We developed this island in the virtual world Second Life as a teaching resource for Dr. Morgan Leigh of the University of Tasmania. The purpose of the project was to teach undergraduate students about the sociology of religion by means of role play, and the sociology of virtual worlds by means of task achievement.
Some outcomes of this project were published in this paper - Leigh, M. and Elwell, M, (2010) Authentic Theurgy: Ceremonial Magic in Second Life In: Hirashima, T., Mohd Ayub, A.F. et al. (Eds.) (2010). Workshop Proceedings of the 18th International Conference on Computers in Education. Putrajaya, Malaysia: Asia-Pacific Society for Computers in Education.
As this was a simulation which one of our team members, Dr. Leigh, was also doing the teaching and research for, she developed the teaching outcomes she wished to achieve and the research questions she wanted to test. She then provided the team exact specifications for the appropriate physical parameters for the simulation. Next she designed individual activities to achieve each learning outcome or test each research question. Once the environment has been developed Dr. Leigh taught the students how to use all the features of the simulation and then supported them throughout their learning experience. She also developed a unit outline, with appropriate readings and the assessment description.
The sociology of religion component of the teaching and research was conducted in the ritual mountain part of the island. This was part of an undergraduate sociology unit and was one possible thread which the students could choose from. All the other threads required the students to write an essay. This thread required that the students attend two extra hours of experiential learning in the virtual environment each week of the semester, keep a journal of their experiences and perform the ritual for one of the lectures in the unit. Despite this extra work load students enthusiastically choose this thread.
The machinima to the left describes the project and shows the students performing the role play. The students reported high levels of enthusiasm for, and satisfaction from, this learning activity. They created their own costumes and learned the script and practiced the role play many times to prepare for their performance. They also reported that they retained a lot of information about the material as a result of undertaking the role play.
The sociology of virtual worlds component was conducted in a steampunk themed part of the island. Several groups of thirty students were taken through this activity. Each student was assigned a previously created avatar. Each avatar had a partner avatar who was similar in appearance. The first activity the students undertook was to find their partner avatar. Each avatar's starting position in the sim was as far as possible away from its partner avatar so that the students had to explore the sim thoroughly in order to locate their partner. Although the students were all located in the same computer lab on the university campus they were only allowed to communicate inworld.
A number of other activities were provided for the students to undertake. These activities were designed to facilitate learning about immersion in virtual worlds. For example one activity, having their avatar fired out of a canon, resulted in the avatar landing in the river. The students were surprised to discover they quickly developed a high level of identification with their avatars, for example most students panicked once their avatar was under the water because they were worried about it not being able to breathe!
Another activity was rocket ship flying. This was a particularly popular activity. Students were able to access the island at any time and they would undertake the activities for recreation outside of class time, especially rocket ship flying. Pirate ship sailing was another activity that the students really enjoyed. We also designed a giant croquet game. This included a ball vendor and score board which enabled students to either compete for the best individual time around the course or play in team mode.
An area was created which instructed the students on how to build objects in Second Life. They were led through the creation on simple objects with inworld instructions. Some students really took to the building activity and built good quality objects, though they were in the minority.
A treasure hunt was included in the simulation and this encouraged the students to fully explore the environment and experience many other activities along the way.
The library in the house contained many books which the students were able to take and read the full text of. Various relevant reference and academic works were included as well as many public domain works of literature. However many students reported they they enjoyed the natural environment of the simulation and spent a lot of time exploring. One interactive experience resulted in a giant safe being dropped on students when they walked over an X marked on the ground. This was quite complex to build as it included objects inside other objects.
We created an accurate working model, slightly steampunkified, of a grasshopper beam steam engine. This engine was more complex and interactive than any other machine we had encountered in Second Life. The machine was interactive and had several controls that could be operated to effect the functioning of the engine. The engine can be seen in the back left of the image to the left.