That ever-ephemeral sense of “being” somewhere: Reflections on a dissertation festival in second life

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The MSc in E-learning at the University of Edinburgh is a fully online distance programme with around 150 students that have come from around 35 countries. In this paper we discuss the Dissertation Festival which took place in 2011 and was developed as an opportunity for students undertaking their dissertations to reflect on their process, and to share ideas, issues, inspirations and feedback with tutors and peers. The Festival took place in Second Life (SL) on a specially designed island. The island captured the Festival atmosphere with banners, kites, a sunny, meadow-like environment and playful elements like sushi and champagne. Each presenting student contributed a poster, oral presentation with slides, and haiku to this naturalistic exhibition and meeting space. Festival events included a champagne poster viewing session, synchronous presentation sessions and a week-long exhibition of the students’ work. The Festival was more successful than we had anticipated, with participants commenting particularly on its ‘specialness’. We engaged in generative, rich dialogue with participants to explore what this ‘specialness’ was and what it means to be part of a community in an online, distance programme. In our analysis, we explored this further asking what it means to be ‘here’ at the University of Edinburgh and in what ways the Festival encompassed, challenged or shaped ideas of location and identity in distance learning. Our findings suggest that reports of ‘specialness’ related to a sense of community, shared purpose, shared membership, and the celebratory nature of the festival. The roots of this are linked to the wider practices and ethos of the MSc E-learning and specific practices for engagement in SL. We have also identified different layers of cues that helped shape the interactions within the festival itself, from the affordances of the constructed environment, the arrangement of ‘props’ like posters and scripts, through to modelled behaviours, all of which supported a peer-group interaction with a flattened hierarchy.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTeaching and Learning in Virtual Worlds
EditorsC. A. DeCoursey, Shana Garrett
PublisherThe Inter-Disciplinary Press
Number of pages190
ISBN (Print)978-1-84888-231-7
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Space
  • Place
  • Virtual worlds
  • Second Life
  • Presence
  • Connection
  • Community
  • Online learning
  • Distance learning


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