriptive single case design approach, as described by Yin (2003) was employed by this study. The descriptive single case design is appropriate for this study as it explores a unique attempt to investigate the use of an MUVE as a vehicle for peer support and community building in a cohort of pre-service teachers over a one semester course. This complies with Yin’s (2003) criteria of uniqueness for undertaking a case study design.

Ethics
This study followed the British Educational Research Association (BERA) Revised Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research, in particular the guidelines for voluntary informed consent. Voluntary informed consent means participants understand and agree to their participation without any duress prior to the research getting underway (Gardner, 2004) Participants were informed of the process in which they were to be engaged, including why their participation was necessary, how it was to be used and to whom it would be reported. They were informed of and gave their consent to the use of data collection methods employed by the study. Participation in study questionnaires was voluntary and anonymous.

29

Issues regarding privacy in the BERA Revised Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research were also adhered to. Participants were assured that all data collected would be treated confidentially and anonymised in the research report.

Data collection
Both qualitative and quantitative data collection methods were used for this case study. All synchronous chat during in-world group meetings was recorded, converted to text files and saved as transcripts for analysis of evidence of social presence. Visitor counters were set up in the group house to track student use of the space. Students kept journals chronicling their experiences and feelings during the study which were collected and analysed for triangulation with other data. Two different questionnaires were used for data collection. Rovai’s Classroom Community Scale (Rovai, 2002) (Appendix 6) and a post-study questionnaire developed by the researcher (Appendix 7). Rovai’s Classroom Community Scale was used to measure students’ sense of community both before and after implementation of the project. This questionnaire was administered to the whole PGDE cohort of 233 students so comparisons could be made between those who participated in the study and those who did not. Rovai’s classroom community scale includes 20 questions and uses a five point Likert-type scale of potential responses: strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, and strongly disagree. Higher scores reflect a stronger sense of community. A post-study questionnaire developed by the researcher was also used. This questionnaire included Likert-type questions as well as open ended questions relating to students’ feelings about their experience with the MUVE. It was delivered to the students immediately after the 7 week implementation. Finally, additional data was collected after the 7 week implementation ended. The visitor counters were left in place to track student use of the space after implementation. Also, a follow-up email interview was sent to students for clarification of issues raised during the initial data analysis, five months post-implementation.

Implementation
The participants of this study included 16 Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) students at the National University of Ireland, Galway, who were taking the one year course in order to qualify as secondary school teachers. The ages of the students ranged

30

from early 20’s to mid 40’s, some having just finished their primary degree and several mature students who were returning to college for their teaching qualification. Eleven of the students were female, five were male. The gender and teaching subject breakdown of the students can be seen below in table 1.
Table 1: Breakdown of Participant Gender and Teaching Methodologies

Female Male Business & Religion Business & Economics Business & Economics English & History Economics History & Religion English & Social, Personal & Health Maths & Biological Science Education English & Geography Biological Science & Civic, Social and Political Education English & Social, Personal & Health Education Maths, Business & Information Technology Maths & Geography Maths & Religion Maths & Biological Science Maths & Biological Science Participants were selected on a voluntary basis, having been offered the choice of participating in this study as a fulfilment of the requirement for their Education Technology practical assignment.

Site Selection, Access and Permissions
This particular university was selected as it is the workplace of the researcher, who is employed as an Education Technology instructor in the Education Department. Access and permission to implement the study was sought and granted by the senior Education Technology lecturer prior to implementation of the study.

Duration
Implementation of the project ran for 7 weeks, from October to December 2007. Participants met as a group in-world once a week for 1 to 2 hours. Students were encouraged to use the group house in Second Life outside of scheduled meeting times as well as after the 7 week implementation.

31

Researcher’s Role
The researcher, an instructor on the Education Technology course, took on the role of participant-as-observer, and was involved in all scheduled group meetings as facilitator. The researcher also held in-world office hours twice a week. Students were asked to avail of the instructor’s in-world office hours at least once during the 7 week implementation. After that, they could drop in on a voluntary basis.

32

Data Analysis
Synchronous Chat Analysis
Quantitative content analysis of the chat text data was carried out using a template based on one created by Rourke et al (2001) (Appendix 8) for the assessment of social presence in asynchronous online discussions. The template distinguishes between affective, interactive and cohesive indicators, as seen in table 2 below. “Low frequencies indicate that the social environment is cold and impersonal… High scores indicate that the environment is warm and collegial. Participants feel a sense of affiliation with each other and a sense of solidarity with the group.” (Rourke et al, 2001, p. 8)
Table 2: Social Presence Indicators (Rourke et al, 2001)

Category Indicators Expressions of Emotions Affective Use of Humour Self-disclosure Referring explicitly to others’ messages Asking questions Interactive Complimenting, expressing appreciation Expressing agreement Vocatives Cohesive Addresses or refers to the group using inclusive pronouns Phatics, salutations This template was created by Rourke et al for the analysis of asynchronous communication in online classroom discussion groups. It has been slightly modified for use with synchronous chat for this study (Appendix 9). The modification made has to do with the interactive category, where two of the indicators, “continuing a thread” and “quoting from others’ messages” are specific to online discussion software, and not applicable to a synchronous chat transcript. Rourke’s template was created for the analysis of asynchronous discussion board communications; however, it has been used to assess levels of social presence in students’ synchronous online chat in previous studies. In one particular study, Pelowski et al (2005) investigated the feasibility of measuring chat room immediacy behaviours with this template. They found that social presence can be reliably coded from text responses in synchronous chat discussions.

33

Unit of Analysis
Researchers using quantitative content analysis have used different units of analysis to study communication, from syntactical units, such as a word, proposition or sentence to paragraph units and message units (Rourke et al, 2000) Both Rourke et al (2000) and Garrison et al (2006) suggest the message unit has important advantages over the other units of analysis, such as its objective identifiability and the manageable set of cases it produces. It was therefore decided to use the message unit as unit of analysis for this study.

Data Sample
The chat data generated in this study during six 1-2 hour sessions averaged 18 pages of text per session. Garrison et al (2006) suggest sampling interaction at specific intervals as a way of dealing with large amounts of data. They maintain that this is also appropriate when transcript analysis is only one of several data sources. Three in-world meeting transcripts for social presence were sampled. Transcripts were taken from the beginning, the middle and the end of the 7 week implementation. They were named Transcript 1, 2 and 3 for identification purposes. Transcript 1 is the chat from the group’s 1st meeting in-world. Transcript 2 is from the group’s 3rd meeting in world, and transcript 3 is from the group’s last meeting in-world. The chat text was converted to a table in MS Word and then copied and pasted into an MS Excel document. Each message was coded in the column(s) next to the text. (For a table of codes used, see appendix 10) After coding, a table was set up on the transcript worksheet. Employing the COUNTIF formula in MS Excel, the number of indicator instances was calculated in the table. From this table, a sum of the raw number of instances was derived. (Appendix 11 shows the coding table from Transcript 1.)

Social Presence Density
In order to account for the difference in word count in transcripts of different lengths, Rourke et al (2001) suggest summing the raw number of instances, then dividing this by the total number of words. This allows for a more meaningful comparison of transcripts. They labelled this calculation “social presence density”, based partly on the work of Mason (1991). Since the number created by this calculation is usually very small, they

34

suggest as a final step, multiplying the social presence density figure by 1,000, which yields a unit of incidents per 1,000 words.

Student journals
Students kept journals chronicling their experiences and feelings during the study. They were informed of and consented to the use of these journals for data analysis. The journals were collected from the students at the end of the 7 week implementation as part of their assessment for the project. These were then categorised by codes and themes relating to the research questions and triangulated with other data.

Questionnaires
Two different questionnaires were used for data collection, Rovai’s Classroom Community Scale (Rovai, 2002) (Appendix 6) and a post-study questionnaire developed by the researcher (Appendix 7). Both questionnaires were administered online to the students, using a commercial online questionnaire service.

Classroom Community Scale
The Classroom Community Scale was used to get a score for the whole PGDE cohort both before and after the implementation of the project. The questionnaire was administered to the whole group at the beginning of the school year during the 7th week of the course and again at the end of the school year, during the 26th week of the course. Classroom community scores of the Second life participant group and the rest of the PGDE cohort were compared for both the pre and post-measure questionnaires. Results were downloaded from the online survey service in MS Excel 2003 format. They were then scored in the manner described in Rovai (2002). Three scores were obtained from the survey; an overall classroom community score, and subscale scores for both connectedness and learning. However, only the classroom community scale was used for comparisons.

