Friday, November 21, 2008

Second Life and its Educational Applications

Final short assignment for a fascinating course. Enjoy. I'd love some feedback.

ED 6610
Assignment #4

Donna Millard

Second Life and its Educational Application

Second Life has been touted as the second coming for educational and learning design. It is claimed that it will solve all of our problems with offering valid learning experiences in an online environment. However, is this valid or not? What is the proof that it does succeed? Let’s take a look at this new exciting tool.

Second Life has been described as a virtual world that emulates as close as possible the real world or as being completely different to the real world as possible. While games are played in Second Life, the product itself is not strictly a game. “Second Life is often described as a 3-D version of the Web because it adds a rich visual aspect Internet activities such as socializing, fact finding, and doing business.” (Oishi, 2007) As one of the social software tools being offered in the Web 2.0 package, Second Life is unique in that it offers communication, collaboration, and creativity. It offers all this in a uniquely virtual, “live” world offered by the Linden Labs, a San Francisco based company. (Atkinson, 16) Specific to the educational field, Second Life offers a program called Campus: Second Life which allows post-secondary level instructors a chance to see how they can incorporate this new tool in their courses. (Childress, 2006) As Second Life is a virtual world tool, it’s best to take a look at it. Ohio State University offers a short YouTube video on their Second Life campus (

Before jumping on the Second Life band wagon, a close look at what is needed in an online learning tool and the various theories linked to these tools need to be investigated. There has been a definite shift in learning and education since the development of both the Internet and social software tools. The shift is from a passive receiving style of learning to a much more active participation in educational pursuits. (Forman, 76) Linked with this shift is the change in pedagogical practices and theories. Online tools allowed for this more active learning but a change was also needed to link the educational purpose to the technology. Without this connection, the activities by themselves would not be supported in the long term. E-learning was therefore created to link the practice to the theory. (Bang, 2006; Kesim, 2007de Freitas, 2008)) To make the most of these new online tools and link it to current educational theories, three aspects of active participation were deemed essential. The tool must be interactive, collaborative and creative. It must also appeal to all of the senses used in learning—touch, sound, visual. Students learn and capture information at many different levels in the digital age. (Metros, 2008) Linked specifically to the social constructivist theory in education, social software tools like Second Life allow for the student to build on their current knowledge, and with the acquisition of new knowledge found through the tool, develop even more knowledge. (Dalsgaard, 2006) They are literally constructing new knowledge in a social process by interacting with others. Merriam explains: “All forms of constructivism understand learning to be an active rather than a passive endeavor. Consequently, learning occurs through dialogue, collaborative learning, and cooperative learning.” (Merriam, 292)

Does Second Life support the criteria set out with the constructivist theory? Does it provide what is needed for a true learning experience? How does Second Life support interactivity, collaboration and creativity? Second Life, just by being a virtual world, supports interactivity in a whole new level. By recreating yourself in the form of an avatar (a virtual representation of yourself), you travel through the Second Life worlds, communicating directly with individuals both in real time as well as through emails if the individual is not logged on. Not only is the communication in typed messages, Linden Labs introduced in May 2007, a voice interface. ( So avatars can now talk to one another. Interactivity is definitely a positive feature of Second Life. Along with interactivity is collaboration. Is this feasible in Second Life? Because avatars can literally work on projects together, if given appropriate access, the ability to collaborate is as available as it is in a classroom if not more so. Group work in Second Life would allow any student the ability to participate regardless of their location or even their personality style. Many shyer students would participate if they don their Second Life persona. They would probably not do so in a real life classroom setting. The further ability of Second Life to replicate real or imaginary worlds allows this collaboration/participation to actually present real life situations in a safe environment such as operating room simulations or laboratory experiments. (Dev, 2007) Lastly the aspect of creativity in Second Life needs to be supported. Since this is a totally virtual world, creativity is literally only confined by the individual’s imagination and their computer skills. Entire museums and works of art have been created in Second Life—both replications of old Masters and brand new pieces have art have been created in this virtual world. Clothing designers, architects and musicians have all created unique items in the Second Life world. Being creative in this venue is definitely available. Hargis notes the following examples:

➢ “New York University students take a ride on a magic carpet as they build the polygon rendition of the Washington Square arch.
➢ Pepperdine University graduate students convene on sandy Malibu Island, sometimes in a tree house, or in a coffee shop. “ (Hargis, 2008)

So with all of the positive features of Second Life, why isn’t every educational institution jumping on board? Are there problems with this new social software tool? As with any new technology, the learning curve is quite significant in Second Life. Not only do you create your own character, the orientation in Second Life teaches you to walk, talk and fly. All of this takes significant time investment to learn. Time is often something an instructor doesn’t have a lot of. Academic administration must invest in instructor time to learn the new technology. This in turn translates in money; something very few institutions have in abundance. (Hannah, 1998) Lastly, the student needs to learn this new tool. This is potentially difficult especially for adult students—the majority of students enrolled in distance education programs. (Kim, 2008) However, students and instructors can and have learned how to use this new online tool. Given the right support and time to learn and develop, Second Life could truly be the second coming of learning online.


