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Revised Experiences and Perceptions

Page history last edited by Lynda_Cannedy 10 years, 6 months ago

Front Page

 

Experiences and Perceptions on Tutoring in Second Life

  

Summary 

          By creating and testing a geometry tutorial in Second Life, Team One attempted to evaluate the medium for teaching elementary school students in a simulated one-on-one environment.  For the purposes of our inquiry, we use "tutoring" to mean a one-on-one (synchronous or asynchronous) environment, rather than a classroom or cooperative learning setting. 

 

Initial Second Life experiences (see Notes)

            Prior to conducting our tutorial experiment, the members of Team One brought a similar level of experience in Second Life (SL) to the project.   Many of the members had used computer  interactive games like PlayStation and 3D-world environments like Doom and Grand Theft Auto, the group found the motion and controls of SL to be relatively unfamiliar.  As a result, some initial time was spent learning the basics of movement.

            Whatever their background in gaming, SL demanded certain basics of all Group members: that they learn to walk, fly, teleport, and surprisingly, get dressed.  Appearance, at least, initially was important for all the members, although these issues resolved themselves (through experimentation or indifference quickly).

            Locating and joining group members was another initial hurdle, as there is no single “base” for “newbies” to originate.  Even when the group learned about UTB island (a purchased virtual area where UTB students can congregate and experiment), it was not always possible for members to locate each other.  Eventually, the group learned to “Friend” each other, then make an offer to “Teleport”.  This method worked reliably as long as all members were simultaneously online and the network connections were functioning well.

            To a degree greater than in Wimba or the world wide web, connection speed and possibly computer speed seemed to present a hurdle: some group members had problems using the audio features, there were slow load times for the virtual areas, and occasionally we lost contact altogether.  SL appeared to demand a great deal of the desktop computer or bandwidth. It was necessary in some cases to carefully “optimize” a desktop machine to avoid slowdowns and lost connections.

Related to technical concerns is the issue of money – a definite barrier for children, especially in public schools. There are currently in SL restrictions on creating and working in community space (permission and/or money is needed for having land, building and keeping projects, etc.).

            Apart from technical difficulties, however, group members had varying opinions of the problems and potentials of the environment.  One member emphasized his concerns over the “mature content” in advertising and actions (at one point, there was a “naked” avatar running around), and how this environment was obviously problematic for teaching lessons in public schools.  This has led to discussion of alternative, controlled SL virtual worlds, including Teen Second Life.

          Protocol and culture in SL was occasionally puzzling for group members.  While some members commented on the almost overwhelming amount of commercialism and marketing in SL, some noted a few simple social concerns:  How does one greet and speak with a stranger?  Personal space, when to chat, when to ignore, and when to simply teleport away from an unwanted virtual conversation were all explored.  One member noted that SL-specific jargon and abbreviations had to be learned for full comprehension.

 

The Experiment

          The group considered a geometry tutorial experiment that involved creating “3-dimensional” shapes in SL, using some of the “create” features that the avatars possess.  As it became clear that creating lasting or lingering objects was not possible with our level of permission on UTB island (and without wanting to invest Team One money in purchasing land), we decided to adapt another geometry lesson to SL.

Team One  member Rogelio Campa was the experiment’s “instructor,” and he adapted an existing face-to-face lesson for second grade students.  In the classroom version, students used digital cameras to shoot geometric shapes found in the “real world.”  These pictures would then be uploaded to a computer and outlined by the student.

In our experimental adaptation of this lesson, Team One's students were to find shapes from the provided list, locate them in SL, then use screen capture to copy them, and outline them according to the teacher’s instructions.

The Team One “students” completed the graphics assignments, then wrote comments about the experience on the group wiki.

 

Student Reactions (See Student Shape pages: Lynda, John, Fabian, Alfredo

Students were able to locate the shapes (after defining them independently) and were able to take screen shots, outline the images, and post the completed images to the Team One Wiki.  Because of the similarity in definition between the diamond and the rhombus, most students used the same screen image for both.

 

Image clarity on SL was an issue.  One student noted that getting a clear shape to be stable was difficult.  Not only does the avatar’s position relative to the object need to be correct, but distance and screen resolution are an issue.  For example, what appeared at a distance to be hexagonal looked octagonal when closer.  On the other hand, when searching for a rhombus, one student used the trick of perspective in SL to convert a square to an acceptable diamond-shape in the screen shot.

 

Another SL strategy (a work-around or cheat, depending on your viewpoint) involved searching for objects in the “Search: Locations” field.  Typing “pentagon”, for example, produces  “pentagon tower” in a location selling architectural elements.  The student can then teleport to the location and take the screen shot.

 

In the social or cultural area, one student found while hurriedly completing the assignment on UTB island, that another avatar followed him around being friendly.  Questions included, “what class are you in,” “what is the assignment?” etc.   At this point for the group member, the atmosphere of UTB island was more like a student union than a classroom: it was difficult to focus on the assignment and make polite chatter.  Ultimately, it was necessary to teleport away from UTB island to finish the assignment. 

 

Instructor Reaction (see Instructor notes)

The instructor for the Team One tutorial experiment was Rogelio Campa, and he adapted a real-world elementary school geometry lesson for SL.    In the original face-to-face lesson, students used digital cameras and uploaded them to a computer before modification.  He noted that the SL experiment would eliminate the need for teaching camera use, and would save money on the camera hardware. Mr. Campa felt like there was a clear connection between SL and the real world, that identifying shapes would not be unique to SL, and therefore the lesson would be relevant and useful.

            Despite the age differences between our experimental students (members of Team One), and second graders, Mr. Campa felt that the simplicity of the lesson would transfer well to a second grade class.  Because younger children would be “digital natives” (more at home with a virtual environment than the experimental students, more familiar with computer-based games, and arguably more eager to utilize a virtual tool),  they might more easily overcome difficulties in controlling the avatars and navigating in SL.

 

Tutorial Conclusion

In their effort to evaluate the use of SL in virtual one-on-one tutorials, Team One simulated a second-grade geometry lesson, and met with some success in using this instructional platform.  Prior to implementation to actual elementary students, however, the following issues must be resolved: “Can the virtual world be limited (and controlled by the instructor) to avoid dangers, annoyances and social distractions to the student?”  “To what extent is instructor feedback and support necessary or can students truly work asynchronously?” and finally “Are Second life experiences more or less relevant than a classroom experience?”

            While the Team One tutorial experiment was limited in scope and involved a minute sample of trial subjects, the results do point the way for possible tutorial experiments in the future.

Team One sees potential for Second Life as an educational resource but also realizes its many limitations.  As technologies improve, Second Life should also improve as a tool for educational tutoring and instruction.

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