Sunday, 10 February 2013

MUVEs: Terra Incognita and other innovative educational projects

This post relates to an activity that we've been given within the H817 module (Openness and innovation in elearning) i.e. Week 1. Activity 4. We've been asked to select one innovative project that is alluded to in Seely Brown's paper 'Minds on fire:open education, the long tail and learning 2.0'  (2008) and then do  some further research, such as, investigating if this project is still running and whether this type of project has been adopted by other users.

I've chosen to follow up the Terra Incognita project, a research project developed by Lindy McKeown Orwin in 2007, in Second Life ( SL) which is a multi-user virtual environment (MUVE). 

McKeown Orwin states that this three month project was an 'exploratory study intended to design and create the first virtual worlds based Action Learning environment' (2011). As I use Second life myself with language students I decided to teleport myself in-world to Terra Incognita for a closer look.

My landing was a little rough. I ended up in a crater beneath the ocean but was able to fly out and land softly at the Visitor's Centre and inform myself about the project (see Figure 1), in particular about the Action Learning Cycle. McKeown Orwin explored the effectiveness of  this model in the context of this specific immersive environment and wrote her dissertation about it, 'Affordances of Virtual Worlds for Professional Development conducted using Action Learning' (2011). I've included a link to Treet TV, a virtual television network, for those who'd like to learn more about McKeown Orwin's project and who lack time to read her paper.

   Figure 1. Visitor's Centre, Terra Incognita in Second life.

After exploring the centre, I followed the audio tour sign up to Decka's Deck, a conferencing space which seems quite unique in that groups of up to thirty-five can be catered for with the possibility of dividing up into five break out rooms. A facilitator has a good overview of the groups from the centre of this space (see Figure 2, the brown-cushioned stool on the podium) and can enter rooms and assist participants where necessary. McKeown Orwin explains the intention of this deck and further tools for use in this audio file.

   Figure 2. Decka's Deck

So what happened to the island after the research was completed?
It still exists and seems to be accessible to Second Life users and Mckeown Orwin is still active in this field professionally and can be found through social media curating topics such as  Learning in Virtual Worlds via Otherwise from what I've explored on the internet it's difficult to assess whether the University of Southern Queensland is still using this virtual space for experiential learning activities. I attempted to browse through the events calendar in the Visitor's Centre but  was denied access. 
    However using MUVEs for educational purposes, by no means became non-existent with the closure of this project. On the contrary, the role that this environment might play in the future for education is being investigated by numerous institutions, whilst other institutions and companies are making use of the affordances of this technology on a regular basis.

DEHub Virtual Worlds Working Group ( VWWG)
The following research paper is very informative:'How are Australian higher education institutions contributing to change through innovative teaching and learning in virtual worlds?`  (Gregory et al., 2011). It provides an analysis and discussion about research  projects  being carried out in virtual worlds by twenty eight   Australian  higher   education institutions   (with  some international partners). Forty-seven  authors who  are members of the  VWWG have contributed to this paper. The projects   are very diverse, as  are the  disciplines covered e.g. languages, business, pharmacy,  arts,  behavioural  studies,  tourism etc.  The  common  factor  is  using  virtual  worlds such as  Second Life,  Open Sim, Unity 3D,  iSee and others for  'diverse  teaching  and  learning activities' ( Gregory et al., 2011). Certainly a paper worth reading and numerous projects to explore.

One such project which is also now available for public use is from the University of New England and partners, called VirtualPREX, 'professional experience role-play for preservice teachers with peers and bots' (Gregory et al., 2011). Gregory briefly discusses the project below in this YouTube video (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Gregory / VirtualPrex Project 31st Jan 2012

In a similar vein to VirtualPREX, the Manchester University developed the AVALON project (Access to Virtual and Action Learning live ONline, 2009-2010) which received funding and support from the European Commission. Despite the completion of this pilot project they have left a legacy of resources which are freely accessible to other educators interested in the prospect of teaching languages in virtual worlds. 

Language learning in virtual worlds
Using virtual worlds for language learning is an ongoing and seemingly popular practice. Speaking from personal experience, it is a teaching practice that I can recommend, especially for language teachers like myself who provide instruction via Skype or a similar web-conferencing tool. This immersive environment enables me to engage in authentic activities with my students that would otherwise be impossible in our usual language learning context. They respond emotionally to their surroundings   and much more spontaneity comes into play. It does require taking  time  to develop  your electronic literacy skills. However, I found this learning phase quite humorous i.e. bumping into walls, falling off buildings, walking through oceans and all without an injury, not even a bad hairdo or smeared makeup to complain about. 