Atkinson, T. (2008). Second Life for educators: inside Linden Lab. TechTrends, 52(3), 16-18.

Bang, J. & C. Dalsgaard. (2006). Rethinking e-learning: shifting the focus to learning activities. In E.K. Sorensen & D. Murchu, eds. Enhancing Learning Through Technology. 184-202. Hershey, PA: Idea Group Inc.

Childress, M.D. & R. Braswell. (2006). Using massively multiplayer online role-playing games for online learning, Distance Education, 27(2), 187-196. DOI: 10.1080/01587910600789522

Dalsgaard, C. (2006). Social software: e-learning beyond learning management systems. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning.

De Freitas, S. & M Griffiths. (2008). The convergence of gaming practices with other media forms: what potential for learning? A review of the literature. Learning, Media and Technology, 33(1), 11-20. DOI: 10.1080/17439880701868796

Dev, P., P. Youngblood,&W. Heinrichs & L. Kusumoto. (2007). Virtual worlds and team training, Anesthesiology Clinics, 25(2), 321-336. DOI: 10.1016/j.anclin.2007.03.001

Forman, D., L. Nyatanga & T. Rich. (2002). E-learning and educational diversity, Nurse Education Today, 22, 76-82. DOI: 10.1054/nedt.2001.0740

Hannah, R. (1998). Merging the intellectual and technical infrastructures in higher education: the Internet example. The Internet and Higher Education, 1(1), 7-20.

Hargis, J. (2008). A Second Life for distance learning. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 9(2).

Kesim, E. & E. Agaoglu. (2007). A paradigm shift in distance education: Web 2.0 and social software. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 3(3), 66-75.

Kim, Y. (2008). Reviewing and critiquing computer learning and usage among older adults. Educational Gerontology, 34(8), 709-735. DOI: 10.1080/03601270802000576

Linden Research, Inc. (8 August 2008). Second Life Wiki: Voice. Retrieved November 20, 2008 from

Merriam, S.B., R. Caffarella & L. Baumgartner. (2007). Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

Metros, S.E. (2008). The educator’s role in preparing visually literate learners. Theory into Practice, 47, 102-109. DOI: 10.1080/00405840801992264

Ohio State University Second Life Campus. (15 February 2007). Retrieved November 20, 2008 from

Oishi, L. (2007). Surfing second life: what does Second Life have to do with real-life learning? Technology & Learning, 54(1).

Friday, October 17, 2008

Gaming as a Learning Tool

Donna Millard

Games have been used as a learning tool forever, but the context of gaming—playing video games or similar devices—as a learning tool is fairly new to this field. Several theories in last few years have cropped up in the literature surrounding gaming as a learning device. According to McDougall (2007, 122) gaming is at a “theoretical crossroad.”

Situated learning theory proposed by Lave and Wenger link gaming with learning due to its social community aspect and the potential to learn. Especially in the context of MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online games), the individual learns from the community of gamers and then applies what is learned in their real life to develop as an individual. Games such as World of Warcraft and Lineage develop such communities. (Delwiche, 2006) Becker (2007, 481) supports this as well by stating:

“…even very young learners are capable of managing staggering degrees of complexity, failure really is an option and does not necessarily mitigate against learning, and that game players value exploration and collaboration in games as well as competition and winning.”

Steinkuehler furthers this theory by supporting what she terms “Learning Sciences” which includes activity theory, discourse theory, distributed cognition, situated learning and more. Learning Sciences focuses on the concept of cognition as “interaction in the social and material world”. (Steinkuehler, 2004, 522) Gamers develop a community of practice which aids the individual to develop not only their minds but also their sense of community, culture, and body. Games have been found to improve not only visual and spatial skills but also problem solving skills. (Schmidt, 2008)

Becker (2007) goes on to comment that games provide that safe environment to offer a constructivist approach using inquiry based learning skills. Students are learning better being involved in the process and not being passive recipients to the knowledge. Gaming is just one tool that can be used by a teacher to find a common ground that both the student and teacher are comfortable working within. Delwiche (2006) further supports the linkage between student and teacher as gaming provides an opportunity for high engagement that will help the student learn more; if they are motivated by what the teacher can provide, they will learn and apply what they learn in other situations.