Post-study Questionnaire
The post-study questionnaire responses were compiled and tallied, in the case of the Likert-type responses. These results and the open-ended question responses were then categorised by themes relating to the research questions. The quantitative data analysis package SPSS was used to run crosstab analyses on some of the Likert-type responses

35

to see if there were correlations between students’ sense of community and any of the other variables.

Post Implementation Data Collection
Additional data was collected after the 7 week implementation ended. Student use of the group house in Second Life was tracked and tallied. A follow-up email interview (structured) was sent to students for clarification of issues raised during the initial data analysis, five months post implementation. The responses to this interview were analysed in relation to the research questions they pertained to.

36

Findings
Quantitative Transcript Analysis
Three transcripts were used in the quantitative transcript analysis for social presence density rating; Transcript 1 (T1) was taken from the first in-world group meeting, Transcript 2 (T2) from the third in-world group meeting and Transcript 3 (T3) from the last in-world group meeting.

Social Presence Density by Transcript
Transcript 1 120 100 80 60 40 20 0 Social Presence Density 65.8 53.67 102.87 Transcript 2 Transcript 3

Chart 2: Social Presence Density Rating of Transcripts

Chart 2 above shows the social presence density (SPD) rating for each of the three transcripts. All transcripts show high levels of social presence density.The SPD decreases slightly between T1 and T2, the first and third group meetings in-world. However, it increases significantly between T2 and T3, the last group meeting in-world. This shows that the social presence density of the group increased as group members became more comfortable interacting with each other over the course of the 7 weeks. Table 3 below shows the unit of incidents per 1000 words broken down by indicators across all three transcripts. An analysis of this data follows.

37

Table 3:Unit of Incidents per 1000 Words

Indicators Expressions of Emotions Affective Use of Humour Self-disclosure Referring explicitly to others’ messages Asking questions Interactive Complimenting, expressing appreciation Expressing agreement Vocatives Use of inclusive Cohesive pronouns Phatics, salutations

Category

Transcript 1 11.75 13.84 1.83 0.52

Transcript 2 10.15 8.54 4.54 0.00

Transcript 3 31.17 9.13 10.24 2.45

2.87 3.66

4.27 3.47

6.46 7.57

1.04 21.41 2.35 6.53

1.87 14.15 0.53 6.14

6.01 20.93 4.90 4.01

Affective Indicators
The affective indicators in the protocol created by Rourke et al are expression of emotions, use of humour and self disclosure. Indicators of expression of emotions include conventional and unconventional expressions of emotion, repetitious punctuation, conspicuous capitalisation and the use of emoticons (Rourke et al, 2001) These accounted for 11.75 incidents per 1000 words in T1, 10.15 in T2 and 31.17 in T3. Interestingly, most of the expressions of emotion in T1 came from the instructor (62%). Examples include the use of emoticons, “Welcome :-)”, conspicuous capitalisation, “detach! Detach!”, and repetitious punctuation, “Thanks!!!” Student expressions of emotion in the first transcript included ‘shouting,’ “Student 12 shouts: i said nice car!!” and repetitious punctuation, “Student 4: Where will we go when we are finished here. Can we sleep on the beach???” By T3, the instructor’s expression of emotions had fallen to 23% of the total affective indicators. The students’ contribution to the affective category of the social presence density had grown greatly and surpassed that of the instructor. This is in keeping with Stacey’s (2002) findings that students’ social presence grew in the first few weeks of class as the teacher modelled acceptable social presence factors such as humour, emotion and self disclosure. When these affective behaviours were used by the teacher, 38

they were quickly emulated by the students, and the incidence of social presence factors in student interactions rose. The second affective indicator, use of humour, is indicated by teasing, cajoling, irony, understatements and sarcasm (Rourke et al, 2001) This was much more evident in the student dialogue in T1 than expressions of emotion. Student dialogue accounted for 86% of the humorous utterances, whereas the instructor only accounted for 14%. Examples of humorous dialogue in the three transcripts included teasing, “Student 16: Leave it out [student name], thought you were changing that jumper!” understatements, “Student 4: I appear to be wearing a box...”, and sarcasm, “Student 12: yeaay homework!” The last affective indicator, self disclosure, had the lowest social presence density rating of the 3 affective indicators in T1, scoring only 1.83 words out of 1000. Rourke et al (2001) describe indicators of self-disclosure as presenting details of life outside of class, or expressions of vulnerability. There were only 7 messages in T1 that counted as self disclosure, 4 of them coming from the instructor. One example from the students included, “Student 14: Yeah I’m just contemplating ya know! Going to the cinema tonight with the girls.” Incidents of self disclosure rose consistently from T1 through to T3, starting with a very low rating of 1.83 incidents per 1000 words in T1 and finishing with a much higher rating of 10.24 in T3. This shows that by the end of the 7 weeks students trusted each other more and felt comfortable opening up about themselves to each other.

Interactive Indicators
Interactive indicators are behaviours that sustain meaningful communication. They range from teacher immediacy behaviours such as praising student work to positive reinforcement from peers (Rourke et al, 2001) The interactive category of social presence increased continuously from transcript one through to transcript three, increasing by 74% between T1 and T3. However, it consistently scored lower than the other categories across the three transcripts. The indicators that consistently scored higher in this category were those of “complimenting, expressing appreciation” and “expressing agreement”. Examples of these indicators in the transcripts include students complimenting the instructor;

39

“Student 15: God bonnie you really have thought of everything, this place is just great!” in T1 to students agreeing with each other, “Student 10: same here...i go too fast and make too many mistakes” in T3.

Cohesive Indicators
The cohesive category is exemplified by activities that build and sustain a sense of group commitment. Indicators of the cohesive category include phatics and salutations (greetings, closures), use of inclusive pronouns (we, us, our group), and vocatives (addressing participants by name) (Rourke et al, 2001) In the three transcripts analysed in this study, the cohesive category of social presence dips by 15% between T1 and T2, but rises by 30% from T2 to T3. Vocatives were the most prevalent of the cohesive indicators in the chat transcripts, as indicated in table 3 above, while the other two indicators scored much lower per 1000 words. Examples of cohesive indicators in the transcripts include, “Student 4: Hi Catraoine [instructor’s avatar name]. I'm afraid I havn't done much practicing”, “Student 6: does of us, who didnt manage to make it on monday, can we pop in den...”, and “Student 11: ok, goodbye all”

Rovai’s Classroom Community Scale
Rovai’s Classroom Community Scale (Rovai, 2002) was used to measure students’ sense of community both before and after implementation of the project. The questionnaire was administered to the whole PGDE cohort of 233 students so comparisons could be made between those who participated in this study and those who did not. Table 4 shows the number of students that participated in the pre and postmeasure questionnaires: Questionnaire: Pre-measure Post-measure Second Life Participants n=21 n=11 Other Students n=77 n=57

Table 4: Number of participants in pre and post-measure questionnaires

Chart 3 below compares the mean classroom community scores for Second Life project participants with students who did not participate in the Second Life Project.

40

Classroom Community Scale Mean Scores
Pre-implementation Post-implementation

Second Life Students

Other Students

41.00

42.00

43.00

44.00

45.00

46.00

47.00

48.00

Chart 3: Classroom Community Scale Mean Scores

In the pre-measure survey, those students who were not planning to participate in the Second Life study had a higher mean score on the classroom community scale that those who were. Interestingly, in the post-measure survey, the mean score for those students who did not participate in the Second Life project fell from 47.29 to 43.20, while the mean score for those students who did participate in the study rose from 45.57 to 45.70. While the increments of change are small, this shows that those students who did not participate in the study felt less connected to their classmates at the end of the course than they did at the beginning, while those students who did participate in the study felt slightly more connected to their classmates at the end of the course than they did in the beginning.

Student Journals and Post Implementation Survey Analysis
As both the journal and the questionnaire data cover many of the same topics, they are presented together here. Both of these data sets were categorised by codes and themes relating to the research questions. The quantitative data analysis package SPSS was used to search for correlations in the questionnaire results.

Peer Support
Student Journals: Students were overwhelmingly positive about the amount of support they received from their peers in this project. For the sake of brevity, only a few representative samples of student comments are included in the findings section. For a table of student comments organised by theme, please see appendix 12.

