[SLED] Engineering the Learning Environment - An Alternative View

Steven Moinester aenglishnow at yahoo.com
Mon Feb 12 01:31:14 PST 2007

This debate about whose SL teaching method and philosophy is best seems to miss the point. It reminds me of the old Genetics vs. Environment debate. When you frame the debate in terms of "either" this "or" that, you almost always taint the discussion from the beginning. We should not be debating absolutes, but trying to determine the best teaching methods and environments to achieve specific objectives. Some people may not find a use for controlled environments in SL as outlined by Bruce, but is it really so difficult to conceive of a teaching situation where you might want to eliminate external stimuli? I can think of quite a few. That doesn't mean that everyone has to teach in controlled environments all the time. It just may be at times conducive to achieve certain ends. 
  I appreciate that Bruce is looking into this and look forward to learning from his experience. I think we can best learn from each other by understanding that there will be numerous effective teaching methods depending on the specific goals. One size will not fit all on SL and that's a good thing. If the debate is going to be meaningful then it should involve best practices for achieving specific goals and not be framed in terms of absolutes or who can list the most citations.

  Steven Moinester
  (Elmo Wilder)
Bruce Sommerville <bdsommerville at gmail.com> wrote:
       One of the most creative and promising aspects of Second Life for educators is the many different kinds of learning environments that can be be built for students and teachers. Indeed, educators are presently discussing and exploring the use of semi-recreational outdoor environments for interactive, immersive and communicative learning in Second Life. However, there is a danger that over-emphasis on outdoor group activities and camp-fire chats may obscure the benefits in quite the opposite direction - namely, the ability to carefully engineer the conditions under which students learn on-line. Specifically, the initial  presentation stage of a lesson might best be conducted in a 'teaching studio', where sound, sight, lighting, and avatar presence are firmly controlled. 
     By 'teaching studio' is meant a kind of cross between a recording studio and a lecture theatre, in which all external stimuli are rigidly excluded. In Second life, external sounds and noise can be shut out of the land parcel and building, thus removing auditory distractions which may interefere with the spoken words of a lecture. Similary, the windowless nature of a studio or theatre prevents movement and colour from outside drawing the students' attention away from the concepts being presented within. Internal lighting can be dimmed, in order to focus the students' attention on the visual presentation of graphics and text on the screen in front of them. By streaming in carefully pre-produced audio-visual material, the lesson can be both highly organised and engaging. Finally, by establishing and enforcing appropriate avatar etiquette, movement, chatting, and late arrival of students might be minimised in this stage of a lesson. 
     The overall effect of this careful engineering of the learning environment would be a greater absorption in, and a greater absorption of, the concepts and ideas being imparted to the student. The aim is to hold the students 'in thrall', with their attention focused narrowly and in depth on the object of the lesson, for a period of perhaps 20 minutes, before the communicative stage of the lesson takes place elsewhere. Thus a better understanding of difficult concepts might be achieved and a greater impression on the mind made, than even in a conventional real life classroom, with all its external and internal clamour. Naturally, a teacher would be present to answer questions, and then initiate the next stage of the lesson, where communicative activites take place, perhaps in an outdoor environment, and where practical skills can be developed. 
     In short, notwithstanding its seemingly endless swards of greenery and balmy sea breezes, Second Life presents a unique opportunity to carefully control and engineer the conditions under which students learn on-line. The sensations of sight, sound, touch, and movement are the building blocks of perception, and thus intellection, and should be carefully managed, and not be simply left to take care of themselves - at least in the presentation stage of a lesson. I suspect this view is a heresy, and I would greatly value the thoughts and experiences of other educators on the matter. 
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