Discovering whether virtual environments play an effective role in the way that humans learn is the focus of a research project based at a UK university in partnership with two academies in Japan.
Four senior academics in the UK and Japan are looking into how virtual environments such as Second Life can contribute to high quality teaching and learning.
Stewart Martin, a principal lecturer and head of education, and Professor Paul van Schaik - both from Teesside University’s School of Social Sciences & Law - secured British Council funding along with Michael Vallance of Future University and Charles Wiz from Yokohama National University, both in Japan, for the research work.
As part of the continuing research, Charles Wiz was joined on a recent visit to Teesside University by Japanese students Yumi Kato, Nao Kubo, Ryosuke Ichikawa and Eric Choi.
These students worked alongside four Teesside postgraduate students on an activity designed to show how they devised strategies and solutions to problems. Later, this information was used by the research team to establish measures of effective learning.
“We are studying the use of immersive virtual worlds and whether they make good learning environments,” said Stewart Martin, from Teesside University’s School of Social Sciences & Law, who this year was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship for the quality of his teaching.
“Highly structured activities are set up to examine physically separated groups of students communicating through Second Life and to measure their learning experience, but focusing on the approaches they develop and how they use these to solve problems through various learning strategies based on intuition, logic and processes of elimination,” he added.
During the activity, one group had the task of communicating details electronically to the second group on how to program a robot.
The second group, based in a separate location, then had to maneuver the robot around a complicated maze that the first group had built. Second Life was used by both groups to communicate, learn and teach.
Stewart Martin added: “The group acting as the teachers had to help the other group without telling them the correct solution. Both groups had all their communication recorded and also kept diaries about how they were progressing with each of their tasks.
“The aim of the activity was to study the strategies the students created to teach each other and to find solutions to problems, and to establish how we can measure effective learning.
“It is helping us to learn a lot about how people teach others and also how they learn using these kinds of technology. We compare how successful a person thinks they are at completing tasks with how much skill they think they have gained at doing this. We also measure how long it takes students to work out what they want to do, whether they make any mistakes and how they manage to solve problems,” said Martin.
He added: “We are especially interested in how people collaborate so that we can develop methods to evaluate learning in Second Life. This kind of research is of great interest to teachers and also to those working in engineering, robotics and science education.”
Teesside is an innovative university dedicated to pursuing excellence and enabling individuals and organizations to achieve their potential through high quality learning, research and knowledge transfer. It is one of the top 10 modern universities for graduate prospects with more than 75 years of innovation in education. It is one of the top UK universities for widening participation in higher education.
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