As with all learning tools, however, the development needs to link back to the pedagogical philosophy . What is the actual lesson being taught to the student? Are they learning what they’re supposed to be learning? “Designing learning environments is not merely a matter of getting the curricular material right but is crucially also a matter of getting the situated, emergent community structures and practices “right.” (Steinkuehler, 2004, 527) The balance has to be made to get the appropriate learning experience.


Becker, K. (2007). Digital game-based learning once removed: teachingteachers. British Journal of Educational Technology, 38(3), 478-488. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2007.00711.x

Delwiche, A. Massively multiplyer online games (MMOs) in the new mediaclassroom. Educational Technology & Society, 9(3), 160-172.

McDougall, J. (2007). What do we learn in Smethwick Village? Computer games, media learning and discursive confusion. Learning,Media and Technology, 32(2), 121-133, doi: 10.1080/17439880701343071

Schmidt, M.E. & Vandewater, E.A. (2008). Media and attention,cognition, and school achievement. The Future of Children, 18(1),63-85.

Steinkuehler, C.A. (2004) Learning in massively multiplayer online games. InKafai, Y. B., Sandoval, W. A., Enyedy, N., Nixon, A. S. & Herrera, F. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 6th International Conference of the Learning Sciences, Mahwah, NJ, USA: Erlbaum, 521-528.

Podcasts as Learning Tools

Donna Millard

In educational settings, podcasts have been used to deliver various forms of learning. Bull (2005) notes the use of podcasts of radio broadcasts such as a gardening show which can be utilized in an informal learning situation. They’re also used to deliver course content such as lectures or follow up notes. (Lee, 2008, 503) This method of using podcasts is in direct relation to the cognitive learning theory such as Knowles which supports the acquisition of knowledge for one self and one’s own development. (Merriam, 286) It merely provides another option to learn information that would have been traditionally presented in class as many students have different learning styles. (Langhorst, 77)

The flexibility of the podcast, however, is one of its great strengths. Evans (492) notes that a learner can choose when, where and how they study. By choosing when to learn, the experience itself should produce better results. This method of "just in time learning" should also provide a student with a less stressful way of listening to bits of information they need to digest. (Evans, 492) Lee (2007) further backs this up with his statement on m-learning (ie. mobile learning) and its link to distance education. “m-Learning is a natural match for distance education, since it has the potential to fit in with the unique work-style requirements of the mobile workforce…” (Lee, 2007, 202) Podcasting fulfills a need to our current lifestyle for the vast majority of students.

While this optional way of learning may be of use to some individuals, it is not very creative or interactive. Lee (2008) points out that use of podcasts in learning a new language provides an "authentic learning opportunity". Hearing natives speaking their natural language is vastly preferred to being taught in a classroom by a non-native. (Lee, 2008, 504) Campbell (42) further supports Lee's idea but stressing that listening to a poem being read properly can invoke so much more learning than just silently reading it yourself. Both of these examples use the podcast more creatively but the ultimate learning experience with this social software has to be the actual creation of a podcast. The link between the learning by creation and the social cognition theory are clearly made here. (Merriam, 291) By joining together to create a podcast, students learn from one another and create a better product in the end. As Lee (2008) notes:

“…students engaged in idea generation, collective problem solving and reciprocal dialogue, as well as in the exchanged and revision of ideas. There was in-depth engagement in collaboratively developing the podcasts for a peer audience, resulting in the production of knowledge-creation discourse.” (513)

So while podcasts can be quite static in their uses as a learning device, there are some exciting prospects to apply social cognition theory and expand the use of this ubiquitous device.


Bull, G. (2005). Podcasting and the long tail. Learning and Leading with Technology, 33(3), 24-25.

Campbell, G. (2005). There’s something in the air: podcasting in education. Educause Review, 40(6), 33-46.

Evans, C. (2008). The effectiveness of m-learning in the form of podcast revision lectures in higher education. Computers & Education, 50, 491-498. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2007.09.016

Langhorst, E. (2007). After the bell, beyond. Educational Leadership, 64(8), pp. 74-77.

Lee, M.J.W. & Chan, A. (2007). Pervasive, lifestyle-integrated mobile learning for distance learners: an analysis and unexpected results from a podcasting study. Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 22(3), 201-218. doi: 10.1080/02680510701619810

Lee, M.J.W., McLoughlin, C. & Chan, A. (2008). Talk the talk: learner-generated podcasts as catalysts -for knowledge creation. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(3), 501-521. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2007.00746.x

McLoughlin, C. & Lee, M.J.W. (2007) Social software and participatory learning: pedagogical choices with technology affordances in the Web 2.0 era. Proceedings ascilite Singapore 2007.