In 2010 Lingnan University in Hong Kong and the Texas A&M University developed a two year pilot project within SL. The  aim was to study the effectiveness of language learning in a virtual environment where activities between teacher-student and student-student can be engaged in that are authentic and active  (Knutzen, 2012). This project was undertaken with the prospect of maintaining the islands they created for future use. Additionally, SL communities such as Virtlantis  provide resources and support for those wanting to teach or learn languages in this immersive environment.

From the few examples above, it would seem then that using virtual worlds for educational purposes is being taken seriously by HE institutions either as a viable alternative to traditional methods of teaching or to complement them and to be used in cases where the affordances of traditional approaches are too limiting to achieve the desired pedagogical objective. Numerous academic papers have been written which are relevant to this topic and you only need to browse though curation sites such as or Twitter tags such as #secondlife, #opensim and #aurorasim to attain a sense of how active these communities are and what is being debated and developed.


Gregory, B., Gregory, S., Wood, D., Masters, Y., Hillier, M., Stokes-Thompson, F., Bogdanovych, A., Butler, D., Hay, L., Jegathesan, J.J., Flintoff, K., Schutt, S., Linegar, D., Alderton, R., Cram, A., Stupans, I., McKeown Orwin, L., Meredith, G., McCormick, D., Collins, F., Grenfell, J., Zagami, J., Ellis, A., Jacka, L., Campbell, J., Larson, I., Fluck, A., Thomas, A., Farley, H., Muldoon, N., Abbas, A., Sinnappan, S., Neville, K., Burnett, I., Aitken, A., Simoff , S., Scutter, S., Wang, X., Souter, K., Ellis, D., Salomon, M.,Wadley, G., Jacobson, M., Newstead, A., Hayes, G., Grant, S. & Yusupova, A. (2011). 'How are Australian higher education institutions contributing to change through innovative teaching and learning in virtual worlds?' In G. Williams, P. Statham, N. Brown, & B. Cleland (Eds.), Changing Demands, Changing Directions. Proceedings ascilite Hobart 2011. (pp. 475-490). Available online at: 8 
(last accessed 09 . 02. 2013)

Knox, V. & Gregory, S. (2012). The creation of a 3D immersive, interactive space for experiential learning: VirtualPREX. In M. Brown, M. Hartnett & T. Stewart (Eds.), Future challenges, sustainable futures. Proceedings ascilite Wellington 2012.( pp. 503-507) Available online at:,_vicki_-_the_creation_of_a_3d.pdf ( last accessed 08. 02. 2013)

Knutzen, B. Kennedy, D. Tuen Mun, N.T. (2012) 'The Global Classroom Project:Learning a Second Language in a Virtual Enviroment' Electronic Journal of e-Learning, vol. 10, no. 1. pp.1-17 Available online at: last accessed 09. 02. 2103)

Orwin, L. (2011) 'Affordances of Virtual Worlds for Professional Development conducted using Action Learning',  pp.1-199. Available online at: ( last accessed 08. 02. 2013)

Seely Brown, J. and Adler, R. (2008) ‘Minds on fire: open education, the long tail and learning 2.0’, EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 43, no. 1, pp. 16–32; also available online at: ir/ library/ pdf/ ERM0811.pdf (accessed 08. 02. 2013).


  1. Thank you so much for this. I have chosen to follow the same innovation as you for the same course and your blog came up as a resource on one of my searches. I am a novice SL user so have not been able to do all that you report. This has really helped me get going on my search. I wanted to acknowledge that and say thank you to you directly. I watched the video and was fascinated by the possibilities. I am steeped in Action Learning in my work on RL and I am fascinated by what this makes possible virtually. I look forward to a dialogue once I am up to speed on so much. Well done you for getting it done.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to write a comment. I enjoy this method of engagement. There are quite a few islands in SL where you can hone your virtual skills. I also found at the beginning that teleporting in on a regular basis, even for very short periods of time, helped improve my skills. As a language teacher, who teaches virtually, I find immersive learning adds a whole new dimension for my students. They react emotionally to this environment in an honest manner and senses are awakened by sights, sounds and situations that they find themselves in. Although these immersive lessons do have a skeleton structure with a learning objective, I adapt the direction to suit the moment. These immersive sessions also become very good points of discussion during our Skype lessons, where we can reflect on the experience and extract and build on new language.