Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Barriers to Student Learning in Second Life

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Barriers to Student Learning in Second Life

Article excerpt

One of the most frequent criticisms of Second Life is that is has a high learning curve. In this chapter, I will examine several aspects of the user experience that, when combined, create the perception that Second Life has a high learning curve. In addition, I will discuss how I use the affordances of Second Life, particularly in regard to creativity, to reframe the user experience in order to break through the learning curve.

Understanding the User Experience in Second Life

In the fall 2006 semester, a group of eighteen undergraduate students enrolled in a world literature course that used Second Life for several projects. During the semester, students created avatars, wrote and published papers as interactive books within Second Life, and worked in groups to build a model university campus. At the end of the semester, I held a focus group with the students in order to understand the student user experience. In the focus group they were asked to respond to this question: "Tell me about your experiences in Second Life." Students were provided with stacks of index cards and were asked to write one thought or experience per index card and to fill out as many cards as they wanted.

After a few minutes, students were asked to tape the note cards to the wall. Then each student proceeded to explain his or her cards to the group. Once each card was described, the students as a group categorized the cards and finally labeled the categories. They created a total of 215 note cards, which they categorized into 10 affinities, seven of which are applicable to a general audience. This chapter discusses seven of the affinities and how they combine to create one view of the Second Life learning curve.

The Second Life Learning Curve

Most users of Second Life agree that a high learning curve exists for new users of the virtual world. An unintended outcome of the focus group held for this particular group of students was a road map detailing the issues that prevent new users of Second Life from learning the tool. Four themes emerged from the focus group that, when combined, expose the learning curve: technical issues, interface issues, and user expectations. Each of these themes confront new users when they create an account in Second Life, and without intervention, they will likely become part of the 90 percent of users who do not return to Second Life. As a caveat, when reading the comments of new users of Second Life, experienced users need to think back to the first days of their Second Life use before thinking, "They should have just Air-Clicked." Many obvious solutions and work-arounds for experienced users are not intuitive to new users.

Interface Difficulty

Students in the focus group reported that they had a difficult time using the interface within Second Life. As a final project in the course, students worked in small teams to build their ideal college campus. Students had a difficult time creating their buildings because they felt the interface of Second Life was counterintuitive. A student explained, "So many of the controls were counterintuitive; if the lines of the buildings would snap together it would have been so much easier." Students were required to use the Second Life building tools known as prims to construct their buildings. They found the prims-shapes such as spheres, boxes, and cylinders-very difficult to use: "It's hard to create 3-D objects using such simple shapes. I had an idea for my buildings but I couldn't make them using such simple shapes." Due to the design of the user interface and user controls, students noted additional problems with controlling avatars: "It is hard to control. I couldn't get my avatar to do the things I needed to do", building: "Little clicks are annoying", and navigating the island: "walking slowly, it took me a really long time to get from building to building."

Technical Difficulties

Several software issues became apparent with Second Life during the course of the semester. …

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