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October 09, 2009

Theatron 3 - final report

Theatron3 The final report from the Theatron 3 project is now available.

Theatron 3 was one of the projects that we funded under our 'virtual world' grants call in 2007 - seems like a long time ago now!

The project's objectives were twofold: firstly, to construct replicas of 20 historic theatres in the virtual world of Second Life (led by the Kings Visualisation Lab, King’s College London) and, secondly, to use those theatres as the basis for various sub-projects investigating the pedagogical value of 3D virtual worlds (led by the HEA English Subject Centre and HEA Subject Centre for Dance, Drama and Music).

The project has, I think, been very successful in the first aim, somewhat less-so with the second - but one of the things I really like about the final report is the honesty with which this is reported. We always said to the project that we wanted them to share what went wrong as well as what went right because it is only by doing so that we can move forward. On that basis, I repeat the summary of the final report here and I would urge those with an interest in virtual worlds to read the report fully:

  1. Second Life is a suitable environment for creating accurate and complex structures and embedding related pedagogical content. Build times can be greatly reduced through effective workflow plans.
  2. During the lifetime of the project, Second Life was too unreliable and presented too many barriers to institutions for full testing pedagogically. It is an appropriate medium for educational innovators, but early adopters will find that there are still too many issues for incorporating it into their practice.
  3. Immersive virtual worlds as a medium present many challenges to students, particularly due to cultural attitudes and the absence of embodiment experienced by some students. The time required to invest in learning to use the environments also is a barrier to adoption. For these reasons, it may always be problematic to make the use of immersive virtual worlds mandatory for students.
  4. As a medium for studying and communicating, Second Life presents many opportunities. As a performance medium it is limited when attempting to place existing, real life performance in a different medium, but has much potential when used to explore new forms of expression.
  5. The introduction of Second Life at institution often reveals many weaknesses in those institutions’ technical and service infrastructure. These inadequacies need to be resolved before widespread adoption of these technologies can occur.
  6. Immersive virtual worlds are a relatively new technology in education, and there was little understanding of the barriers to implementation within an institution and their most appropriate application to learning when the project started. Second Life itself needed much development in terms of reliability. In the intervening two years, there have been many steps forward in understanding its application to education. The technological goals of the project were well timed in this development cycle, but in retrospect the pedagogical aims were set too early, before the capabilities and limitations of the medium were sufficiently understood. However, the lessons learned pedagogically from Theatron will be invaluable in informing future practice.

I'll end with a quote from Professor Richard Beacham of the Kings Visualisation Lab, one of the project directors:

We think virtual worlds are here to stay and are getting ready to set up residence within them. We have a number of projects in progress and in prospect, primarily in Roman buildings and housing. We are adding Noh theatre and have Noh performers in collaboration with Japanese colleagues. We are excited and also grateful that the project gave us the chance to hit the ground running and to very quickly take a lot of materials which had the potential to be incorporated into a project like this and it's given us a real head start. It's put us somewhere towards the front of the pack and that’s a very good place to be.

This is very gratifying. We always took the view that Second Life was not necessarily an end in itself. Rather that its use in highly innovative and experimental ways could provide a stepping stone to greater understanding and, potentially, to other things.

[Image: Theatre at Epidaurus, Greece - borrowed (without permission) from the Kings Visualisation Lab gallery.]


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Thank you very much for your article!

As part of the team of developers at Beta Technologies who recreated most of the buildings for King's College London under direction of KVL's Drew Baker, it was certainly very encouraging to see that this project came to a successful end (at least on the first objective!) and got such a good final report.

It has been a real pleasure to work with KVL :)

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