Exploring the Virtual Worlds. Enhancing E-learning in Cooperation with Students, Librarians and Student Counseling.


This article presents two projects of the library, the student counselling office, and the degree programme of library and information services at the Turku University of Applied Sciences (TUAS), in which a virtual world, Second Life, was used. TUAS is one of the largest universities of applied sciences in Finland. It is a multi-branch educational community of some 9,500 students and 800 experts, offering education that develops working life and entrepreneurship, research and development services (R&D) and holistic development of organisations.

In the first pilot project (2010), the TUAS Library and the student counselling office launched the Second Life (SL) virtual presence. The second project started in February 2012 and aimed at further developing the services in virtual reality. The common aim of the projects was in accordance with the strategic plan of TUAS to improve student counselling and tutoring with social media. Furthermore, the projects examined the possibilities of virtual worlds in teaching and learning information literacy (IL) skills, and explored what role virtual reality could play in library and information service (LIS) education.

The Second Life environment of the library and the student counselling office

In the pilot project, the project participants from the library and the student counselling office wrote a script for the builder of the SL area and planned the functionalities, spaces and buildings. It was decided that the visual theme of the site will be an archipelago, since the city of Turku is situated on the southwest coast of Finland close to a vast and beautiful archipelago. On the plot there are insular houses of different types for different kinds of functions and information, such as the red insular warehouses of the student office, which include information about the degree programmes and studying for the applicants, and the insular house of the library with access to and instructions for e-resources. In the area there are also many different meeting places for the avatars such as a lighthouse, a campfire, a sailing ship and a café. The different functionalities in the library’s SL area were planned to trigger learning of IL skills and the use of e-resources. According to the affordance theory, triggers of that kind in the environment can be seen as affordances or clues that indicate possibilities for action.

The affordances (object possibilities for action) of the TUAS Library’s Second Life site:

  • IL learning path on water lilies where the avatars are learning the information seeking process
  • Access to subject-based electronic resources through a fishnet e.g. health care and social services
  • SL resources as a nautical chart in the insular cottage
  • Search guides

Teaching and learning information literacy skills in Second Life

Following the completion of the building work, a pilot group of 25 students from the degree programme in social services attended a four-hour introduction to IL skills in Second Life, after having some introduction in “real life”, e.g. in a computer classroom. Since this was a pilot course, there were also two teachers present, when usually there is only one. After the course, the students were asked to voice their thoughts and opinions using a questionnaire. The students were supportive to the idea of learning IL skills in Second Life by saying for example:

“We got good ideas; some of them were new, some of them we already knew.” “We had the possibility to use and learn more about how to use SL in our studies.”
“I learned more about information seeking, and the many forms of information seeking. Information seeking is more than just seeking the title of a book in the library’s database, and I learned a lot about new methods for seeking information.”

On the other hand there were students who preferred more traditional training of IL skills:

“I did not really learn anything new from the IL learning path on water lilies, because new information came all the time, and I got confused, and did not know which part of it I should have read first. Some of the information I read many times and, on the other hand, I’m not sure whether I read it all or not... I would have learned these things better in a normal lecture.”

Technical difficulties in using the SL environment resulted in the learning experience being less than optimal:

“It was very difficult to read the information from the note cards of the IL learning path on water lilies, because they disappeared from time to time. It would have been easier to read from a printed text or a computer screen. Anyway, the ideas and information were good.”

The comments suggest that the virtual environments, like SL, may enhance the IL skills of those students who are interested in, or have a positive attitude towards, the virtual environments and unconventional ways of seeking information.

SWOT analysis, benchmarking and simulation creation of the future librarians

The next step in the implementation and integration of the virtual world into the activities of the TUAS Library was to further develop the Second Life area and the IL training in SL.  In this second project the library cooperated with TUAS’s degree programme in library and information services, whose staff and students wanted to gain understanding of the possibilities and the meaning of virtual reality to LIS education.

This continuation project proceeded simultaneously on two levels. On the first level, the LIS students acquainted themselves with SL and learned to use it. The library staff familiarised the LIS students (12 students) and their teacher with the use of SL once a week during a 12 week period.  At the first session, all the participants were in the computer class, but in the following sessions the group met in SL. The group members attended either from their home computers or from the computer room at the school.

On the second level, the students worked in groups on the three following themes:

  1. Considering and developing different ways to use and integrate virtual worlds in the curriculum of the LIS degree programme,
  2. Developing the functionalities of the library’s SL area from the point of view of IL training, and 3. Networking and internationalisation through SL.

Students presented the results of their group work in a Second Life seminar organised by the group, which examined networking through SL. The theme of the seminar was Second Life as a platform for education. The seminar also featured invited speakers from the degree programmes of TUAS and a musical performance by one of the student avatars.

The first group made a SWOT analysis of the utilisation of Second Life in higher education. The strengths of Second Life according to the students are in its possibilities in role playing, creating simulations and implementation within distance education. Also the possibility to use Second Life free of charge, and its position as the first and largest virtual world were seen as strengths. When considering the weaknesses of Second Life, the students had focused on technical issues. They considered the SL application to be already slightly outdated. The audiovisual level also could have been better, and the interface itself was perceived as clumsy. The students regarded the user-created content as an opportunity in Second Life. Using virtual reality as a learning environment was assessed a novel approach which could add variety to teaching and learning. The students also felt that Second Life offers different tools for communication, which adds to the possibility of utilising it in educational contexts. The threats to Second Life’s future were partly connected with rapid technological development. There are new virtual worlds available, which fascinate the users because they are available to use without having to download separate software. The new worlds are more targeted and customised to different user groups. In turn, this has a negative impact on the amount of users in Second Life.

The second group gave proposals for technical improvement of the information literacy learning path and the other functionalities. Based on benchmarking of the Second Life areas of the libraries and other organisations, the students suggested how to develop other services of the TUAS Library beside IL teaching and counselling in Second Life. During the implementation of Second Life in TUAS, the important question has been how to market Second Life and the services there for non-users, and the students had also considered solutions to that issue.

The students of the third group concretised their theme to an SL seminar. During the project they learned how to utilise different possibilities in Second Life, for example in creating the facilities for the seminar and in using different software applications for the presentations and the performances. Organising an event in SL gave the students practice in planning and carrying out a seminar in real life. They had to establish the theme, select the place, plan the programme, invite the speakers and other performers, take care of the marketing and hosting of the seminar, and even arrange refreshments for the attendees.

In spite of the technical problems connected with the rather demanding hardware and software requirements of Second Life, during the projects the students got insight into how a virtual world, such as Second Life, can be utilised in the context of LIS education, libraries and learning of IL skills. The LIS students participating in the project experienced the cooperation with the library staff positively. Since it was an optional course, the Second Life project gave LIS students an opportunity to become acquainted and work together with the students enrolled in different years in an environment new to everybody.

Looking at the Second Life projects from the point of view the library, the library has, in addition to the enhancement suggestions of the library’s Second Life area and its functionalities, received valuable experience in teaching in Second Life. Through the projects, the library also developed its profile from a traditional services library to a participatory medium that can support students’ learning in a new way.

References and further information:

Björneborg, L. (2011). Behavioural Traces and Indirect User-to-User Mediation in the Participatory Library.

Eskola, E-L, & Toikka, M. (2012). Exploring the virtual worlds. Enhancing e-learning and accessing online resources in TUAS. In: Riekert, Wolf-Fritz and Simon, Ingeborg, eds. (2012). Information in e-motion, Proceedings BOBCATSSS 2012 – 20th International Conference of Information Science. Amsterdam, 23–25 January 2012. ISBN: 978-3-88347-287-4. Bad Honnef: BOCK + HERCHEN Verlag.

Linden Lab http://lindenlab.com/

Ruhleder, K. (2002). Understanding on-line community: the affordances of virtual space.
Information Research, Vol. 7 No. 3, April 2002. http://informationr.net/ir/7-3/paper132.html

Sadler E.B., Given, L.M., (2007). Affordance theory: a framework for graduate students" information behavior.  Journal of Documentation, Vol. 63 Iss: 1, pp.115 – 141.

Second Life http://secondlife.com/
The Strategic Plan of the Turku University of Applied Sciences 2010–2013. http://www.turkuamk.fi/public/default.aspx?nodeid=17945&culture=en-US&contentlan=2
TUAS Student Counseling in Second Life (video in Finnish):
Turku University of Applied Sciences in Second Life: http://slurl.com/secondlife/TuAMK/128/129/24/


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