Merriam, S.B., Caffarella, R.S. & Baumgartner, L.M. (2007). Learning in Adulthood: a comprehensive guide. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Wiley.

Wiki as Learning Tools

Donna Millard

Wikis are fast, easy to learn to use and provide an excellent collaborative learning device regardless of what learning group you are in--student to student, teacher to student or even teacher to teacher. (Waters, 2007; Bold, 2006; McGee, 2007) Similar to what the research found with podcasts, wikis also support a collaborative environment that support social cognition theories of learning--the group discovers more in this socially interactive environment. (Merriam, 289) However, wikis can even go further to support social constructivist theory which believes that "knowledge is constructed when individuals engage socially in talk and activity about shared problems and tasks." (Merriam, 291) So, the group actually learns, not just discovers, more in the use of wikis as a social learning tool which is not quite talking but still communicating.

Bold (2006) found that in their study, graduate students took more responsibility in the content that they provided to the group. While it was noted that the grad students didn't find it as good as face to face conversations, using the wiki did provide them with a satisfactory alternative especially in a distance education setting. (Bold, 2006) Waters' (2007) research on teachers' uses of wikis to create curriculum documents found that the creators felt they would actually use the final products as they had some say in developing them. This whole sense of responsibility returns to a social constructivist theory in that they develop something new through some form of dialogue and collective learning.

As seen with podcast research, wikis offer another alternate to individuals with different learning styles. Ferris and Wilder (2006) note that students also learn how information should and should not be organized for the best results and to work together to develop this skill set.

“… like oral-based instruction, networked computer media can also provide a way for students to learn material collaboratively and take ownership of the material they are learning in a manner similar to a Socratic in-class discussion.” (Ferris, 2006)

They learn not only from the information but from the structure created in the wiki environment. Shareski and Winkler (2005/2006) use these ideas about structure and information and apply it to an exercise about how to evaluate sources found on Wikipedia--the ultimate wiki source. The use of social software as a learning tool in not only creation but evaluation and dissemination is the ultimate purpose of a tool like a wiki. It is truly multi-faceted.

McGee and Diaz, however, caution about the appropriate match with a course and a particular social software tool like a wiki. (McGee, 32) The course content and use of appropriate technology needs to be based on a rational decision applying the basic constructs of learning--comprehension, analysis and evaluation. (McGee, 38) Only after these are applied should the most appropriate tool be utilized for specific tasks. Wikis are not always the best choice in the social software tool kit.


Bold, M. (2006). Use of wikis in graduate course work. Journal of interactive learning research, 17(1), 5-14.

Ferris, S.P. & Wilder, H. (2006) Uses and potentials of wikis in the classroom. Innovate, 2(5).

McGee, P. & Diaz, V. (2007). Wikis and Podcasts and Blogs! Oh My! What is a faculty member supposed to do? Educause Review, 42(5), 28-40.

Merriam, S.B., Caffarella, R.S. & Baumgartner, L.M. (2007). Learning in Adulthood: a comprehensive guide. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Wiley.

Shareski, D. & Winkler, C.A.K. (2005/2006). Are wikis worth the time? Learning and leading with technology, 33(4), 6-7.

Waters, J.K. (2007). Curriculum unbound! Technological Horizons inEducation, 34(3).

Blogs as Learning Tools

Doing something a little different today. As part of my MEd course on computers in the curriculum, we have been asked to post our assignments on our blogs. Enjoy the new information!

Donna Millard

Blogs are a piece of social software used mainly for communication. Bloggers, those using blogs, can express their own thoughts, reply to responses received on those responses and possibly develop new ideas from this dialogue. In education, these expressions can either be of a personal nature or directly related to a course all depending on the use of the blog. In fact, one of the problems with blogs is too much communication and information. There are millions of blogs available to be read on the web with some of the information being valuable and other not. Even with this problem, however, bloggers can gain insight from one another's postings and build a dialogue to further the development of knowledge. (Wang, 2008) Wang even develops this idea further by suggesting that "blogs guide learners to develop a deep understanding of and to take more responsibility for their own knowledge." (Wang, 2008, 265)

The whole communication and discussion processes inherent in a blog link it closely to the social constructivist view that "knowledge is constructed when individuals engage socially in talk and activity about shared problems or tasks." (Merriam, 291) Williams and Jacobs (2004) directly link the use of blogging as the best tool for support of Vygotski's social constructivist theory in that it is both immediate and commentary based. Use of a blog to help develop literacy skills in a foreign language has been studied and findings show that the tool is successful because students feel comfortable when making mistakes, provide feedback to their peers and tend to be more willing to participate than they would have in a traditional classroom setting. (Ducate, 2008) Again research finds that to learn, students need to feel comfortable to reflect and comment on their own and others' work. (Xie, 2008) Blogs provide this level of comfort. One case illustrated by Xie (2008) was the use of a blog as a journal for either student's coursework or field of study. The journaling activity acted as a reflective device which in turn strengthened their learning experience. In this case, the supporting theory is not so much of a social activity. It is using blogging in relation to Mezirow's transformative learning theory. The individual is transforming from their own reflection of their own work.

