Project Based Learning in Second Life

muvenation logoOne of our activities in module 2 of the MUVEnation course is to look at different learning or teaching approaches and finding out how they can be implemented in Second Life or in general in a virtual world. I have chosen Project Based Learning because I want to plan a project-based English language course in SL.

What is Project Based Learning?

There are many definitions but here is one from an Asian EFL Journal (underscores added by me):

Project-based language instruction is a flexible methodology allowing multiple skills to be developed in an integrated, meaningful, ongoing activity…. it isan instructional approach that contextualizes learning by presenting learners with problems to solve or products to develop” (Moss & Van Duzer, 1998, p. 2). Projects are generally thought of “as a long-term (several weeks) activity” (Beckett, 2002, p. 54) which are part of an instructional method which “promote[s] the simultaneous acquisition of language, content, and skills” (Beckett & Slater, 2005, p. 108). A major goal of project-based instruction is comprehensible output (Beckett, 2002), which generally occurs both during the project and as the final product of the project. Link to source

Why is it used?

PBL allows for a more learner-centred “teaching” and thus fosters learner autonomy. Because of this and If the tasks are real-life relevant, it can enhance student motivation and thus improve learning. PBL allows for deep thinking skills. Students also learn soft skills like team work, leading a team, managing a project and interpersonal communication. Combined with web 2.0 tools or 3D virtual worlds like Second Life, students also learn the technical skills which they need or will need in their professional lives. PBL is collaborative and can be interdisciplanary.

It is important that tasks are as authentic as possible and ill-defined (so that students can define the sub tasks necessary to successfully complete a task). The outcomes and perspectives should be varied. There is no one correct solution.

What are the challenges to bring PBL to virtual worlds?

  • teacher and learners need to have or learn the necessary SL skills
  • like in RL: time
  • time zones of learners?
  • technical requirements for computers (e. g. to run Second Life)
  • limits of a specific virtual world like prim count when building in SL (the number prims available for a task or on a parcel of land)

Some PBL examples from Second Life (mostly not directly language related)

1. The Theorist Project

Students at Montclair State University work in groups and add theory-specific content to rooms dedicated to certain theorists of psychology like Freud, Jung, Adler and Rogers with the guidance of their tutors Edina and Bob (responsible for content), AJ and Robert (building). Edina came up with this idea of creating an immersive experience in SL in lieu of group presentations for her group councelling class.

They cooperated with Athabasca University in Canada, who provided the Freud bot for this project (see below).

Students had no prior SL experience and were only given two classes, one to learn the basics like moving and camera controls plus 4 short videos (How to sign up, etc), the second about the project itself. They usually worked on campus in the computer lab.

According to Edina, the added values of using SL are:

  • interactivity
  • being in the learning envirinment
  • catering to different learner types
  • understanding and remembering (putting together the content for the rooms and interacting with them helped students understand and remember the theories better)
  • students can go through the caes in their own time/pace and as often as they want.

One of the “main attractions” on the SIM (= simulation = island in SL) is the replica of Sigmund Freud’s office and especially the Freud bot (a bot is an avatar controlled by a computer instead of a human). The Freudbod invites one to lie down and have a chat. Here is the SLURL.

