Between snapshots and avatars: using visual methodologies for fieldwork in Second Life

Paula Roush, Ming Nie, Matthew Wheeler


For a Digital Photography degree Second Life presents a unique teaching and learning environment. It is one of the most photographed 3-D Immersive Virtual Worlds with snapshots (digital images) of its residents and locations circulating abundantly online and in the media. Crucially, in addition to offering its own photographic tools, it is a rich social space with many possibilities for art-based photographic research. However, in spite of the large community of educators now working in Second Life and the increasing number of universities extending their presences in-world, pedagogical frameworks to bring art and media students for fieldwork in Second Life are still relatively rare and educators wanting to explore creative approaches may find themselves in a situation similar to other “newbies”: with a dressed up avatar…but nowhere to go! This paper addresses this issue with a discussion of a case study that fostered collaborative learning in a Second Life photography-based research project. We delineate the use of photographic tools available in Second Life to both capture and display images and describe the activities used for situated ethnographic work. This experiment demonstrates a good example of how to use Second Life for supporting group discussion and interaction through the development of interactive objects. The results also show the potential of Second Life for researching into subcultures and promoting students to consider broader ethical issues when conducting photo-based fieldwork in Second Life and other environments.


Second Life; photography; immersive virtual worlds; education

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