SWIFT at ALT-C
Paul Rudman will be presenting the paper "SWIFT-ly enhancing laboratory learning: genetics in the virtual world" at the ALT-C conference next Tuesday. The paper, with co-authors Suzanne Lavelle, Gilly Salmon and Annette Cashmore, describes the first part of SWIFT, its findings and conclusions for use of virtual worlds in laboratory teaching. The presentation is in the 13:40 session in room 3bc.
Undergraduate laboratory classes are constrained by time, resources and space, with limitations on the opportunities to acquire essential skills, such as, linking practical approaches with theoretical knowledge, team working, communication and development of experimental strategies.
The 3D Multi User Virtual Environment of Second Life® (SL) allows low-cost simulation of real-world spaces. As part of the SWIFT (Second World Immersive Future Teaching) project we have created a virtual genetics laboratory in SL to study the effectiveness of this medium for addressing limitations of practical laboratory classes. The aim is not to replace real laboratory teaching but to supplement it.
The first phase of the project was to develop an activity in SL to support real life laboratory induction. Thirteen Biological Sciences undergraduates volunteered, attending an SL training session and a taught class in the virtual lab with the aim of learning Health and Safety and the use of specific lab equipment.
The virtual lab classes ran successfully; the only technical difficulties encountered were with putting on and removing lab coats. The SL environment supported all activities well, except for detailed demonstrations of picking up and manipulating objects for which we suggest alternative approaches.
Participants were overwhelmingly positive about the virtual laboratory, finding it more realistic than expected. They reported a meaningful experience, but commented on the need for greater interaction with the virtual equipment. While learning gains were not directly measured, participants felt that they had either learnt new information or successfully revised existing knowledge.
Interactions between participants took place simultaneously in the physical room and in SL. This arrangement benefitted the SL socialisation process whereby participants gained a sense of reality and ability to work with others in the virtual environment.
Overall, we conclude that the virtual lab can provide both good preparation for the real lab and good revision afterwards. The virtual lab induction activity provides an excellent basis for subsequent phases of the SWIFT project.
Rudman, P D, Lavelle, S P, Salmon, G and Cashmore, A (2010) SWIFT-ly enhancing laboratory learning: genetics in the virtual world, Association of Learning Technology, (7-9 Sep)