The London School of Journalism is showing just how Second Life can be used to enhance online learning with a series of free lectures which are proving extremely popular. Unusual though it may look to anyone who hasn’t tried teaching or learning in the virtual world, SL offers advantages over other distance learning methods that make it feel more like a face-to-face environment. Lecturers can deliver their talk to students from around the world and receive immediate feedback and questions from their audience. The level of interactivity is somehow helped by the fact that each participant appears as an avatar, giving the impression of all being in the same room.
Although the lecturers use voice, the students can type their questions into chat so that they can be dealt with in an organised way. The LSJ’s own students go online to attend the lectures, and promotion across SL also draws in new interest from aspiring and practising writers, journalists and educators. More than 100 universities and colleges are on SL, although many haven’t managed to make full use of this platform yet, and the LSJ are showing how it can be used to best advantage while raising international awareness of their presence.
Although the LSJ hasn’t yet started giving workshops on SL I’ve also attended and organised workshops and discussion groups myself and the experience of sitting round a virtual table talking with a group is remarkably similar to a real life meeting. The possibilities for education on SL are undoubtedly going to make it increasingly appealing as a way of attracting students who want to learn online. The lectures and classes have so far mainly been free on SL, and I’m sure this will continue, but there is also the possibility of using private-access land and buildings which only allow students on fee-paying courses to attend. Over the coming year I believe more colleges and individual tutors will use this to add virtual workshops and lectures for their registered students, making education one of the main activities likely to have most success on SL. As education and publishing are so closely linked it’s worth building up a strong network of contacts and collaborating, especially as SL is relatively inexpensive and the pioneers will find it easiest to be noticed.
The LSJ arrived in SL last summer and established a presence quickly by talking with the organisers of main groups in writing and education and linking into already established networks rather than trying to go it alone. An extra bonus on SL is that events can be filmed and broadcast to a much larger audience, and these lectures have been videoed by Geo Meek. Here’s an extract:
You can find more on the LSJ YouTube Channel and Blip TV. I’ve been to the lectures and found them invaluable, taught to the kind of high standard expected from the LSJ and with questions of similar standard from the audience.
I heard that the LSJ have been so pleased with the way the lectures are going that they’re moving more of their distance learning on to SL to take advantage of the high level of interactivity with students. So I caught up with Titan Thorne, who organises the LSJ’s virtual presence, to ask about their experiences and future plans:
Adele: Is it right that you’re planning to move your online lectures to SL?
Titan: We are certainly hoping to move a great deal of our lectures to the SL format, however, not everything is SL compatible.
Adele: Did you have online lectures before and did you use other methods?
Titan: We used a very simple text box format on one of our websites which students would log into. The lecturer would type out his lecture, and the students would then interact with questions.
Adele: What do you feel are the advantages of using SL for online lectures? I remember your lecturer Andrew Knight enjoying the interactivity with students.
Titan: As you can imagine, our old system was not able to provide the same interactivity that SL can. The fact that the lecturer now speaks using SL voice is far more interesting and easy to listen to. Both students and lecturers alike agree with this!
Adele: Have you been surprised by the standard of ability shown by SL users who come to the lectures – many people think they’ll just find game players there?
Titan: I think SL can fall under an ‘online game’ type category rather too easily. So when I first came to SL I was definitely surprised to see how big online education was – with various open lectures/poetry and short story readings/literary competitions etc (the list could go on forever!). A year later, though, and I can still easily find the high standard of writers that I think many of us have become used to.
Adele: Could you explain the discounts offered to SL users who register for your courses and do you know yet if SL has helped you attract international students?
Titan: We are offering a 10% discount to any SL users who sign up on one of our distance learning courses. We have certainly attracted many people to our lectures, but it is too early to tell if people are keen to sign up – we’re only on our 3rd lecture at present. Hopefully in a few months time we might see some interested faces!
Adele: Do you intend to use SL for your courses in other ways?
Titan: We hope to hold tutorial classes in SL for our current LSJ Students. This will, as mentioned previously, increase interactivity between teacher and student with both of them using SL voice.
Adele: What do you think helped the LSJ make such a successful entrance into SL and make users so aware of your presence quickly, bearing in mind that many organisations have tried and failed?
Titan: Without sounding too much like a Hollywood movie – teamwork! By this I mean we have tried to get as many people from the LSJ into SL as possible. Most of our lecturers and administrators have got SL accounts which they try to use as much as possible. With everyone on board it was easy to start transferring our students across to SL, and with that, the lectures came too. As far as the SL side is concerned, a strong list of affiliates groups helped us to quickly establish ourselves. If anyone is thinking of setting up an educational group in SL, I would recommend working alongside the pre-established groups, and not against them! Each group brings its own ‘students’ and you can help each other grow by finding other events and groups that your students will be interested in. We are currently compiling a ‘Second Life recommendation list’ for our students which will point them in the direction of other useful people and places to visit.
Adele: How do you help students make the most of SL and find sims useful and safe for them, while avoiding the types of areas criticised recently in the press?
Titan: I think the best method is to talk to as many SL educational enthusiasts as possible, and try as much out as you can! Exploration is key in the SL world, and anything I find that I think is useful, I recommend!
For further information on the LSJ visit www.lsj.org and to explore their island in SL you’ll need to register for free at http://secondlife.com and go to http://slurl.com/secondlife/LSJ%20Student%20Union/23/117/32