Why research is necessary into the educational value of Second Life

October 17, 2006 at 4:52 pm (Uncategorized)

Webheads have been writing in the list recenly about the importance of research on the educational benefits of second life; for example,

Sophie Hugo: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/evonline2002_webheads/message/13554

which prompted responses suggesting that research was not going to get  at issues such as intuitive introspection and motivation, prompting me in turn to write:

Quantitative reasearch is only a part of the picture. There is qualitative research,  which in research terms would be measuring motivation through some qualitative protocol (i.e. the anecdotal evidence mentioned).   Research is clearly needed when people are forced to say things like, I don’t know what was happening exactly but I know it was powerful and potentially educational. How do you then articulate your position, as Carla needs to do in Brazilia, to collegues who have no clue? If you can’t speak from some sort of factual base, describe through someone having researched it what its processes and benefits are in terms that others can understand, how do we proceed (since we can’t get everyone there to see for themselves).

Failing to do that in fact has its downsides, as with the pending DOPA legislation, where the US govt has stepped in to legislate constraints on use of social networking sites (you want to use SL? sorry, against the law) in a sector, education, where is has no expertise relative to us educators who know better. Yet WHAT we know is difficult to communicate without there being some kind of research base. Anecdotal as it may be, it at least has to be formalized enough to where our advocates can articulate it.

Selber (2004) presents a framework in which he argues in favor of an awareness of multiliteracies on three distinct fronts: functional, critical, and rhetorical. In his book he suggests ways that these awarenesses can and should be incorporated in what educators teach their students, and each other.

For example, children these days are becoming so functionally literate that even elementary students can easily navigate social networking sites such as MySpace. This has challenged schools to take steps to regulate the use of MySpace, raising many issues of critical literacy such as how to appropriately consider ownership and privacy on the Internet (i.e. use of photos, exposure to pedophiles). Many schools avoid the issue by blocking MySpace, and the U.S. congress is on the verge of passing DOPA, the Deleting Online Predator’s Act [Wikipedia is a consistently reliable source for encapsulations of up-to-the-minute current events and terms: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deleting_Online_Predators_Act_of_2006]. 

This brings up a rhetorical literacy issue: how to counter knee-jerk stances (which tend to prevail where litigation is a threat)? How can educators articulate the reasons why children should be taught to use MySpace appropriately, or why we should consider more than just the salient aspects of regulating student use of such sites via draconian measures like DOPA? The task of arguing cogently enough to counter conservative political expediencies by reaching policy-makers who don’t truly understand these issues in the first place requires vocabulary and expressions of concepts that must first be grasped and then explained.

For those not already familiar with the DOPA legislation, some excellent discussions of it have been held on the Worldbridges Network, in EdTechTalk, at:

http://edtechtalk.com/EdTechTalk58 and http://edtechtalk.com/EdTechTalk58_part2



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