Distance learning programmes are becoming increasingly popular in higher education. Overcoming feelings of isolation that may occur due to the little support available, the few possibilities of social interaction and the inexistent campus atmosphere in online courses, have become one of the major goals of designers and instructors of DL programmes. This paper provides an example of how we can create and use virtual learning spaces that not only match the face-to-face learning experience, but also enhance it. Innovation@UWE Island in Second Life, home of the MA Education in Virtual Worlds, is an example of pedagogical innovation that capitalizes on what virtual worlds have to offer to social aspects of teaching and learning. In this programme we use a three-dimensional virtual space to provide postgraduate students –physically located in diverse geographical areas of the world- with a sense of community and connectedness that matches the sense of belonging that often accompanies the on-campus learning experience. The paper introduces the rationale behind the choice architecture of the learning environment as well as the instructional design of the programme to enhance co-presence and place presence, to build a true community of practice, and to foster collaboration for reflective learning. The paper also provides examples of students engaging in an environment where traditional conceptions of both ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’ do not apply, where the four-walled classroom is not the only setting where learning happens, where everyone in the group can potentially be an instructor or a peer, an expert or a novice, and learn from each other in a meaningful way.
Gil Ortega, M. C., & Falconer, L. (2014). Learning spaces in virtual worlds: Bringing our distance students home. In P. Blessinger, J. Anchan, & B. Cozza (Eds.), Proceedings of 2nd International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Conference: Innovative Learning Scapes, E-scapes, Playscapes and More, 57. HETL