Blogs fit into the educational scheme of social software in a couple different ways. As seen above, it can be used for an individual's reflection or a communication tool for a broader community. What is missing in a blog tool is the collaborative side of social software. Communication is asynchronous and therefore not potentially timely. The inability to work on each other's work is another shortfall of a blog. Blogs are just one potential tool in a teacher's social software toolkit. Since it's so easy to set up and use a blog, perhaps it's a good starting point for new bloggers.


Ducate, L.C., & Lomicka, L.L. (2008). Adventures in the blogosphere: from blog reader to blog writers. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 21(1), 9-28. doi: 10.1080/09588220701865474

McGee, P. & Diaz, V. (2007). Wikis and Podcasts and Blogs! Oh My! What is a faculty member supposed to do? Educause Review, 42(5), 28-40.

Merriam, S.B., Caffarella, R.S. & Baumgartner, L.M. (2007). Learning in Adulthood: a comprehensive guide. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Wiley.

Wang, K.T, Huang, Y-M., Jeng, Y-L. & Wang, T-I. (2008). A blog-based dynamic learning map. Computers & Education, 51, 262-278. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2007.06.005

Williams, J.B. & Jacobs, J. (2004). Exploring the use of blogs as learning spaces in the higher education sector. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 20(2), 232-247.

Xie, Y, Ke, F. & Sharma, P. (2008). The effect of peer feedback for blogging on college students' reflective learning processes. Internet and Higher Education, 11. 18-25. doi: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2007.11.001


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Interesting News Item from Ryerson

In my liaison role for both part time and continuing education students, I found this article very interesting.

Privacy creates "digital divide" between young and old: New research from Ryerson University shows that privacy in relation to online social networks forms a "digital divide" between youth and an older generation of managers and executives. Young people have concern for their privacy when using sites like Facebook and MySpace, and are more willing to share information with friends than with family and managers at work. Meanwhile, organizations believe that anything posted on the web is public and does not warrant protection.

Full story at:

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Moving on...

While still at McMaster, I'm changing gears on September 1, 2008. I'm the new Strategic Priorities Librarian reporting to the Organizational Analysis, Planning and Accountability AUL. Not sure what this all entails right now but hope to keep you up on the news.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

My Trip to Florida in December 2007

Yes, I know it's a little late but here's what I presented at the ILL Florida State Conference in Orlando.

2007 Florida Resource Sharing Conference
Orlando, Florida
December 13-14, 2007

Beyond Collaboration! Complete Amalgamation of Circulation, Reserves and Interlibrary Loans
The Northern Perspective

Presenter: Donna Millard, Director, Library Services, Social Sciences and Humanities, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario

Under a new regime beginning in July 2006, McMaster University Library has reorganized to the point of non-recognition. Included in these reorganizations, has been the amalgamation of the Mills Memorial Library (Social Sciences & Humanities) areas of Circulation, Reserve and Interlibrary Loans. We’ve been downsized through retirements, rebuilt into a new office area, retrained so that everyone can do almost anyone else’s work duties, and re-serviced to provide more effective service points for our patrons. Work flows have been looked at through fresh eyes and been altered to be much more effective and efficient. Collaboration was in full swing and still is throughout the project but I also have to use words like confusion, coercion and confrontation to describe our journey. Was the amalgamation a success? Yes! Is it still ongoing? Definitely! If you’d like to hear the story of our journey, what worked and what didn’t and our plans to move forward, please come join me.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries winners announced

Great news! Cool changes that Jeff has helped us with and with a great amount of work from our staff, we've won a very prestigious ACRL award. Check it out:

Monday, December 03, 2007

Our Information and Circulation Desk areas

Just in case you wanted to know what the Mills Library Circ desk looks like.

Heading to Florida next week!

I'm going to be presenting at the 2007 Florida Resource Sharing Conference in Orlando! Lots of good information being talked about and it's a good chance to see how the other half lives with ILL issues. Program details at: