A learning community for teens

Gillen, Julia; Twining, Peter; Ferguson, Rebecca; Butters, Oliver; Clough, Gill; Gaved, Mark; Peachey, Anna; Seamans, Dan and Sheehy, Kieron (2009). A learning community for teens on a virtual island – The Schome Park Teen Second Life Pilot project. eLearning Papers, 2009(15), http://www.elearningpapers.eu.

Abstract

Virtual 3D worlds such as Second Life and online gaming environments are attracting educationalists’ interest. This paper reports upon the first European Teen Second Life educational project for 13-17 year olds: the Schome Park NAGTY (National Association for Gifted and Talented Youth) Pilot. This project aimed to collect evidence about fresh approaches to education beyond the existing curricula of formal schooling through exploring the educational potentials and pitfalls of Second Life. Diverse quantitative and qualitative data sources are drawn upon to investigate issues relating to engagement, development of domain-specific and knowledge age skills as well as challenges for educators.
Engagement data showed that only approximately one quarter of students accounted for almost all time spent in Schome Park. Frequency was associated with high levels of use of the wiki and forum. Evidence from self-reports and documentation on the wiki demonstrated very high levels of Second Life skills.
Knowledge age skills were assessed within a framework with four levels for four dimensions. In respect of Communication, all students who engaged achieved the first level and a substantial minority initiated and moderated discussions and/or organised events. In respect of Teamwork, tensions were evident early on; however, a substantial number demonstrated their abilities to operate at the highest level being actively involved in solving governance problems. With support students moved from hierarchical approaches to the formation of governance groups, each with department officers, thus furnishing evidence of distributed Leadership at level one. Evidence from a rich and diverse programme of events illustrates an atmosphere which fostered Creativity, permitting explorations, collaborations and the encouragement to risk mistakes.
Our experience suggests the importance of understanding the role of teachers in this kind of innovative environment, not as the possessors of relevant knowledge but as facilitators and promoters of a cooperative ethos. We conclude that, despite multiple challenges, there is evidence to support dramatic new possibilities for pedagogic redesigns. Students who engaged with the virtual island, the wiki and the forum demonstrated higher levels of the knowledge age skills of communication, leadership, teamwork and creativity.

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