VIRTUAL FIELD TRIPS: REFLECTING ON POSTGRADUATE STUDENTS' EXPERIMENTS WITH IDENTITY CONSTRUCTION IN SECOND LIFE™
In 2009 and 2010 the author facilitated a small class of post-graduate students undertaking study in a micro-sociology course. As part of their assessment requirements, each student undertook the creation of an avatar in Second Life™, reported on their experiences by submitting field notes, and then analyzed their reactions in relation to the literature on the social construction of identity.
Feedback from the students suggests that the practical problems associated with creating their avatar brought the theoretical considerations to life, fleshing out the degree to which social construction guided their choices and opinions in-world. Students also reported conflicts between the normative appearances available to them and their desired identity outcomes. In ways that neither the students nor the author had expected, these tensions helped to contextualize the issues of subjectivity visibility/invisibility in real-world situations around which the course was structured.
The intention behind this initiative was that it would act as a small-scale pilot project for the later implementation of this teaching strategy with a larger group of students at undergraduate level. This paper is therefore also situated within a framework of reflective teaching practice, student-centered learning initiatives, and evaluative reflection. The paper reports on the benefits and pitfalls of this approach as a pedagogical strategy, making recommendations about best practice considerations for use of virtual worlds in teaching. Additionally, the discussion is situated within a wider body of literature on approaches to problem-based learning and the use of communities of practice and virtual worlds in teaching.