Project-based learning in SL - The Theorist Project

Here is the transcript of the chat I had with the Freudbot 🙂
Freudbot Voom: Greetings, Daffodil Fargis.  Please have a seat on the couch if you would like to chat with me.
Freudbot Voom: Hello. My name is Sigmund Freud. What would you like to talk about?
Daffodil Fargis: About you
Freudbot Voom: I am Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis and a major proponent of the unconscious as a psychological force.
Daffodil Fargis: Interesting
Freudbot Voom: I started my career in 1886 as a neurologist in private practice and primarily treated cases of hysteria. I eventually developed my own techniques involving free association and dream analysis to uncover clues about the origin of psychological problems and ways of treating them.
Daffodil Fargis: Aha
Freudbot Voom: I lost my train of thought. Could you try saying that again but with more context.
Daffodil Fargis: I was saying that’s interesting. Can you tell me more?
Freudbot Voom: I am responsible for numerous concepts that are now well known both inside and outside of psychology. Some of these include: id, ego, and superego; life and death instincts; ego defense mechanisms; repression; psychosexual stages of development; and the Oedipal complex. My contributions to psychology include the first comprehensive theory of personality, new ways of dealing with mental disorders, expansion of psychology’s influence to other fields (e.g. religion, art, and literature), and synthesizing several disparate conceptions about human nature from the great minds in history (Leibniz, Goethe, Nietzsche, Fechner, Darwin, and Helmholtz) into a comprehensive theory.
Daffodil Fargis: Very impressive but still true?
Freudbot Voom: What do you think of the Oedipus Complex?
Daffodil Fargis: Hm, can’t say much about it. I’m a woman after all.
Freudbot Voom: The Oedipus Complex refers to a situation that occurs during the phallic stage of psychosexual development.
Daffodil Fargis: Aha?
Freudbot Voom: I don’t believe I have an answer for you.
Daffodil Fargis: Thought so.
Freudbot Voom: I’d rather return to the subject at hand. Shall I continue?
Daffodil Fargis: If you will, please.
Freudbot Voom: What do you think about ‘Appollion aspect of human nature’. Shall we discuss that?
Daffodil Fargis: Why not?
Freudbot Voom: For Nietzsche, the Appollion aspect of human nature is the irrational side, characterized by creative chaos, passion, and change.
Daffodil Fargis: I see.
Freudbot Voom: Friedrich Nietzsche believed there are two sides to human nature: the Appollion (rational) aspect, characterized by tranquility, orderliness, and predictability; and Dionysian (irrational) aspect, characterized by creative chaos, passion, and change.
Daffodil Fargis: But this is more a lecture than a discussion, isn’t it?
Freudbot Voom: What makes you say that?
Daffodil Fargis: 🙂
Freudbot Voom: Thank you for your feedback.<br/><br/>
Daffodil Fargis: Need to go now
Freudbot Voom: Would you like to know about my cocaine habit?
Daffodil Fargis: What?
Freudbot Voom: I began to experiment with the drug cocaine in the early 1880s. As I wrote to Martha, I took very small doses of it regularly to fight depression and indigestion with great success.
Daffodil Fargis: Didn’t know that.
Freudbot Voom: Have you ever been to the United States?
Daffodil Fargis: Yes, I have.
Freudbot Voom: I gave a set of lectures in America in 1909 at Clark University at the request of G. Stanley Hull, a well-know American psychologist.
Daffodil Fargis: Aha.
Freudbot Voom: What you said sounded interesting. Could you explain further?
Daffodil Fargis: No, I don’t think so 🙂
Freudbot Voom: I see.
Daffodil Fargis: Well, I really need to get going now.
Freudbot Voom: Your response leaves me speechless.
Daffodil Fargis: ha ha
Freudbot Voom: I see you find that amusing.<br/><br/> I presented my work on psychoanalysis and the lectures were warmly received by my American hosts, including William James.
Daffodil Fargis: Bye!
Freudbot Voom: Thank you for talking to me. Stand up if you would like to stop chatting.
Freudbot Voom: Goodbye. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.
Daffodil Fargis: Thanks!

2. The Music Academy

David (or Benton in SL) was kind enough to show me around his Music Academy in Second Life (website). His aim is to teach music immersively and interdisciplenary (e.g. if you know about the time, history, events, fashion, architectrue, etc of a musical era, it is easier to understand). Here is the SLURL.
Project-based learning in SL - Music Academy

The houses that represent the different eras were built and furnished in that times fashion and often show scenes of historic events that took place then. These scenes were built by students.
Project-based learning in SL - Music Academy

3. Otis Island – Art project

This is a building project with Michael Wright’s art students. Groups of students (who had no previous SL experience) were assigned parcels to build their art objects according to a chosen theme.
Project-based learning in SL - Otis Island - Art

Student and instructor reflections and more snapshots are here. And here is the SLURL.

4. Talkademy.org‘s project-based Business English course

Students have to work in teams, get roles assigned and have to come up with a product and a business plan. This is a blended course using Moodle, a wiki and snychronous meetings held in Second Life. In a second project technical students have to produce a machinima (a video made in Second Life). You can see the machinima produced by these students and an interview with their teacher here.

Some ideas for PBL in SL for language learning

  • Language learning students explore different ways of how SL can be used for learning and/or practising the target language and present their results in different ways (exhibition, presentation, panel discussion, book+presentation, blog, essay, report, etc.)
  • CLIL: Biology, Sociology, etc (visit related places, experiment, explore, interview, etc. – depending on the topic – then create a final product to present their results
  • BE: Set up a business, have project meetings, etc, report results
  • Event organisation (students take on the different roles necessary in the organisation of an even, plan the steps and execute their plan (e.g. an exhibition, an end-of-course party, a conference, a charitable event, etc.)

These are just some ideas. I’d be very happy if others contributed with their ideas and thoughts.

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