Educators and Second Life: local research

Between August 2009 and February this year, Holmesglen’s Kenneth Rankin (SL: Ken001 Silverfall) undertook some research in Second Life as part of his Master of Education studies at the University of Southern Queensland.

It’s a fascinating snapshot on the state of play in regards to educators and Second Life, and includes some substantive recommendations for the future that may generate some debate. More on that later, but first the data:

Research context

After reading some of the results, I took the opportunity of contacting Kenneth, to ask him for some background and clarification of specific results:

TMJ: When was the research undertaken, with whom was it conducted, what was the sample size and the overarching research methodology?

KR:

· Data was collected during Nov 2009 via a web based questionnaire on SurveyMonkey.
· 79 persons responded, but 14 did not fully complete the survey. Analysis was conducted on data collected from 65 persons.
· The survey was undertaken only by educators who had at least one avatar in Second Life.
· Background: The technology adoption cycle, described by Rogers, shows the adoption of technology in various phases of adopters. First are the Innovators, then the Early Adopters, the Early Majority, the Late majority and finally the Laggards. Most technologies will enter mainstream use only if they can cross ‘the chasm’ between the Early Adopters and the Early Majority. Second life has been predicted to remain in the Early Adopters phase until 2013 when it is expected transition into the Early Majority phase.
· The main question to be answered by this research was “what can be learned from the experiences of the Second Life Early Adopters to facilitate the move into the Early Majority phase?”
· The topic was: “The collection and analysis of avatar experiences in order to provide conduct and appearance guidelines for educators adopting Second Life”.
· The research was a cross-sectional, qualitative, non-experimental design. The survey consisted of 29 questions with a mix of open and closed questions.

TMJ: Were there any results that surprised you?

KR:

· 38% of educators have no real-world code of conduct.
· 74% of educators have no real-world appearance code.
· The main reason to lose the ‘newbie’ look was originally thought to be as a deterrent to ‘griefers’. It was found that people lose the ‘newbie’ look in order to increase credibility and to display experience.
· Female avatars appear to be the target of more griefing incidents than males and are specifically targeted for sexual griefing. 17 males reported 6 non-sexual incidents and zero sexual incidents (35%), while 48 females reported 23 non-sexual incidents and 9 sexual incidents (66%). This was a surprise in an environment that was expected to be female friendly and gender neutral.

The full results

· The respondents were 74% female, average age just over 47, mainly from Nth America (54%) then Asia/Pacific (31%) and Europe (15%)
· Highly experienced group with more than half having over 3 years of Second life experience.
70% of educators use multiple avatars (accounts).

Recommendation: Educators should aim to have a single purpose for each of their avatars. The most common singularity of purpose is to provide for a private avatar and a professional avatar.

62% of employers provide a real-world code of conduct (CoC)  for employees

23% of employers have extended their RW CoC into SL

6% of employers have an SL CoC

43% of employees believe that a CoC is required in SL and 43% believe that it is not required.

26% of employers provide a real-world appearance code for employees

6% of employers have extended that RW AC into SL

5% of employers have an SL AC

8% of employees believe that an SL AC is required and 89% believe that it is not required.

Recommendation: The Early Majority will look for greater structure and guidance in SL than that required by the Early Adopters. A CoC and an AC should be considered as facilitation factors to assist more educators to adopt SL.

Recommendation: Educators should not be dissuaded from the adoption of alternative forms and appearances for their avatar. Appearance, however, does need to be appropriate for the educational context, especially when representing an organisation.

Recommendation: Each avatar should have in their inventory, a collection of appearances or outfits that are appropriate to their range of educational contexts and functions.

89% of respondents chose human form in Second Life

6% represent themselves in the opposite gender.

44% have some form of name relationship with their avatar

79% have some form of appearance relationship with their avatar

Recommendation: Care should be exercised when selecting the name of the avatar at the account creation stage, as this is one of the few aspects of the avatar that cannot be changed later

66% of avatars have lost the newbie look within 1 month.

The main reason to lose the newbie look is to increase credibility and to display experience.

12% of avatar profiles provide enough information to identify the RW person

40% of avatar profiles provide enough information to identify the RW place of work

53% of avatar profiles provide enough information to identify the person’s RW position or role

Recommendation: Educators should exercise discretion with the information provided through the avatar’s profile. This information should be checked against the purpose of the avatar, the code of conduct and the privacy guidelines of the employer.

Of the critical incidents reported, 58% were of a positive nature and 38% were of a negative nature.

Recommendation: Educators need to be made aware of the ‘big 6’ SL community standards, the range of positive and negative incidents that can occur in SL and how to manage these incidents. Educators also need to be aware that griefing of a sexual nature does exist and appears to be specifically targeted at female avatars.

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This research provides a great deal of insight into the educator demographic in Second Life. A lot of the results aren’t surprising, but as a whole they do provide some fascinating launch points for further discussion. So over to you: whether you’re an educator or not, what stands out for you in the results? Do you agree or disagree with the recommendations put forward?

A big thanks for Lindy McKeown for the heads-up.

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