41

One sample comment from the student journals that fell under the theme of support was: “What I appreciate the most out of Second Life is the support we are able to give each other...I found it a great support to relieve myself of the stress of the course with someone who is in the midst of it all as well.” Student 9

Sense of Community
Many of the comments found in the student journals described feelings of belonging to the group and evidence a growing sense of community. Some students expressed feelings of being accepted by the group: “Despite all this, it is an eye opening experience to partake in such an environment and to be accepted without any questions.” Student 9 Students also evidenced a growing sense of community when they discussed sharing the same concerns: “I found it a wonderful experience to talk to others, in the same situations, having the same worries and who are under the same amount of stress.” Student 9 Others discussed feelings of bonding with the group: “Tonight I really felt that the group had bonded during our time in SL as everyone chatted and joined in the fun.” Student 15 They even expressed sadness that the project was ending: “Everyone seemed genuinely sad that we were finishing up. I am too. I think I will log in on Wednesday nights to meet up with the old crowd!” Student 10 Questionnaire Responses: All the students used Second Life as a forum to discuss issues arising in the PGDE course with each other. Most of them used it for this purpose ‘several times’ or ‘all of the time.’ One student commented, “Coursework and exams always seemed to be a part of the conversation.” The majority of the students also used Second Life to discuss issues arising in their teaching practice. One student said, “It was helpful out on t.p. as there was little contact with classmates, it helped to know everyone was in the same boat”. (The post-implementation questionnaire was administered anonymously, so no student identity numbers accompany the quotes from the questionnaire.) The students felt comfortable interacting with each other in Second Life, and found each other a great source of support. However, the researcher was surprised to find from the survey results that this feeling of community support did not manifest itself in relationships between the students outside of Second Life. When asked to what extent

42

they felt that they’d developed more of a relationship with their peers who were participating with them in this project, the researcher was surprised to find that only 50% felt that they had developed ‘a lot’ more of a relationship with their fellow Second Life participants. In their comments relating to this question, most alluded to the idea that they didn’t know who each other was outside of Second Life. One student who felt she had developed ‘a lot’ more of a relationship with her peers while in Second Life made the additional comment, “Even though I don’t know any of them to see!” Another student who only felt he had developed ‘a little’ more of a relationship with his peers made the additional comment, “However as do not know who they mainly are outside of Second Life quite difficult to build up a relationship!! Possibly could have arranged to meet up sooner.” This issue will be commented on further in the conclusion section of the paper, as it has implications for weaknesses of the study.

High Learning Curve
Student Journals: Many students expressed high levels of frustration in their journals during their first few weeks in-world related to the high learning curve of Second Life. One student commented, “For those of us of a non-technical disposition, I think it has proven frustrating to work with the format of SL. From talking to my fellow classmates, the interface can be intimidating for the uninitiated.” Student 7 However, this frustration did not last for long. Once students became more familiar with the interface, they began to feel more comfortable navigating in Second Life, and began to enjoy their time in-world. One student said, “I wouldn’t normally be the most technologically aware and therefore thought I would find it all a bit difficult, but I got the hang of it really quickly.” Student 11 Overall, the students seemed to get over the ‘hump’ of the learning curve quite quickly, most within the first 2 weeks, and did not feel that this was an impediment to using Second Life as a vehicle for peer support. Questionnaire Results: According to the survey findings, the high learning curve of the interface did not interfere with the use of the MUVE as a vehicle for peer support. The majority of the

43

students reported only needing 1 to 4 hours in world before they started to feel comfortable. It is possible that the difficulty level of using Second Life actually added to the level of peer support among the students, instead of hindering it. All indicated that they asked each other for help using the program. Needing help from their peers in order to navigate in-world caused the students to interact with each other more, giving them a chance to provide support to and develop a relationship with each other. A crosstabulation was performed on the questions mentioned in table 5 below.
Table 5: Crosstab ‘development of relationship’ with ‘helpfulness of peers’

Crosstabulation

To what extent do you feel that you've developed more of a relationship with your peers participating in this project? Not at Very all Little A little A lot Total 1 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 1 1 3 2 4 4

How helpful were your peers in assisting you with questions about using Second Life? Total

Somewhat helpful Helpful Very helpful Extremely helpful

1 3

1 3

1 2

3 8

6 16

Although a Pearson Chi-square test did not reveal a significant relationship, it is interesting to note that the majority of students (shown in red) who found their peers ‘very’ to ‘extremely’ helpful also felt that they developed ‘a lot’ more of a relationship with their peers.

44

Technical Difficulties
Student Journals: All of the students ran into technical difficulties while using Second Life. Ten of the 16 students commented in their journals on the technical difficulties encountered while using Second Life. One student summed up the feelings of many others when he said, [Speaking about the night SL crashed world-wide] “I suppose this is a serious limitation with Second Life, as although this is the first instance of this particular problem, other instances such as the programme freezing, needing to be shut down and crashing also occurred within the six week time span. Other problems such as troubles communicating and difficulty in graphics loading also impinged on some of my in life experiences.” Student 16 Questionnaire Results: Significantly, in answer to the question, “How often did you experience technical difficulties while using Second Life?” none of the students answered ‘never.’ Seven of them responded ‘a few times’, three experienced technical difficulties ‘most of the time,’ five ‘almost every time,’ and one reported experiencing technical difficulties ‘every time’ she used Second Life.
Table 6: Crosstab 'development of relationship' with 'technical difficulties'

Crosstabulation

To what extent do you feel that you've developed more of a relationship with your peers participating in this project? Very Not at all little A little A lot Total 1 1 1 0 3 1 0 2 0 3 2 0 0 0 2 3 2 2 1 8 7 3 5 1 16

“How often did you experience technical difficulties while using Second Life?” Total

A few times Most of the time Almost every time Every time

Table 6 above shows the results of a crosstab analysis run on the questions dealing with development of relationship and technical difficulties experienced. However, no significant relationship between the two was found. The one student who experienced technical difficulties all of the time still felt that she had developed a relationship with her peers ‘a lot’(highlighted in red.). Some who experienced little or no technical 45

difficulties did not feel they developed much of a relationship with their peers at all, (highlighted in blue.) This implies that the technical difficulties themselves did not affect the extent to which students felt they had developed a relationship with their peers.

Teacher Immediacy
Student Journals: Comments regarding teacher immediacy behaviours in the journals were few. The comments that fell under this theme had to do with timely help received from the instructor, “Hopefully I will be able to log on in the D Block soon. It is starting to become very difficult. But thankfully, Bonnie has been really helpful and understanding.” Student 1; self disclosure by the instructor, “We also talked about our experiences so far in schools and the varying technology facilities in the schools. Bonnie told us a bit about her own teaching experience and she also gave us some ideas about how to incorporate technology in the classroom.” Student 1. Several of the students commented on the instructor’s house in their journals. One student said, “It felt very surreal to be in second life and to walk freely around Catraoine’s house looking at her cat and items which she bought with her linden dollars.” Student 9 Another stated, “We sat at a beach fire. It was nice and cosy! Just like back in Bonnie’s house, it felt like we were actually there.” Student 10 Their comments are in line with Robbins (2006) aforementioned statements on teacher immediacy behaviours in relation to Second Life. Questionnaire Results: Several questions on the survey dealt with the issue of teacher immediacy behaviours. Questions dealing with instructor accessibility received very favourable responses. All students felt the instructor was either ‘very accessible’ or ‘extremely accessible.’ In the additional comment section for the question, “How accessible was the facilitator?” a student said, “…in SL she always managed to talk to every one even though we were all questioning her at once.” Another student said, “Bonnie was great, so understanding and encouraging when some (i.e. me) could not get the hang of the movements etc.”

46

A crosstab analysis was run on the questions mentioned in table 7 below. The Pearson Chi-square test found a significant relationship (.015) between those students who both felt they had developed their relationship ‘a lot’ with their peers and felt that the facilitator was ‘extremely accessible.’
Table 7: Crosstab 'development of relationship' with 'facilitator accessibility'

Crosstabulation “How accessible was the facilitator?” Total Very accessible Extremely accessible

To what extent do you feel that you've developed more of a relationship with your peers participating in this project? Not at all Very little A little A lot Total 3 0 3 3 0 3 1 1 2 1 7 8 8 8 16

Based on the student comments and the cross tab analyses, it is apparent the students reacted positively to and benefitted from the instructor’s immediacy behaviours. This had a significantly positive influence on their own feelings of connectedness with the group.

Continued Use of Second Life
Student Journals: Many students commented toward the end of their journals that they were sad that the sessions were coming to an end. “Tonight was our last official meeting in Second Life. I was surprised that I felt sad at coming to the end of our sessions together.” Student 9 A few of the students mentioned in their journals that they felt the project needed more time. They were just feeling comfortable with the Second Life interface and the group when the assignment ended. One student commented: “It’s a pity the group is not sticking together for the next term. I am more relaxed going in world and get more out of it when I’m meeting the same people.” (Student 3) Clearly many of the students wanted to continue using Second Life as a peer support network for the rest of their time in the PGDE program. There is strong evidence in their comments to show that the group was bonding with each other, and appreciated the support they were receiving from one another.

