Fluid leadership in a multi-user virtual environment educational project with teenagers: Schome Park

Peachey, Anna; Gillen, Julia and Ferguson, Rebecca (2008). Fluid leadership in a multi-user virtual environment educational project with teenagers: Schome Park. In: Ecologies of Diversities: The Developmental and Historical Interarticulation of Human Mediational Forms: Meeting of the International Society for Cultural and Activity Research, 8-13 Sep 2008, San Diego, CA, USA.


This paper examines leadership practices in a virtual community, the Schome Park project. Schome Park, based at the Open University, UK, was the first European closed (i.e. protected) island in Teen Second Life, a multi-user 3D virtual environment. This fully realised, complex interactive 3D environment has no imposed narrative and offers significant engagement for educational projects.

The Schome (‘not school not home’) third space community – i.e. not placed in the first space of home or second space of work/school (Oldenburg, 1989) - was set up with the explicit aim of challenging the instructional models and pedagogic practices of the formal, state educational system. In this disembodied environment identities, represented in the virtual world by personalised avatars, possess usefully ambivalent valences. Often adults will join ‘inworld’ educational events organised and delivered by the younger members of the community. Schome makes flexible use of a wiki (collaboratively designed website), asynchronous discussion fora and other communicative media to support learning processes and enhance the development of a physically distanced yet authentic learning community.

The authors propose that the community design in these new spaces created an opportunity for leaders to emerge regardless of contextual hierarchy and to forge a developing culture. The paper makes use of evidence from varied datasets to examine manifestations of leadership in the community and issues arising. Young people have been engaged in proposing, planning, executing and reflecting on teaching and learning and governance without deference to adults. Our analysis contributes to understandings of the development of leadership within carefully designed educational online communities and some of the challenges involved for adults in facilitating an appropriately supportive environment for young people.

While aware that this innovative experiment continues to face many challenges, we propose that the design of the project offers much to encourage an approach to education in which collaborative, situated engagement in learning and teaching is perceived as a more fruitful model for the twenty-first century than reproduction of traditional hierarchies of teachers and the taught of conventional classrooms.

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