We had our tutorial this week within Second Life (SL) a multi-user virtual environment (MUVE). Prior to the tutorial, we had an orientation session and undertook some key readings by Warburton (2009) and Dawley and Deede (2014).
Warburton’s exploration of the ‘profoundly immersive experience’ of SL and his assertion that one has ‘a feeling of being there and a strong sense of co-presence when other avatars are present’ (p.419) echoed my experience within the orientation session. I felt like I was an extension of myself (p.417) and experienced a stronger sense of being ‘with’ my peers and my tutors than I have in previous weeks via the other media we have explored. As Warburton notes, co-presence is a central tenet in Garrison and Anderson’s definition of successful learning transactions within a community of inquiry. The tutor ‘Frank’ asked us at one point during the orientation session to follow him to one of the tutorial spaces; the sense of following him and walking next to my colleagues enhanced and extended my sense of shared presence.
The tutorial session started in the same way as the orientation session: we gathered near the fountain and there was time for trouble-shooting questions and casual discussion. Dolly Mix taught ‘me’ how to dance and I chatted one-to-one with Sarah Roguish about the readings.
We then moved to the tutorial space and, sitting around the camp-fire, we began to discuss the readings.
Superficially, this IM chat discussion could be argued to have offered the ‘same’ experience as the chat in Skype however it did feel different; the mood and tone was more relaxed. This might be because we all ‘know’ each other a little better now or maybe it was because of the SL environment and the more ‘natural’ modes of interactions; as Warburton notes, ‘avatars behaved very much like their real-world counterparts’ (p.419).
The playfulness of the media, the ability to add visual gags – such as Dolly Mix eating her popcorn throughout the tutorial – all helped to make this environment one which was less formal and more absorbing; I was focused and present throughout.
As Warburton outlines, some of the many affordances of SL include ‘extended and rich interactions’, ‘immersion’ and ‘community presence’. My experience of what Dawley and Dede term ‘situated embodiment’ (p.728) meant that I felt psychologically present within the discussion and within the space.