47

Questionnaire Results: Fourteen out of the sixteen students responded “yes” to the question, “Will you continue to use Second Life after the completion of this assignment?” Comments from the students were overwhelmingly positive. One student said, “I enjoyed the company of our group and we had a good experience in SL so that has left me with a desire to continue the exploration and hopefully the network of support that we provided for each other.” Some thought the assignment should run for the whole year, echoing the sentiments expressed in the student journals: “I feel I am only getting into it. I think this should run all through the year!!! Or at least meet same group every two weeks till May.” However, there were a few other questions on the survey that dealt with student use of the group house and whether or not students were meeting up with each other in-world outside of required times. Results showed that most of the students were not meeting up on their own initiative in Second Life. This led the researcher to believe that, even though the intention was there, the students probably wouldn’t continue to meet with each other in Second Life voluntarily.

Post Implementation Data Collection
Group House Use
This suspicion was confirmed in the months following the implementation. The researcher used a visitor tracker to see how many students were using the group house in Second Life after the 7 week implementation period. Chart 4 below shows the results of this tracker.

48

Post-Implementation Student Use of Group House
Number of Students Group House 4 3 2 1 0

Chart 4: Post-Implementation Student use of Group House

Three students used the group house in the week following the last group meeting inworld. Only on three other occasions over the next five months did students visit the group house. In order to corroborate this data, the researcher checked the group statistics in Second Life to see when group members were last logged on to Second Life. Most of the students stopped using Second Life within weeks of the initial implementation coming to an end. At the end of the school year in May, 2008, only one student was still active in Second Life.

Follow-up Interview
A follow-up structured interview was sent by email to all participants 5 months postimplementation. It was hoped to conduct this interview individually with students in Second Life, however, only one student was still using Second Life by this time. Students were asked two questions in the follow-up email interview. 1. Have you continued to meet up with your PGDE peers in Second Life since the completion of the project? If so, how often? If not, why not? 2. Do you feel the high incidence of technical difficulties associated with Second Life interfere with its use as a vehicle for peer support? If so, why? If not, why not? Five students responded to the email interview. Four out of five students replied that they had not continued to meet up with group members in Second Life or in real life.

Visiting De 10 cem De be r c 17 em 200 7 De be r 24 cem 20 07 De be r 31 cem 20 De be 07 ce r 2 0 m be 07 07 Ja r 2 00 n 14 ua 7 J a ry 2 nu 00 21 a 8 J a ry 2 nu 00 28 ar 8 Ja y 2 0 4 n u a 0 08 Fe ry 2 b 1 1 ru a 0 0 8 Fe ry 2 b 18 rua 008 Fe ry 2 b 25 rua 008 Fe ry 20 br u 0 0 3 a ry 8 2 M ar 008 1 0 ch 20 M 0 a 1 7 rc h 8 20 M a 0 2 4 rc h 8 20 M a 0 3 1 rc h 8 20 M 08 ar c 07 h 2 00 Ap 8 r 14 il 2 Ap 008 r 21 il 2 Ap 008 r 28 il 2 Ap 008 ri l 20 08 Week of:

03

49

Almost all gave the same reasons; lack of time, and technical difficulties using Second Life. One said she continued to meet up with group members in the Education Technology computer lab on campus, but not in Second Life. In answer to the second question, all felt that technical difficulties associated with Second Life did interfere with its use as a peer support vehicle. Several said that if Second Life had continued to be available on the lab computers , they would have continued to use it. (The university withdrew access 2 months post implementation.)

Conclusion
Findings show that the MUVE Second Life can be used as a vehicle for peer support and increase social presence in students by facilitating feelings of belonging and sense of community. Triangulation of the data supports this finding in the following ways: • • High levels of social presence were clearly evident in the chat transcripts. Rovai’s (2002) Classroom Community Scale results showed that participants’ feelings of classroom connectedness increased over the course of the school year, while dropping in those students who did not participate in the study. • Post-implementation survey results showed that students did use the MUVE as a forum for discussion regarding issues arising in the course and their teaching practice experiences. • Analysis of the student journals showed that students garnered a great deal of support from their peers during the study and wrote overwhelmingly in support of the experience. • Teacher immediacy behaviours had a positive effect on student feelings of social presence and connectedness. • The high learning curve associated with MUVE’s did not interfere with the use of Second Life as a vehicle for peer support. Conflicting data was found in relation to the issue of whether or not the technical difficulties experienced by the participants in their use of the MUVE Second Life interfered with their participation in the online support community. All reported frustration with technical difficulties experienced, and all said in the interview that they felt the technical difficulties did impede their participation in the community. However, no significant relationship was found to exist between the technical difficulties

50

experienced by students and the degree to which they felt they had developed a relationship with their peers.

51

Conclusions and Recommendations
This study investigated the use of the MUVE Second Life as a means of creating an online peer-support community for a group of pre-service teachers completing the oneyear Post Graduate Diploma in Education course at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Findings show that the MUVE Second Life is effective as a vehicle for peer support for pre-service teachers if the technical issues associated with accessing the online virtual world are overcome. The technical difficulties encountered while using the MUVE Second Life show that they do interfere with its use as a vehicle for peer support to some extent. Not all students have their own computers, and those that do might not have a PC with the hardware necessary to run Second Life successfully. Of the 34 students who were initially interested in participating in this study, 18 were unable to do so due to lack of proper hardware. This leads to the conclusion that in order for the MUVE Second Life to be accessible to all students who wish to participate in a support community such as the one created for this study, access to Second Life needs to be made available for students in the on-campus computer labs. Until all students have access to the proper technology needed to run the MUVE Second Life, the technical difficulties associated with it are impediments to its use as a vehicle for peer support. Findings in relation to students’ continued use of Second Life were disappointing, but not unexpected. Literature into online learning shows that if students are not given an incentive to participate in the social aspects of an online classroom, they will not participate (McPherson & Nunes, 2004; Rovai, 2001) Despite students’ stated intentions to continue their on-line interaction with each other, it did not happen. Students cited lack of time and technical difficulties as the main reasons for not continuing their participation in the support community. Given the case load of a graduate level program, those assignments that are required for assessment will take precedence over those that are not. One surprising finding of the study, and a perceived weakness by the researcher, was that student feelings of community didn’t extend to their peers outside of Second Life. Several students reported feelings of connection and a relationship with each other in-

52

world that they did not feel outside of Second Life. It is believed that this had to do with students not knowing who the real person was behind the avatar. One solution, suggested by the students themselves, could be to incorporate more face-to-face contact for the group into the experience, such as holding a few of the online meetings from the Education Department computer lab. This would allow more face-to-face interaction among the participants, and could add to their feelings of connectedness with each other. Another surprising finding is that results of the qualitative transcript analysis of the chat data showed significantly higher social presence density ratings than those reported in other studies. This leads to the conclusion that the synchronous chat medium and immersive environment of MUVEs is a superior form of CMC for social and peer support than asynchronous forms. This supports Sander’s (2005) hypothesis that MUVEs might offer the solution to the problem of students feeling a lack of social presence in asynchronous forms of CMC. The interactive face-to-face medium gives students more realistic opportunities to interact with their classmates, leading to higher levels of social presence.

Suggestions for Further Research
Research into the use of MUVEs in education is still very new; research into using them as a space for peer support and community building is newer still. Several areas of further research are suggested by the findings of this study. One area that deserves investigation is the lack of connection students made between the avatars they interacted with in this support environment and the very real people behind them. Research into how to help students make the connection between the relationships they develop with each other in the social support area of the MUVE and their real life classmates is needed. Another area that deserves further investigation is whether or not the increased social presence evidenced by the transcripts manifests itself in better results and higher levels of retention in the pre-service teacher cohort. Finally, the role of the avatar and it affect on social presence deserves further investigation. McKerlich and Anderson (2007) describe the avatar as a characteristic unique to MUVEs, whose use “blurs the boundary between self and object.” (p. 38) Due

53

to constraints of time and space, this characteristic was not explored in this study. However, the different manners in which the students in this project chose to present themselves to each other, and how this might affect their social presence in the online community, was intriguing to the researcher. Further investigation into this topic could be a fruitful endeavour. The MUVE Second Life did prove to be a successful vehicle for peer support and the enhancement of social presence in the pre-service teachers involved in this study. It is hoped that as the computing power of personal PCs improves, and institutions allow greater access to MUVE’s on campus, virtual worlds can serve as a vital platform for online peer support and community building amongst students.

