On Friday we went down to St Mary Redcliffe for the final session. We were there for three hours – the first two hours were taken up with the Year 9s’ presentations to a ‘random’ sample of mixed ability Year 7s, with the final hour after break given over to an evaluation session with the Year 9s. So much happened but, to summarize, here are a few of our initial observations:

1. They Year 7s engaged very well with the material and the environment- they were remarkably well behaved in-world, particularly given the fact that we didn’t really have enough time to let them run off steam in-world before starting to work (something we always factor in to the beginning of classes regardless of age of customer!) and despite it being a very long session, towards the end of which they were clearly getting tired, were alert and responsive throughout. After a brief intro from me on why they were here (they had no pre-warning) and a quick induction in the OpenSim controls from Nic, we went straight into the presentations.

2. The Year 9s did remarkably well in structuring their activities. Their teaching styles showed how much they absorbed from their teachers’ lesson planning – they explained their sessions in advance to the Year 7s and one group even included formal feedback into their session. Although some of them were a little nervous in advance they clearly enjoyed passing on what they had learned and the Year 7s responded very well to being taught by older peers.

3. Each year 9 group had used the model and environment in very different ways but all showed imagination – one particular imaginative idea was a ‘tag’ game in which the ‘it’ avatar has to chase others and once caught, the tagged avatar has to give a fact about the topic under discussion. Two groups introduced a competitive element to their activities, which proved as ever to be a major motivational factor as did the opportunity for group work (demonstrated in particular by observation of 2 year 7 students who ended up working alone). All the groups’ planned activities blended in-world execrices whith classroom discussion. A particluarly effective activity was one in which the experience of the virtual Roman world was complemented by the visceral experience of tasting some ‘real’ Roman army bread (predictably pretty disgusting). It was gratifying to see that the session that the Year 7s said afterwards they enjoyed the most was the session on marriages which was most closely based on one of our activities.

4. We only had time to get the most rudimentary feedback from the year 7s but the consensus was definitely that they had enjoyed the session and that they felt that the novelty and ‘fun’ of using the virtual environment had helped them retain what they had learned. They all felt that they had learned a lot about Roman life in the session. Unfortunately, we don’t have any objective way of testing that!

3. In the session after the break, we did a debrief/evaluation session with the Year 9s. We got them to work in groups to think about a general question – ‘What and how do you think you have learned?’ – before pulling everyone into a class discussion. The responses mostly confirmed what we had heard from them already – but showed a range of affordances of this medium for teaching and learning. Students had found the ‘bots very useful in conveying class and status relations and found that the experiential nature of virtual worlds allowed them to pick up a lot about Roman and Victorian society by inference.This was especially gratifying since back in the summer, feeling for period was something history teachers had reported as something that students struggle with. Several students specifically commented on how they had become aware of the contingent nature of history and the need to make judgement on the reliability of sources and tackle contradictory accounts. In response to this students were also able to identify how this awareness would impact their approach to History back in the classroom. (Result for REF ‘impact’!!). But one of the most gratifying responses covered the collateral advantages of the project – a student who talked about how being picked for the project and facing the challenge of designing an activity for year 7s had given him confidence he didn’t know he had. Whilst the responses about changing perceptions of history are intellectually gratifying and, getting down to stark realities behind the university allowing us to spend our time doing this, fabulous in terms of REF impact, this students response was surely the best possible outcome of the trial – to help a teenager change his perception of himself and his abilities for the better.




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