Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Exploring the Meaningful Learning of Students in Second Life

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Exploring the Meaningful Learning of Students in Second Life

Article excerpt


The educational potential of virtual worlds, such as Second Life (SL, also referred to as a multi-user virtual environment), has been widely recognized and discussed among educators in recent years, although the instructional strategies in SL are still in their infancy (Edirisingha, Nie, Pluciennik, & Young, 2009; Jarmon, Traphagan, Mayrath, & Trivedi, 2009; Mayrath, Sanchez, Traphagan, Heikes, & Trivedi, 2007; Warburton, 2009). SL can be described as a three-dimensional (3D) shared place, where thousands of participants can simultaneously collaborate with each other via avatars--the students' representations in the virtual world--in a non-competitive manner (Ondrejka, 2008; Warburton, 2009). In SL, participants can unleash their imagination and creativity by creating objects, identities, and knowledge, and by breaking physical, geographical, generational, and professional boundaries (Ondrejka, 2008). As noted, there is a new kind of educational potential in virtual worlds.

The purpose of this study is to take an educational perspective to a global virtual course in the field of engineering. The aim of this study is to develop a pedagogical model, namely the Global Virtual Education (GloVEd) model, and use it to evaluate the students' meaningful learning experiences in the Global Virtual Collaboration Project (GVCP) course. The model is based on the ideas of the teaching, studying, and learning (TSL) process (Kansanen, Tirri, Meri, Krokfors, Husu, & Jyrhama, 2000; Uljens, 1997), the characteristics of meaningful learning (Ausubel, 1968; Jonassen, 1995; Lofstrom & Nevgi, 2007; Ruokamo & Pohjolainen, 2000), and previous pedagogical models (Hakkarainen, 2007; Tissari, Vahtivuori-Hanninen, Vaattovaara, Ruokamo, & Tella, 2005). In this research, the characteristics of meaningful learning are used to describe the study process. A pedagogical model can be viewed as "a plan or pattern that can be used to shape curriculums (long-term courses of studies), to design instructional materials, and to guide instruction in the classroom and other settings" (Joyce & Weil, 1980, p. 1). The aim of this pedagogical model is to help teachers and researchers in planning, realizing, and evaluating education to enhance students' meaningful learning experiences.

The GVCP course was conducted at the Helsinki University of Technology (HUT, Espoo, Finland); the University of Twente (Enschede, The Netherlands); Columbia University (New York, NY, USA); and the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (Chennai, India) in spring 2009. Altogether, 54 students participated in the GVCP course. The course aims to provide students with an opportunity to learn how to collaborate on and solve real business problems in SL. During the course, multiple methods were used to collect and analyze data. An introduction to the theoretical background, the GloVEd model, research question, and the methods follow. Finally, the results are presented and discussed.

Theoretical background

Previous research on the educational use of Second Life

Several studies have argued that the value of virtual worlds lies in their ability to provide students with a greater sense of presence and belonging (Edirisingha et al., 2009; Holmberg & Huvila, 2008; Omale, Hung, Luetkehans, & Cooke-Plagwitz, 2009; Salmon, 2009; Warburton, 2009) compared to more traditional text-based learning environments, where feelings of isolation and loneliness are commonly highlighted (Lofstrom & Nevgi, 2007). Due to the attractive appearance, the existence of avatars, and a shared place, as well as the possibility of communicating synchronously, SL has succeeded in capturing the interest and motivation of most learners (Holmberg & Huvila, 2008; Mayrath et al., 2007; Omale et al., 2009). Sometimes we can even talk about an immersive experience (Delwiche, 2006; Edirisingha et al., 2009; Salmon, 2009). …

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