Online course discussion through Second Life

posted 4 Sep 2011, 02:49 by Jason Zagami   [ updated 4 Sep 2011, 03:01 ]
Monday, 4 May 2009

Online course discussion through Second Life

Zagami, J. (2009, May). Online course discussion through Second Life. Paper presented at the EDUCAUSE Australasian Conference, Perth, Australia. Retrieved from

Zagami, J. (2009). Online course discussion through Second Life [Presentation slides]. Retrieved from

Zagami, J. (Speaker). (2009, May 4). Online course discussion through Second Life [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from

The Griffith University Virtual Learning Environment was created using the Second Life application in 2007. Now in its third year of development and implementation, the effectiveness of the Second Life environment to support postgraduate online course discussions is compared to the online text chat tool available to the Blackboard Learning Management System. 

In a study involving two postgraduate courses, each of 14 students, the group using the Second Life environment was found to more effectively support small group online text based discussions through three effects generated by the use of avatars to represent physical presence within the environment.

Firstly, participants could automatically telegraph their intention to contribute to discussions through animated typing simulated by their avatar while preparing a contribution. This provided pauses in discussions as participants waited for contributors to present their textual contribution before conversations progressed. This process was not evident in traditional text based chat systems where participant contributions would frequently be included after the discussion had moved on and this limitation was found to be an inhibiting factor to the participation of slower contributors. 

Secondly, participants were strongly encouraged by the second life environment not to multitask during discussions. When the second life environment was not the focus of their activity or they left their computer inactive for any significant time, their avatar would animate as asleep. This indicated to all participants that the owner was absenting him or herself from the conversation and provided strong social pressure to remain active or at least attentive to conversations.

Finally, the Second Life environment encouraged ancillary conversations between participants to a greater extent than the Blackboard chat system. The Second Life environment enabled participant avatars the ability to cluster and physically move apart from the main group to conduct private or smaller group discussions. The physical separation of avatars within the environment, beyond the distance they send and receive typed messages, provided an effective sense of privacy while retaining the perception of remaining part of a larger group through the retained ability to observe clusters of avatars without receiving or contributing to their conversations.

Second Life presents an innovative online course discussion environment but as an emerging technology is subject to significant technical disruption and system requirements. However, the Second Life environment was found to support intuitive processes afforded by the Second Life environment that could not be replicated in a purely text based system. 

Online course discussion through Second Life