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 distance learning programme, we use Second Life to provide postgraduate learners―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. In this presentation I will introduce 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. I will provide 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.
In reflecting on, and evaluating my experience as a facilitator of several modules in this programme, I draw on evidence from: students’ interviews, chatlogs, inworld snapshots, machinima of tutorials, and my own notes and records. I conclude by identifying key lessons learned and the value of virtual worlds as environments that can bring our distance learners close to home.