Virtual Worlds, Real Learning?

From my SLED (Second Life Educators) email list this morning came news of this great symposium, which will be streamed into Second Life.  And since it is in London time, the corresponding Sydney time for me is a very decent 7pm!

The Eduserv Foundation’s third annual symposium “Virtual worlds, real learning” will be held on Thursday 10th May at the Congress Centre in London. The event will attempt to look past the hype surrounding virtual worlds such as Second Life and evaluate whether they offer real opportunities for learners at UK educational institutions.This event attracted much interest and places filled up very quickly. However, we will be streaming all the presentations live into Second Life and on the Web. There will be (at least) three Virtual venues in Second Life at which the steams can be viewed:

* The Virtual Congress Centre on Eduserv Island.
* The auditorium on Cybrary City.
* The outdoor teaching space on NMC’s Teaching 2 island.

Details of the speakers below…

Virtual worlds, real learning?

Thursday 10th May 2007
Congress Centre, London

Speaker details

Jim Purbrick

Title: Learning in Second Life

Second Life residents have learnt and taught skills as varied as sound editing, media streaming, graphical design, 3D modelling, computer programing, project management, PR, marketing, event planning, entrepreneurship and citizenship while building their own 3D on-line virtual world from scratch. Learn why Second Life is a great environment for learning.


Dr Jim Purbrick has both academic and industry experience in designing and building virtual worlds. At Nottingham University he worked on the MASSIVE-3 virtual environment system and Prix Ars Electronica winning mixed reality games with IGDA award winners, Blast Theory. In industry Jim has worked on Dragon Empires at Codemasters, developed networking and load balancing technology for Warhammer Online at Climax and is now working on scripting and networking technology for Second Life at Linden Lab.

Roo Reynolds

Title: IBM’s use of virtual worlds

IBM famously have a large virtual continent, but what do they do there? Roo Reynolds peeps behind the Big Blue curtain to reveal how and why IBM got involved in Second Life as well as introduce some of the current activities going on within virtual worlds.


Roo Reynolds is a Metaverse Evangelist for IBM. He is part of a team which facilitates the use of Virtual Worlds within IBM, which is made all the more enjoyable thanks to a large world-wide community who are learning to collaborate and get things done in totally new ways.While acknowledging there are not enough hours in the day to claim to be an expert in everything, Roo still reads and writes far too many blogs and tries to keep his eyes open. He enjoys exploring and building in the metaverse that is Second Life, uploading his photos to Flickr, keeping his bookmarks on, updating his playlist on, tracking his location on Plazes and what he is doing on Twitter, as well as indulging in any number of other bleeding-edge alpha geek social software type activities. Roo is married to an artist, who tries her hardest to keep him balanced.

Hamish Macleod

Title: Holyrood Park: a virtual campus for Edinburgh

Our use of Second Life as a teaching and learning vehicle at the University of Edinburgh has sprung primarily out of our recently introduced MSc Programme in E-Learning (, although as one explores further across the institution one finds colleagues elsewhere who have been experimenting in similar ways. And many others are beginning to show an interest, and to develop a vision for they ways in which such virtual environments might be relevant to their own courses.

One simple reason for paying attention to environments such as Second Life is that they are there. Any course named (as one of ours is) An introduction to digital environments for learning should be making its participants aware of the wide range of currently available tools and systems which might be used to construct learning opportunities. The 3D virtual world would thus join the educational tradition of simulation, of “learning through programming”, or “learning by design”. Within a virtual world one can build graphically, one can script the behaviour of objects, and one can experiment with the way in which the self is presented to others in the social world.

Constructing our identity is something that we are doing all the time. When we take on a new job, or responsibility, we adjust the way that we present ourselves to those around us. The building of identity is an important aspect of education. An undergraduate student is not only learning about science, or medicine, or history, but is becoming a scientist, doctor or historian. The experiences of education encourage this through active learning opportunities, or problem-based approaches, or may even explicitly explore the possibility of constructed identity through role-play. A virtual world can offer us new opportunities for doing these traditional things, but may also afford playful new ways to experiment with lived identity, and the self in relation to others.

While virtual worlds are not, of themselves, games, the link with play and games is obvious and in some cases integral. Interest in the relationship between play and learning is not new, but that relationship is often fraught and difficult to negotiate. Work and play are seen as somehow opposed, and students are suspicious of learning opportunities that appear to be fun. As has been recognised for some time, the element of fantasy is key to the holding and motivating power of a game. When one is learning, fantasy equals authenticity and reality. The student who weeps at the “death” of a patient at the end of a session with a whole body simulator has participated in a valuable learning experience. Perhaps virtual world hold the potential, for certain domains of education, to allow students to participate in this sort of “hard fun”, to use Seymour Papert’s term.

As with any other technology applied in the support of education we need to be careful to make use of the opportunities that virtual worlds afford in ways that align with our, and our students’, learning objectives, rather than deploying the technologies for their own sakes. But along with the inevitable mistakes there would seem to be considerable potential.


Hamish Macleod has a background in psychology and biology, and is now a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Edinburgh, having taught for many years in the University’s Department of Psychology. He is a member of the University’s Centre for Teaching, Learning & Assessment (the institution’s educational development unit), and has interests in the uses of information technology, particularly computer-mediated communications, social technologies, and digital games, in teaching and learning, and in the question of what it means for an undergraduate to be “information literate”. His main teaching involvement is on the University’s MSc in E-Learning (

Joanna Scott

Title: Second Nature

Six months ago, Nature Publishing Group became the proud owner of Second Nature, an island in the virtual world Second Life. From our very first creation, the Magical Molecular Model Maker, a gadget which creates 3D molecules using data from PubChem, we have experimented with mathematics, cell biology and astronomy, and are currently acting as host to a wide range of educational resources created by science teachers and students. This presentation will discuss our experiences, success and failures and how we see the current state of scientific activity in Second Life and in particular its use in an educational context. We will outline Nature’s plans in this area and look at the possible future of Second Life within the scientific community.


