Did use of Second Life lead to deeper learning?
It is difficult to read the student reflective journal entries without being overwhelmed by the positive aspects of immersion in Georgian London on the learning experience of these students. Over and over again the students give insight into the deeper level of research and learning. As one student wrote:
the overriding objective of being as authentic as possible...translated to an assimilation of those feelings in the first world and enabled me to better engage with my research. For example, I became completely lost in the House of Commons Parliamentary Reports and The Times newspaper articles that centred on the Regency Crisis and, it felt, as though you were a gentleman at Brook’s reading the daily paper.
Others who set out to construct their site within Georgian London as required “...my intention was to create an area that shows the importance of the London Foundling Hospital, much like an exhibition” found that with “the tools of Second Life I was able to give links, documents etc...which is something a written project cannot boast.”
The construction of an authentic space in the Georgian London complex also made “conducting research more interesting as it makes you think about how you will present it rather than just summarising it all in and essay later.” Many students commented on how much more research they conducted and that they “learnt more with this assignment than I normally would with an essay, and I had to do a lot more incidental research; what does an apothecary look life? What are the jars made out of?”
The depth of research required to make an authentic Georgian space not only resulted in deeper learning but also in a more realistic learning experience. As one student commented:
What Second Life really did for me was to force me to research topics I wasn’t planning on. I was going to just research the costumes in the theatre before entering my space. When I ... discovered how much room I had... I was able to extend my project to include all design aspects and backstage life. Because of this I ended up spending hours in the library researching design and theatre in Georgian London and I found myself absolutely enthralled with what I was reading.
The increased quality and quantity of research for the construction of the Second Life™ project is perhaps best articulated by the student who wrote:
To live history...By having this world...my excitement for Georgian History went through the roof! ...I couldn’t stop reading journals and plays to see what props may have been used back then or what critics wrote about David Garrick’s adaptations of Shakespeare’s works. Being able to actually have a hand in re-creating a small element of this historical landscape was thrilling and instead of seeing study as a chore it became a pleasure, something I looked forward to doing when I got home.
Having constructed their project on Second Life™ students also found that the final assessment, which consisted of a traditional history essay, “enabled me to better understand the research I had done for my research project and my research essay.” Another student commented that “Not only did Second Life make my project come alive, it was a great way of getting my mind around all the relevant issues...I think it meant that I wrote an essay of a higher standard.” Through immersion in a Georgian London Second Life™ students discovered that “that history can be interactive, and ... Research can be applied outside the essay context.”
The very visual nature of this medium for learning also motivated students because as one student explains:
it felt, in a way, like I was really in Georgian London, in my period clothing, buying period furniture, and surrounded by a computerised version of the Strand. The Strand certainly enriched my understanding of the Georgian period as it almost brought things to life, and I feel as though I can understand a period much better when I can visualise it, or in this case, walk around it.
These students were immersed, transported to the historical time and place - “Never before had I been given the chance to view a historical location. Furthermore, the visual element helps create the world within our minds and ultimately gives us a greater depth of understanding and knowledge about the environment we are studying...We are able to be and walk in the shoes of John Wilkes, a King, Governess or anyone we choose. We have the opportunity to see their world through their eyes."
Being able to view and immerse themselves in each others projects meant that students learnt from each other in a way that would not happen in a traditionally assessed course. “...what did increase my learning in Second Life was the freedom of being able to look at other people’s projects. I learned so many new things about Georgian London, and it was definitely more interesting...” The ability to be able to include links to documents, other resources and to hand out note cards to visited also enhanced this learning from each other experience. “I enjoyed walking through spaces defined by other students and looking at note cards I received, and I learnt from my fellow students through this.”
The increased depth of understanding was also indicated by students who commented on the apparent similarities of the changing environment and growing technologies of the Georgian period and today “the use of Second Life and ancillary technologies are reflective of a period of change in today as much as technology and the growth of science and thought in the industrialisation of the eighteenth-century was important then.”
For those students who were completing the course as an elective this deeper learning extended to their major areas of study so that for example an engineering student could use an actual engineer’s diary of the original Georgian construction as the basis for his own project. Although this diary was, as he says, “incredibly dry at times” it was “amazingly interesting and opened my eyes to the thought processes of eighteenth century engineers.”