54

References
Barab, S., Kling, R., Gray, J. (Ed.). (2004). Designing for Virtual Communities in the Service of Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Boreen, J., & Niday, D. (2000). Breaking through the isolation: Mentoring beginning teachers. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 44(2), 152. Carter, C. (2006). Introducing your RL students to Second Life. Paper presented at the Second Life Education Workshop at the Second Life Community Convention, San Francisco, CA. Chou, C. (2001). Formative evaluation of synchronous CMC systems for a learner centred online course. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 12(2/3), 169188. Clonkin, M. (2007). 101 uses for second life in the college classroom. Retrieved 27/7/07, 2007 Cohen, L., Mannion, L., Morrison, K. (2007). Research Methods in Education, 6th Edition. New York: Routledge. Creswell, J. (2005). Educational Research: Planning, Conducting and Evaluating Quantative and Qualitative Research (Vol. 2). New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc. Dickey, M. D. (2005). Three-dimensional virtual worlds and distance learning: two case studies of Active Worlds as a medium for distance education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 36(3), 439-451. Dinsmore, J., Wenger, K. (2006). Relationships in Preservice Teacher Preparation: From Cohorts to Communities. Teacher Education Quarterly v. 33 no. 1 (Winter 2006) p. 57-74, 33(1), 57-74. Edens, K. M. (2000). Promoting Communication, inquiry and reflection in an early practicum experience via an online discussion group. Action in Teacher Education, 22(2A), 14-23. Gardner, J., Lewis, A., Pring, R. (2004). Revised Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research. Notts: British Educational Research Organisation. Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., Archer, W. (2000). Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education. The Internet and Higher Education 2(2-3), 87-105. Garrison, D. R., Cleveland-Innes, M., Koole, M., & Kappelman, J. (2006). Revisiting methodological issues in transcript analysis: Negotiated coding and reliability. The Internet and Higher Education, 9(1), 1-8. Hawkey, K. (1995). Learning from peers: The Experience of Student Teachers in school based teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 46(3), 175-183. Johnson, L. F., Levine, A.H. (2007). Virtual Worlds: Inherently Immersive, Highly Social Learning Spaces (pp. 10): New Media Consortium. Koeppen, K., Huey, G., & Connor, K. (2000). An effective model in a restructured teacher education program. In D. M. Byrd, McIntyre, J.D. (Ed.), Research on Professional development schools Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

55

Kurtts, S., Hibbard, K., Levin, B. (2005). Collaborative Online Problem Solving with Preservice General Education and Special Education Teachers. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 13(3), 497-414. Lambe, J., & Clarke, L. (2003). Initial teacher education online: factors influencing the nature of interaction in computer conferencing. European Journal of Teacher Education, 26(3), 351. Levin, B. B. (1999). Analysis of the content and purpose of four different kinds of electronic communications among preservice teachers. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 32(1), 139. Linden_Labs. (2008). SLED Listserv Archive. Retrieved 28/8/07, 2007, from http://www.google.com/coop/cse?cx=001010425210852223575%3Ajldmgpuier 0 Liu, C. (2006). Second Life learning community: A peer based approach to involving more faculty members in Second Life. Paper presented at the Second Life Education Workshop at the Second Life Community Convention, San Francisco, CA. Maher, M., & Jacob, E. (2006). Peer Computer Conferencing to Support Teachers’ Reflection During Action Research. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 14(1), 127-150. Mason, C. L. (2000a). Collaborative social studies teacher education across remote locations: students' experiences and perceptions. International Journal of Social Education, 15(2), 46-61. Mason, C. L. (2000b). Online teacher education: an analysis of student teachers' use of computer-mediated communication. . International Journal of Social Education, 15(1), 19-38. McKerlich, R. A., T. (2007). Community of Inquiry and Learning in Immersive Environments. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 11(4). McPherson, M., & Nunes, M. B. (2004). The failure of a virtual social space (VSS) designed to create a learning community: lessons learned. British Journal of Educational Technology, 35(3), 305-321. Nicholson, S. (2002). Socialization in the "virtual hallway": Instant messaging in the asynchronous Web-based distance education classroom. The Internet and Higher Education, 5(4), 363-372. Nicholson, S., Bond, N. (2003). Collaborative Reflection and Professional Community Building: An Analysis of Preservice Teachers' Use of an Electronic Discussion Board. JI. of Technology and Teacher Education, 11(2), 259-279. Palloff, R. M., Pratt, K. (1999). Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Pelowski, S., Frissell, L., Cabral, K., & Yu, T. (2005). So Far But Yet So Close: Student Chat Room Immediacy, Learning, and Performance in an Online Course. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 16(4), 395-407. Preece, J., and Maloney-Krichmar, D. (2005). Online communities: Design, theory, and practice Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10(4), article 1. Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5). 56

Ragan-Fore, A. (2007). Videogames Grow Up: Using Second Life’s Online Universe as an eLearning Tool. SIG News Retrieved 24/8/07, 2007, from http://www.iste.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Membership/SIGs/SIG_Newslette r/Archives/2007/January/SIG_News_January_2007.htm Riel, M., Polin, L. (2004). Online Learning Communities: Common Ground and Critical Differences in Designing Technical Environments. In S. Barab, Kling, R., Gray, J. (Ed.), Designing for Virtual Communities in the Service of Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Robbins, S. (2006). "Image Slippage": navigating the dichotomies of an academic identity in a non academic virtual world. Paper presented at the Second Life Education Workshop at the Second Life Community Convention, San Francisco, CA. Robbins, S. (2007). [SLED] Implications of SL Avatar appearance. Second Life Educators Listserv, Thu Mar 8 09:20:16 PST 2007 Retrieved 28/8/07, 2007, from https://lists.secondlife.com/pipermail/educators/2007-March/007065.html Rourke, L., Anderson, T., Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (2000). Methodological Issues in the Content Analysis of Computer Conference Transcripts. International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education, 12. Rourke, L., Anderson, T., Garrison, D.R., Archer, W. (2001). Assessing Social Presence In Asynchronous Text-based Computer Conferencing. Journal of Distance Education, 14(2), 50-71. Rovai, A. (2003). In search of higher persistence rates in distance education online programs. The Internet and Higher Education, 6(1), 1-16. Rovai, A., & Wighting. (2005). Feelings of alienation and community among higher education students in a virtual classroom. The Internet and Higher Education, 8(2), 97-110. Rovai, A. P. (2000). Building and sustaining community in asynchronous learning networks. The Internet and Higher Education, 3(4), 285-297. Rovai, A. P. (2001). Building Classroom Community at a Distance: A Case Study. Educational Technology Research and Development Journal, 49(4), 35-50. Rovai, A. P. (2002). Development of an instrument to measure classroom community. Internet and Higher Education, 5, 197-211. Rymaszewski, M., Au, W.J., Wallace, M., Winters, C., Ondrejka, C., BatstoneCunningham, B. (2007). Second Life, the official guide. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons. Salmon, G. (2004). E-Moderating, The key to online teaching and learning: Routledge. Sanders. (2005). Interaction and Online Learning Communities. Paper presented at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference 2005, Phoenix, AZ, USA. Sanders, R. L., & McKeown, L. . (2008). Promoting Reflection through Action Learning in a 3D Virtual World. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF SOCIAL SCIENCES, 2(1), 50-55.

57

Schifter, C. (2005). Reflections of Student Teachers: An Online Collaborative Peer Group Process. Paper presented at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference 2005, Phoenix, AZ, USA. Stacey, E. (2002). Social Presence Online: Networking Learners at a Distance. Education and Information Technologies, 7(4), 287-294. Stevens, V. (2006). Second Life in Education and Language Learning. TESL-EJ, 10(3), 1-4. Tellis, W. (1997). Introduction to Case Study. The Qualitative Report, 3(2). Urban, R., Twidale, Michael B., Marty, Paul F. . (2007). Second Life: Museums and Archeological Modeling Paper presented at the Conference Name|. Retrieved Access Date|. from URL|. v3image. (2007). A Beginner's Guide to Second Life (1 ed.). Las Vegas: ArcheBooks. Vonderwell, S. (2003). An examination of asynchronous communication experiences and perspectives of students in an online course: a case study. The Internet and Higher Education, 6(1), 77-90. Wang, M., Sierra, C., & Folger, T. (2003). Building a Dynamic Online Learning Community among Adult Learners. Education Media International, 40(1/2), 4961. Warburton, S. (2008). Loving your avatar: identity, immersion and empathy. Liquid Learning Retrieved 29/1/08, 2008, from http://warburton.typepad.com/liquidlearning/2008/01/loving-your-ava.html Wenger, E. (2007). Communities of Practice. Retrieved 18/11/07, 2007, from http://www.ewenger.com/theory/index.htm Wilson, B. G. (2001). Sense of Community as a Valued Outcome for Electronic Courses, Cohorts, and Programs. Paper presented at the Conference Name|. Retrieved Access Date|. from URL|. Woods, R., Ebersole, S. (2003a). Becoming a "Communal Architect" in the Online Classroom--Integrating Cognitive & Affective Learning for Maximum Effect in Web-Based Learning. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration 6(1). Wright, T. (2006). Is Second Life only a haven for kinky sex? Retrieved 1/2/08, 2008, from http://www.dokimos.org/secondlife/education/experience.html Yamashita, S. (2006). What Makes for Effective Online Community Building? 10 FieldTested Strategies You Can Use to Boost Student Success. Paper presented at the World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2006, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. Yin, R. (2003). Case Study Research: design and methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage. Yost, J. E. (1999). Copyright Chaos: An Educator's Guide to Copyright Law and "Fair Use": Intel Teach to the Future.

58

Appendices

59

Appendix 1: PowerPoint Presentation From First Group Meeting

60

61

Appendix 2: Consent Form

Informed Consent Form Title of study: “Community Building and Second Life: Investigating the use of MUVE’s to enhance classroom community in Pre-service Teachers” Purpose of study: The purpose of this research is to explore the use of the online virtual world, Second Life, as a vehicle for synchronous communication between PGDE students in an effort to enhance student’s feelings of classroom community. The research is being conducted by Bonnie Long, Department of Education, NUI Galway. Different formats of evaluation data will be collected, including: • • • • • Recording on online chat in the virtual medium Video recorded data of on-screen interactions Informal interview Questionnaire data Student experience log book

Any collected data will only be used strictly within the research project. Any published findings (e.g. in reports or academic papers) from the research will be anonymised: participants’ confidentiality will be preserved. By signing below, I consent to participate in the research study, as described above:

Name (block capitals): __________________________________________________

Signed: ______________________________________________________________

Date: Wednesday, 17th October 2007

62

Appendix 3: Handout From First Group Meeting
Getting Started in Second Life 1. Start thinking about a first name for your avatar. You have to come up with your own first name, and choose a second name from a list. You can’t change your name later, so you need to be happy with the one you pick. (Or as they say in SL, choose wisely… 2. Go to the website: www.secondlife.com

3. Click on the 4. Registering for Second Life:

link.

a. Type in the first name that you have chosen. b. Pick a last name from the list.

5. Check the name for availability. If it’s available, it’s yours. 6. In the next step, enter your REAL date of birth. You have to be 18 or over to join SL. They are very particular about this. 7. Then enter your email address. This address will be used to contact you from within SL. (Instant messaging, note cards from groups, etc.)

8. Click the Continue button. 9. In the next step, you get to choose an avatar. You can customise your avatar later with hair and clothes, so for now, you’re choosing the basic type.Choose an avatar: Click on the different buttons for a description. 63

10. On the next screen, fill in your real life information, contact details etc. This information is not visible in second life. 11. Submit your information and you should be a fully fledged SL resident! What’s next? 1. When you get home, you need to download the SL software. 2. Go to http://secondlife.com/community/downloads.php 3. For vistas machines, the XP version of SL should work fine. (It’s what I use on my vistas machine.) 4. Once the software is loaded you should be able to log in to SL.

5. Type in your first and last name and password, then click Connect. 6. You will land in Orientation Island. Visit the different parts of OI and complete the tutorials. When you’re finished here, teleport to Help Island to get a bit more sturdy on your feet. 7. When you feel ready, search for “Flotsam Beach”, and teleport there. It’s a nice place to wander around and get used to a real SL island. 8. I’ll send you a teleport to my house and an invitation to our group next Wednesday. Enjoy your first week in SL!

64

The history button lets you see your Chat history. If you miss what someone said, you can open the history and look back over the last few lines of chat. Click on the Search button to search for places, people etc. The map and minimap buttons let you see where you are on the island (triangle) and where other people are. (green dots)

When you’re typing to chat, your text shows up here. Press the return key to post what you’ve typed.

Click the Chat button when you want to talk to someone.

The communicate button open up IM (Instant Messaging) It also lets you see any groups you belong to. Click the Snapshot button to take a photo in Second Life.

Click the Fly button to fly…

The build button opens up your building tools.

The inventory button opens up your inventory. This is where your possessions are stored. It’s also where you store landmarks, notecards, etc. I.e., if you save a landmark that someone gives you, it is automatically stored under landmarks in your inventory.

65

Appendix 4: Assessment Rubric

Second Life Assignment Evaluation Name:__________________ Ed Tech Group: ___ The following rubric will be used to evaluate the Second Life assignment. This rubric is based on the guidelines discussed in class.
Developing Attended some weekly support Attended almost all weekly sessions. support sessions. Participated in group support sessions. Suggested topics for discussion. Offered advice and support for fellow students. Accomplished Exemplary Attended all weekly support sessions.

Beginning

Attendance Did not attend weekly of Support support sessions. Sessions

Participation in Support Sessions Occasionally sought out educational information in Second Life. Infrequently shared information found with fellow students. Sought out educational information in Second Life. Shared information found with fellow students.

Did not participate in group support sessions.

Minimally participated in group support sessions. Rarely suggested topics for discussion. Rarely offered advice and support for fellow students.

Actively participated in group support sessions. Frequently suggested topics for discussion. Enthusiastically offered advice and support for fellow students. Actively sought out educational information in Second Life. Frequently shared information found with fellow students. Journal entry for every Second Life session. Actively reflected on experiences in Second Life; emotions, thoughts, what was learned during the experience.

Did not seek out Investigation educational information of in Second Life. Educational uses of SL

Did not keep journal regarding Second Life Second Life experiences. Journal

Journal entry for some Second Journal entry for almost every Life sessions. Reported on Second Life session. Reflected on experiences in Second Life, experiences in Second Life. but reflection not evident.

Use of Office Did not avail of tutor’s in- Rarely availed of tutor’s inworld office hours. world office hours. Hours

Occasionally availed of tutor’s in- Frequently availed of tutor’s inworld office hours. world office hours.

66

Group Activities Participated in either the pre or post survey. Participated in both the pre and post survey.

Did not participate in Participated in some of the assigned group activities. assigned group activities. Contributed to the group process occasionally. Participated in assigned group activities. Contributed to the group process. Willingly participated in assigned group activities. Contributed positively to the group process.

Pre/Post Survey

Did not participate in either the pre or the post survey.

Participated in both the pre and post survey.

67

Appendix 5: Breakdown of Weekly Meetings

Breakdown of Weekly Meetings
Week 1 • • • Week 2 • • • Face-to-face meeting of group in Ed Tech Computer Lab Group signs up and creates avatar Homework: Spend the week in Orientation and Help island Send group notice to all with landmark for group house All meet at group house for a ‘party’ Learn basic skills: o ‘wearing’ food/drink o Walking, flying, sitting, chatting, IM, driving o Homework: Explore Flotsam Beach Teleport to ISTE Island using notecard sent by facilitator Skills used: Animating avatar (dancing), Sitting at campfire, Chatting Homework: visit freebie island for clothes, hair, etc. Small Group Project: Photo Scavenger hunt o Small groups of 3-4, went out into SL to take photos on scavenger hunt list Skills used: Searching, teleporting, taking snapshots, keeping together (IM and offer teleport to each other) Building: Meet at the Ivory Tower, go through tutorials Help each other learn to build TP to Blarney Stone pub for R & R Homework: Continue with tutorials at the Ivory Tower at own pace Guest Speaker from the US Library of Congress Teacher Education program Unfortunately, Second Life crashed spectacularly this night and only the guest speaker and I could log on… Study week for NUIG, so had to scrap planned Focus Group meeting Met at roller rink on Flotsam beach instead Then introduced them to their new dorm house

Week 3 • • • Week 4 •

• Week 5 • • • • Week 6 • • Week 7 • • •

68

Appendix 6: Rovai’s Classroom Community Scale (2002)
Directions given on the Electronic version of the CCS:

69

70

Appendix 7: Post Implementation Survey

71

72

73

74

75

76

77

78

79

80

Appendix 8: Model and Template for Assessment of Social Presence
Model and Template for Assessing Social Presence (Rourke et al, 2001)

81

Appendix 9: Revised Template for Assessing Social Presence Revised Template for Assessing Social Presence
(Based on Rourke et al, 2001) Category Indicators Expressions of Emotions Use of Humour Self-disclosure Referring explicitly to others’ messages Asking questions Complimenting, expressing appreciation Expressing agreement Vocatives Addresses or refers to the group using inclusive pronouns Phatics, salutations Definition Conventional expressions of emotion, or unconventional expressions of emotion, includes repetitious punctuation, conspicuous capitalisation, emoticons. Teasing, cajoling, irony, understatements, sarcasm. Presents details of life outside of class, or expresses vulnerability. Direct reference to content of others’ posts.

Interactive

Affective

Students ask questions of other students or the moderator. Complimenting others or contents of others’ messages.

Expressing agreement with others or contents of others’ messages. Addressing or referring to participants by name. Addresses the group as we, us, our group.

Cohesive

Communication that serves as purely social function; greetings, closures.

82

Appendix 10: Social Presence Density Coding Protocol
Category: Indicators: Expressions of Emotions Coding Protocol: Definition Conventional expressions of emotion, or unconventional expressions of emotion, includes repetitious punctuation, conspicuous capitalisation, emoticons. Teasing, cajoling, irony, understatements, sarcasm. Presents details of life outside of class, or expresses vulnerability. Direct reference to content of others’ posts. Students ask questions of other students or the moderator. Complimenting others or contents of others’ messages. Expressing agreement with others or contents of others’ messages. Addressing or referring to participants by name. Addresses the group as we, us, our group. Code:

1.1

Affective

Use of Humour Self-disclosure Referring explicitly to others’ messages Asking questions Complimenting, expressing appreciation Expressing agreement Vocatives Addresses or refers to the group using inclusive pronouns Phatics, salutations

1.2 1.3 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 3.1 3.2

Cohesive

Interactive

Communication that serves as purely social function; greetings, closures.

3.3

83

Appendix 11: Coding Table from Transcript 1
Coding Table From Transcript 1
Indicators: Category: Expressions of Emotions Affective Conventional expressions of emotion, or unconventional expressions of emotion, includes repetitious punctuation, conspicuous capitalisation, emoticons. Teasing, cajoling, irony, understatements, sarcasm. Presents details of life outside of class, or expresses vulnerability. Direct reference to content of others’ posts. Students ask questions of other students or the moderator. Complimenting others or contents of others’ messages. Expressing agreement with others or contents of others’ messages. Addressing or referring to participants by name. Addresses the group as we, us, our group. 8 Communication that serves as purely social function; greetings, closures. 14 Definition Code Count: 45

Use of Humour Self-disclosure Referring explicitly to others’ messages Asking questions Complimenting, expressing appreciation Expressing agreement Vocatives Addresses or refers to the group using inclusive pronouns Phatics, salutations

42 5 2 8 10 2 70

Cohesive

Interactive

Raw number of instances:

206

84

Appendix 12: Student Journal Comments by Theme
Table of Student Journal Comments by Theme Theme: Support Despite all this, it is an eye opening experience to partake in such an environment and to be accepted without any questions. Student 9 “From a social point of view, SL proved to be very useful. To meet up with fellow classmates and discuss issues relating to the course was certainly very helpful. One thing I noticed was that once I had gotten used to the group settings and interactions, I found it increasingly difficult to find the motivation to go into second life on my own. Anytime I did, I just became bored very quickly. I guess I just missed the group.” Student 7 “I visited Second Life during office hours tonight and found it was a good experience. I met up with our tutor and a couple of other members of our group. We shared our thoughts on how we are experiencing life, here in Second Life, on a personal level. We also had a chance to discuss our teaching practice and the difficulties that we are encountering in that area. What I appreciate the most out of Second Life is the support we are able to give each other...”Student 9 “I found it a great support to relieve myself of the stress of the course with someone who is in the midst of it all as well. It is still a bit surreal to think that I am sharing my opinions and feelings with these virtual strangers, the only link being that we know we are all on the same course. However, it is a forum of support that I had not expected but I appreciate it whole heartedly.” Student 9 “Tonight was our last official meeting in Second Life. I was surprised that I felt sad at coming to the end of our sessions together. Whether out of want or necessity we became a strong unit who provided a forum to listen to each other and many mouths to offer opinions or advice. It is amazing to think that in a world of virtual reality you can find such a support system as we created for ourselves.” Student 9 “I found it a wonderful experience to talk to others, in the same situations, having the same worries and who are under the same amount of stress. Without conscious intent, we turned into a support network for each other and that was and hopefully, will remain an added benefit to Second Life.” Student 9 “I felt a bit lonely when the group wasn’t there. Don’t really like going up to people and talking in case they think my intentions are seedy.” Student 10 “Just chatted with some of the group about teaching practice. It was good to talk to one of the girls. She’s teaching fractions as well and we compared notes about the sections we’ve covered. Good to know that we have covered about the same! As I have noted before, this is the part of SL that I like. Just being able to chat and have discussions with other classmates that I wouldn’t normally talk to.” Student 10 “Social aspects are the theme that seems to be the favourite part of SL for a lot of people. I talked to Ruth about the project and what it involves which was nice.” Student 10 “Everyone seemed genuinely sad that we were finishing up. I am too. I think I will log in on Wednesday nights to meet up with the old crowd! To summarise, I have really enjoyed the seven weeks of meetings with my peers. It was fun to meet up with a different set of people in the class that I normally talk to. It was interesting to get their take on the course and how they find the subjects.” Student 10

85

“I found the most interesting part of Second Life was the ability to interact with my peers about topics that you wouldn’t normally talk to them about. Personally, I only know one girl participating in the project and so I felt like I could express my thoughts a lot easier.” Student 10 “What was great about tonight was that I actually got to meet and put faces to the names! We were all in the same boat in D Block and ended up just chatting.” Student 11 “Tonight I explored Ivory Tower more. I met Wasky, Beth and Casper from Tacaiocht Cairdiuil. Wasky introduced me to Kayi Laa who was friendly and encouraged us to ask questions if we had any queries. Casper was willing to show me how to take a snapshot. I was unable to do this task a few weeks earlier as my dial up connection to the internet was not great while on block teaching practice. I took two snap shots. The first is of myself at the entrance of Ivory Tower Library of Primitives, and the Second is of Wasky, Beth, Casper and I as you can see in fig 1.2! I am thrilled and very impressed that I am able to take snaps. I am learning new skills all the time. Wasky was very helpful here. He was like the leader tonight, knew what to do. I guess with us all being teachers we should have this trait. He demonstrates it very well. Fair play to him.” Student 14 “Tonight we all just chatted about the upcoming exams and the problems we have with study and projects. It was an interesting project one that didn’t need research from books but allowed interactions and cooperation to gain information from others about using this world.” Student 13 “Others were having the same difficulty so I helped a couple of them, and then off we went for a skate around! Tonight I really felt that the group had bonded during our time in SL as everyone chatted and joined in the fun.” Student 15 “make it interesting and create an environment where students could chat about their course, teaching practice in our case it also eliminates the feeling of isolation on a large course.” Student 3 “I don’t feel that we as a group needed this extra type of communication in that we already work closely together and can communicate through email and blackboard, which also has a discussion board.” Student 11 “It was nice to know that others were going through the same things as me-finding college assignments SO tedious and that we all were still getting used to finding our feet in SL.” “The conversations of this meeting were mainly around exams and assignments, everyone got to vent their concerns and moans about them all!! Nice to see how everybody were getting on with study. Feel like we are all in the same boat” Student 2 “…it was good to hear to the stories about teaching practice good to know we are all in the same boat.”Student 3 “On a selfish note I am taking comfort from the fact that all the other class members seem to be as ill-prepared as I am for the exams at this stage. How much can a mind take in in 4 days flat? Quite a lot, I hope!” Student 4 “I meet the group back at Catraoines house, there was a very somber mood in the house as all the avatars talked about was the exams.” Student 8 “We got to talking about college stuff. This was great, because we could all ask each other questions that we had and share information with each other. It was reassuring to know that most people are in the same boat as I am, frantically trying to get lesson plans done before going out on block. I hope we get a chance each week to chat like that, especially when we are out on block.” Student 15 “It was nice to be able to share my initial experiences with members from the class and as a social networking device it would rate highly, in my opinion…” Student 1

