Meeting on the ledge

(or why I don't get out much…..)


I was at the ‘Elearning at the Cusp” conference yesterday at Staffordshire University’s Leek Rd campus. It was a good day, and very useful for me as it helped me to see the topic from the academic/lecturers perspective. There was a particularly good session in the afternoon where an academic from Edinburgh discussed their MSc in Elearning. She showed us screenshots of their presence in Second Life and was able to give us her practical experience of how students reacted to it, and how to deal with problems like assessment when you’re not using the traditional academic essay format. I was surprised that some delegates reacted quite negatively to the use of an image of the students avatars sat around a campfire at a seminar, and to the whole idea of a library in Second Life. They said that these were old ideas that could be dumped, but I disagree. Surely Second Life in replicating a physical world, albeit one where we can fly, is itself a metaphor? Therefore using other metaphors such as a campfire or a library helps to give students a framework, a context in which they know how to behave and can get on with the learning, the main reason for being there? I think humans make sense of a situation or environment by relating it to what they already know, and if they are having to create a new environment as well as try to learn, the learning inevitably loses out. Second Life suits many people in that it doesn’t require physical presence (useful for a distance learner or a working Mum)  and  we need to give the new paradigms of environment time to to naturally emerge.

The other thing that got me thinking was a paper by Prof John Stephenson. He talked about the problems of ensuring good quality in Elearning and used his experience from setting up LearnDirect a few years ago. He talked about empowering the learner to identify his/her own learning needs and to find ways of meeting these – in a sense linking to the popular ‘reflective practitioner’ idea. However in view of the National Curriculum with its highly prescribed content and ways of assessment, this strikes me as particularly challenging for the poor 18 year old. He/she has to make a transition from someone else telling them what to learn and how to prove it, to deciding what he/she wants/needs to learn, finding ways of doing so, and then coming up with a way of showing they have learnt it. As a young 18 year old I wasn’t capable of this. Maybe many are, but the others will have to be helped through the process, which is another role for those of us working in HE.


May 31, 2007 - Posted by | General

1 Comment »

  1. I was interested in your response to an unnamed paper of mine on e-learning. I apreciated your comments.

    I agree that in many schools a culture of learner-mananged-learning is difficult to introduce. However it need not be that way. If there is a concensus that a quality education is one that equips young people to continue to manage your own learning through life then the will exists to explore feasible solutions. A state school at the top of national exam tables recently claimed its prowess was down to its learner-centred approach. Look at UfI’s Learning through work” programme at

    John Stephenson

    John Stephenson “

    Comment by John Stephenson | January 4, 2008

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