University of Warwick - LLIDA
Outcomes and outputs from the Jisc LLiDA project on Learning Literacies in a Digital Age led by Glasgow Caledonian University
digital literacy, learning literacy, digital capability, literacy frameworks, learning, higher education, further education
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University of Warwick

Virtual presence and embodiment are digital literacies

None available as yet. More about the course is at

Type of snapshot

Provision in the curriculum: skills/literacies addressed in topic module

What was the context for this snapshot?

School of Theatre, Performance and Cultural Policy Studies, University of Warwick. ‘Theatre, Design and New Media: Applications and Implications’ module for second year Theatre Studies undergraduates

Special session on the design of theatres in Second Life (specifically) and in immersive virtual worlds in general. Not separately funded.

The learning session was composed of four segments; an introductory discussion; a practice segment in which the students would learn the basics of movement and interaction within the virtual world; an exploratory segment, in which the students would explore, experience and analyse the different theatrical spaces (three of which were visualisations of real theatres, three of which were original to Second Life); and a final discussion in which the students fed back about their findings.

The specific challenge here was that the students had little or no experience of virtual worlds, and the technology was not intended to be the focus of the session but the means to achieve curriculum-focused objectives.

What kind of learners were involved in accessing this provision or support?

Second year undergraduates at Warwick University. No recognised learning needs.

What skills or literacies were particularly being addressed?

The literacies addressed were the basic functional needs required to interact within Second Life, these were: a.Interacting with the world

  • Motion
  • Manoeuvring
  • Wayfinding
  • Changing camera positions
  • Using mouselook

b.Interacting with others

  • Using local chat
  • Using private chat
  • Using manoeuvring skills to apply proxemics

c.Interacting with their avatar

  • Changing the appearance of their avatar
  • Animating their avatar

Who provided the support? How was support provided?

The literacies were addressed through a 20 minute hands-on session where students practised moving through and interacting with the world. Support for this was given on demand by the guest lecturer. Specific instruction was given on a one-to-one basis regarding the movement of camera positions as previous experience indicated that this is one of the few basic elements that are not usually discoverable through experimentation with the interface. The change to and from mouselook was also intended to be delivered in this manner, but was unintentionally omitted.

Provision was assessed through feedback from students, and observations of their competence at moving through the world. All students displayed sufficient competence at the end of the practice segment of the session to use the basic functionality of Second Life.

Benefits, outcomes, and lessons learned

The practice segment was based on previous experience of using Second Life with learners (both students and staff), and had previously been successful. This was effective here too, from the observations made and the feedback from the students.

However, the intent of those previous sessions had simply been to introduce learners to Second Life, as an end in itself. The focus of this session was to use SL to address curriculum-based content, i.e. theatre design. Students were asked to explore the virtual spaces, and feed back about their experiences of those spaces. In the case of the theatre spaces original to Second Life, this was to engage the students in considering the different design considerations required for a virtual space; in the case of the visualisations of real theatres, the intention was that they would reflect on what the real spaces represented by the virtual ones would feel like as a performer and designer. The questions asked were:

For the theatres based on real life theatres:

  • What do you think the challenges for actors and designers would be in the real theatre this model represents?
  • What would be the challenges for actors and designers working in the virtual theatre in Second Life?

For the theatres designed specifically for Second Life:

  • What can you determine from the stage design (and any other surrounding spaces) are the nature of the performances, and the communities that built the stages?
  • How do these theatres/ auditoria differ from real life theatrical spaces?

In the final discussion, it was apparent that the students had, on the whole, not become sufficiently immersed in the environment to experience the spaces as an embodied actor, and so could not comment on the space from an experiential point of view. Neither could they make surmises about the cultural reasons for the stages original to Second Life to be designed in a particular way. They were sufficiently immersed to make comments about the nature of virtual worlds in general as a performance medium, and what the technical difficulties may be.

Our lessons learned were that ability to interact with the basics of the interface of a virtual world is quickly achieved by learners. However, some learning objectives can only be accomplished once participants develop a degree of virtual presence and embodiment within the environment, which takes longer. If virtual worlds are to be employed in teaching, time needs to be spent to enable learners to develop these required additional levels of presence.

Technical difficulties The main problems were the slow response of the system and errors occurred due to avatars merging with objects within the environment.

Difficulties with interface Distractions were also due to the time required to learn about how the software operates.

Distraction by novelty A further level of distraction was that caused by the desire to experiment with the environment. Some students found this more of an issue than others (see the dancing avatars in the screen grabs).

Processing multiple conversations Other issues were the high degree of fragmentation of communication. Conversations were happening inworld between avatars, within pairs in real life and across the room. It was therefore difficult to maintain a single focus of communication.

Cultural familiarity Greater familiarity with the world of Second Life, with and the separate communities that exist within it, may have made the students more aware of the place of roleplay communities within the world.

Immersion A prerequisite to answer questions on what the experience of performing within the spaces may heve been like in the real world was for the students to experience those virtual spaces as if they were real. This is a level of immersion that they had not attained at this stage.

Provision in the curriculum – topic module
art and design, higher education, ICT literacies, undergraduate students, virtual worlds