Joanna Scott is a member of the Web Publishing team at the Nature Publishing Group. She is involved in a numberof projects, and currently spends much of he time working on Nature’s efforts in the virtual world Second Life, tending the fledgling Second Nature island. Joanna joined NPG in 2004 through the Macmillan Graduate Recruit Scheme, which she came to fresh from a biographylogy degree at Worcester College, Oxford.

Professor Gilly Salmon

Title: A Second Guess at the Future

The SEAL (Second Life: Advanced Learning) project from the University of Leicester surfaces the learners’ voices about desired futures learning, by their immersion in events in the Second Life environment. Second Life is an example of a Web 2.0 application that is unknown to most educational providers but excites and engages the learners of the future. SEAL is building communities of learners, teachers, technologists and creative practitioners to work together in the Second Life environment to ‘free up’ existing mindsets and construct advanced approaches to learning based on possible, probable and preferred models. – to ensure that changes made to learning technologies in the future are acceptable, engaging and beneficial for student learning.

As the research continues we will publish a series of models of preferred futures as well as practical guidance to exploring learners’ voices in Web 2.0 environments. See the Leicester Media Zoo web site:


Gilly joined the University of Leicester in the UK in 2004 as Professor of E-learning & Learning Technologies, after 16 years with the Open University Business School. She is known for her research and practice in the arenas of development and change for successful e-learning processes and preparing for Learning Futures. Her research and practice spans the role of ICT in enabling change in Higher Education, through the development of research-led e-learning strategy, to pedagogical innovation in a wide variety of forms including mobile learning, wikis and blogs.

Gilly has two research degrees – one in online training and one in change in education. She is known for her many articles and commentary about the future for learning technologies and as an international speaker. She was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship in 2006. Prof Salmon is the author of the work now considered seminal in the field of teaching online called ‘E-moderating’, a 2nd Edition of which was produced in 2004, a recent book about designing for low cost collaboration in all online learning situations called ‘E-tivities’ and another on group learning ‘Learning in Groups’.

Stephen Downes

Title: Virtual Worlds in Context

Since the days of the now fabled ‘Adventure’ virtual worlds have long been a staple of online life. The most recent generation, 3D environments, includes games such as World of Warcraft and discussion rooms such as Second Life. These environments share some of the attributes and many of the limitations of their predecessors. Can the environment serve a significantly large number of people at the same time? Can individuals migrate their characters from one environment to the next? Who makes the rules in such environments? In this talk it is proposed that the principles that govern the World Wide Web would well serve the world of 3D environments. By distributing the load – and the ownership – using a ccommon client that accesses worlds from a large number of interoperable open source servers, the problems of scale and ownership could be addressed while preserving the best of the 3D environment: a place to visualize different realities, to get together to talk about them, to interact, and maybe to kill a few monsters.


Born in Montreal, Quebec, Stephen Downes lived and worked across Canada before joining the National Research Council as a senior researcher in November, 2001. Currently based in Moncton, New Brunswick, at the Institute for Information Technology’s Internet Logic Research Group, Stephen has become a leading voice in the areas of learning objects and metadata, weblogs in education, content syndication, digital rights and related issues. Stephen is perhaps best known for his daily research newsletter, OLDaily (short for Online Learning Daily), which reaches thousands of readers across Canada and around the world. His work also includes the development of educational content syndication systems such as Edu_RSS and DLORN along and the design of a digital rights management system for learning resources. Stephen is also frequently to be found the road giving seminars and lectures on the field of online learning, including the notable Buntine Oration delivered in Perth, Australia, in October, 2004.

Sara de Freitas


Dr Sara de Freitas currently works as a Senior Research Fellow and Manager at the London Knowledge Lab, University of London. Sara also works as a consultant with the UK Joint Information Systems Committee e-Learning Development Programme and founded the UK Lab Group, which brings the research and development community together to create stronger links between industrial and academic research. Sara publishes in the areas of: pedagogy and e-learning; change management and strategy development for implementing e-learning systems and the use of educational games and electronic simulations for supporting post-16 training and learning.

Gráinne Conole


Grainne Conole is Professor of E-Learning in the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University in the UK. Previously she was Professor of Educational Innovation in Post-Compulsory Education at the University of Southampton and before that Director of the Institute for Learning and Research Technology at the University of Bristol. Her research interests include the use, integration and evaluation of Information and Communication Technologies and e-learning and the impact of technologies on organisational change. Two of her current areas of interest are focusing on the evaluation of students’ experiences of and perceptions of technologies and how learning design can help in creating more engaging learning activities.

She has extensive research, development and project management experience across the educational and technical domains; funding sources have included the EU, HEFCE, ESRC, JISC and commercial sponsors). She serves on and chairs a number of national and international advisory boards, steering groups, committees and international conference programmes. She has published and presented over 200 conference proceedings, workshops and articles, including over 50 journal publications on a range of topics, including the use and evaluation of learning technologies and is editor for the Association of Learning Technologies journal, ALT-J. She is co-editor of the recently published RoutledgeFalmer book ‘Contemporary perspectives on e-learning research’. Website:

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