86

Theme: Technical Problems “…my computer wasn’t the fastest so took a while to do things.” “Tonight I had a few problems with my laptop, with it freezing on me; really annoying, think it had a bit of an information overload!” “Then my computer decided to play up on me so it froze and I couldn’t do anything, kept trying to restart the programme, so in the end when I got back into SL, everyone had disappeared” Student 2 “I think the strength of my broadband signal determines how fast stuff happens and that is my problem with taking clothes on & off.” Student 4 “there seemed to be a much more complete looking version of Ivory Towers on the college PCs in comparison to the partial version I had on my laptop. It was obvious that my computer has some kind of difficulty in running second life and that is why I was finding it so slow and difficult.” Student 8 “The first problem that I encountered when I began SL was that my computer was not able to run it, given that it is less than a year old (with Windows XP and mobile internet connection). This is a factor that needs to be considered when discussing its value as an educational tool, as SL might not be easily accessible in a lot of schools, whose computers may be dated.” Student 8 “The meeting had to be cancelled in the end as there were problems with SL. I tried for a while to get in but error after error. I installed the latest version of SL but this didn’t work. Again, Technical issues are starting to annoy me. I wonder does this turn many people away from SL?” Student 10 “After MUCH consideration and discussion and help of Bonnie, I’ve decided to stick with it. Hopefully they can convince computer services that we need it, just in the D block. So for now, I have to log on after Shane on his lap top, for the second hour. He offered which was great. And Bonnie is confident that in a few weeks it’ll be up and running. I don’t think I’m alone with this problem, which is nice! So many people have had to make these kinds of alternative arrangements for the time being, and some have even had to drop out altogether. I could have solved the problem by buying a graphics card, but it was just way too expensive for me. So already I am seeing how many barriers there are for people who want to participate, but are either living away from home or are not technologically savvy enough, or worse again, can’t afford it. ” Student 11 “Immediately we were faced with problems concerning access. Second Life only became available on campus after a couple of weeks in to the assignment. Those of us with computers that were just a few years old didn’t have a sufficient graphics card. Those of us living in rural areas or areas not served by broadband were also unable to access SL. This meant that a lot of participants who were doing Block Release TP would have to try to make alternative arrangements, or else quit the assignment. The fact that SL couldn’t be accessed on campus was, I thought, I little bit ridiculous considering that it was a college assignment. Furthermore, it is ironic that this is a communicative social network, yet many of the interested participants had to drop out due to access issues which were out of their control. However, this seemed to be out of the Ed Tech Lecturers hands, and they did sort it out as soon as they could. ” Student 11 “SL is becoming synonymous with frustration for me, every time I access it I feel as though I’m visiting the dentist… Again I am experiencing problems logging on. There was supposed to be a guest speaker so presumably I’ve missed out on that. Again I came out to Oranmore for the comfort of guaranteed access and I aimed for the early session in case I had problems but after two hours I still can’t get access. It seems the more precautions you take to ensure it works the harder it works to avoid you.” Student 12

87

“My own personal problem with second life was the fact that I frequently failed to attend meetings because of technical difficulties... Often despite my best efforts I ended up missing meetings…This created a great distaste for SL and I regarded upcoming meetings with apprehension rather than excitement.” Student 12 “Due to a fault with my broadband in Mayo I have not been able to use Second Life very well over the weekend as it constantly froze and was very slow to upload the graphics when it was up and running. Hopefully I will have this issue resolved by the time I go out on block.” Student 15 (Speaking about the night all of SL crashed) “I suppose this is a serious limitation with Second Life, as although this is the first instance of this particular problem, other instances such as the programme freezing, needing to be shut down and crashing also occurred within the six week time span. Other problems such as troubles communicating and difficulty in graphics loading also impinged on some of my in life experiences. Also apparently announcements that were made by the leader failed to arrive when one logged on leading to inconveniences for members of the group.” Student 16 “Another problem that occurred regularly during the use of Second Life was that of; technical difficulties. The regularity that a meeting in life would be affected by a crash or indeed failure to log on initially affected the experience adversely. This is rather frustrating after scheduling a meeting or organising an ‘in world’ excursion, only to be prevented by technical difficulties. Sometimes technology is its own worst enemy.” Student 16 “However there are limitations to using such a project for educational purposes. One of the many problems is the system failures that regularly occur. Once in world the system tends to fail or crash. This could be a major problem when trying to organise a classroom full of teenagers to perform a task. …Computer hardware, software, internet access, type of connection and also availability of all these in the home or in the school play another role. For students to get the most from the experience all must have equal access to the system. This would reduce non-participation and poor cooperation issues. We found this with the problems trying to get SecondLife on the pc’s in D-block.” Student 13 the technical issues with the program (crashing, unable to log on, slowness etc.) were by far the biggest problem.” Student 7 Furthermore, it is ironic that this is a communicative social network, yet many of the interested participants had to drop out due to access issues which were out of their control. Student 11

Theme: High Learning Curve “Tried going to a few tutorials where they explained to me how to walk, talk, fly, and drive. These actions were very hard for me” Student 2 “I came out of Orientation Island and I have to say I did not feel at all comfortable I felt a bit lost so I logged off.” Student 3 “For those of us of a non-technical disposition, I think it has proven frustrating to work with the format of SL. From talking to my fellow classmates, the interface can be intimidating for the uninitiated.” Student 7 “I couldn’t put on some items I got for free and found myself getting a bit frustrated with the whole thing. I am very used to Microsoft and being able to look for Help easily enough, but SL doesn’t have the same look and feel.” Student 10 (An IT teacher!)

88

“Once I landed in Orientation Island, the first task I had to overcome was learning how to walk. Who ever imagined it would be so hard, I’ve been bumping into almost every object in my path. But I’m improving slowly but surely, and having a great laugh doing so!” Student 15 “Also this week I took a visit Freebie Island, however this was not very successful. Many of the items I got, I could not wear, or when I attempted to wear them, a large box was over my avatar. Sometimes I feel that if second life was held in an environment with a lecturer facilitating it, they could demonstrate the basics before setting out in this ‘life’. “ Student 16 “I have to be honest, I do feel threatened and totally incompetent and I’m not sure that this is a project for someone like me as my frustration level is soaring. I need to talk to someone face to face, preferable with our laptops side by side so that I can get a visual understanding of what exactly is going on.” Student 5 I wouldn’t normally be the most technologically aware and therefore thought I would find it all a bit difficult, but I got the hang of it really quickly. Student 11

Theme: Teacher Immediacy Behaviours Hopefully I will be able to log on in the D Block soon. It is starting to become very difficult. But thankfully, Bonnie has been really helpful and understanding. Student 11 I now realise how hard it must be for Bonnie when there are 20 of us standing in her house all asking her questions at the same time. Student 11 But I did learn that it’s a difficult learning and teaching environment, in that Bonnie has to really be paying attention and try to talk to loads of people at the same time. I think it’s pretty impractical for that reason. Student 11 “Arrived in Bonnie's house as before. Lots of people there. Difficult to follow all the conversations going on. I can see that this would be a problem if e.g. working with a class or even a smaller group in an educational context - would have to agree specific ground rules around taking turns to speak or ask questions possibly.” Student 4 “Catraoine had kindly decorated her house for Christmas to get us in the festive spirit. Even though it still seems so far away as we have the exams yet to overcome, it really lifted my spirits. “We sat at a beach fire. It was nice and cosy! Just like back in Bonnie’s house, it felt like we were actually there. I much prefer this type of scenario to the more structured education Islands that I have visited.” Student 10

Theme: Continued use of Second Life “I think it is great and will definitely continue with it as from tonight’s performance I am still only getting used to it. It’s a pity the group is not sticking together for the next term. I am more relaxed going in world and get more out of it when I’m meeting the same people.” Student 3 “Restrictions on time meant the project felt a bit rushed. If it goes ahead next year, it would be more beneficial to continue it for two semesters. This would give adequate time to familiarise ‘newbies’ with a virtual environment and explore opportunities for learning. It would also be an advantage for block students, who spend more time away from college after Christmas and could therefore contact college via SL.” Student 6

89

“Tonight was our last official meeting in Second Life. I was surprised that I felt sad at coming to the end of our sessions together. Whether out of want or necessity we became a strong unit who provided a forum to listen to each other and many mouths to offer opinions or advice. It is amazing to think that in a world of virtual reality you can find such a support system as we created for ourselves.” Student 9 “Everyone seemed genuinely sad that we were finishing up. I am too. I think I will log in on Wednesday nights to meet up with the old crowd! To summarise, I have really enjoyed the seven weeks of meetings with my peers. It was fun to meet up with a different set of people in the class that I normally talk to. It was interesting to get their take on the course and how they find the subjects.” Student 10

90

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful