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Type: Journal article
Title: Virtual history: a socially networked pedagogy of enlightenment
Author: Ellison, Katherine
Matthews, Carol Dyane
Citation: Educational Research, 2010; 52(3):297-307
Publisher: Routledge
Issue Date: 2010
ISSN: 0013-1881
School/Discipline: School of History and Politics : History
Statement of
Katherine Ellison and Carol Matthews
Abstract: Background: Twenty-first-century undergraduates often find eighteenth-century culture difficult to access and, influenced by popular assumptions about the period in current media theory, characterise the century as individualist, underestimating the cultural significance of social networking in literary and political history. Purpose: This study set out to teach the history of social networking as culturally significant in the production of literary texts during the eighteenth century as well as to demonstrate the intellectual and compositional potential of today’s social networking technologies. A virtual reconstruction of eighteenth century London in Second Life and a semester project requiring the student recreation of 3D social spaces like coffee houses and gardens tested the uses of social networking tools to teach research methods and build disciplinary knowledge. Sources of evidence: Evidence of student learning outcomes is provided by three undergraduate courses in eighteenth-century culture, with 68 students total, that participated in Second Life re-enactment assignments on Island 18 during the autumn of 2008 and spring of 2009. The results of the student projects as well as student-completed evaluations and self-reflective essays about their experiences using virtual reality to learn history are consulted. Theoretical evidence by scholars of new media, eighteenth-century history and education provides a background for the study’s impetus and goals. Main argument: Virtual reality provides an opportunity for educators of eighteenth-century culture to teach students, through the reflective and critical use of the social networking tools Second Life makes available, the significance of social networking in the history of ideas of that period. We dismantle the generalisations of scholars working outside of the period who characterise the eighteenth century as a solely individualist era, during which singular genius defined the enlightenment and propose a more culturally viable model of social collaboration, supported by communication technologies not so different from twenty-first-century instant messaging, blogging, twittering and emailing. Conclusions: Contrary to the recent findings of humanities educators who claim that digital social networking tools are distracting undergraduates from more valuable academic writing, we find that a task-oriented semester project requiring the construction of 3D historical social spaces teaches investigative research skills, deterritorialises disciplinary knowledge and promotes revision as an ongoing process.
Keywords: virtual reality; eighteenth century; enlightenment; Second Life; history; literature
Rights: Copyright 2010 NFER
RMID: 0020100915
DOI: 10.1080/00131881.2010.504065
Appears in Collections:History publications

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