Theatron 3 – Virtual Poesis: The New Creative Pedagogy of Second Life

Dramatic arts, E-Learning

Project summary

This project will consider and exploit the potential of Second Life as a location for the teaching of collaborative inter – and multi – disciplinary work across writing, performance and media. In so doing, a series of teaching sessions will use Theatron’s virtual theatre spaces as locations within which to develop students’ understanding and awareness of the significance of cultural material  (historic/environmental/social/contemporary, etc) upon the creation of new works (texts/digital poetries/role-plays, etc).

It is intended that the resulting work produced by students, rather than mimicking or recreating historic and textual mediations of ‘real life’ through the use of the theatres ‘as were’, will respond to and emerge from direct engagements with Theatron’s virtual theatre environments ‘as are’. Accordingly, rather than rehearsing campus based and led teaching methods, the project will investigate the potential of these environments as spaces for new pedagogic developments. Evaluation, therefore, will also to the potential of Virtual Worlds in general as well as Theatron’s spaces in particular for the delivery of the teaching of creative arts across the sector.


This project will take place within the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Northumbria University, engaging staff and students across the disciplines of English, Creative Writing, Media, Dance and Performance. Whilst the initial project will sit outside of the curriculum, it is intended that, upon completion and pending evaluation, the project will encourage and develop new learning, teaching and assessment processes and methodologies which will be part of taught undergraduate programmes in these fields. It is intended that the project will develop a model which, pending evaluation, will be of use across institutions.   The project will also benefit from opportunities to engage with Northumbria’s Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Assessment for Learning.

Aims and Objectives


  • To consider the potential of Theatron’s SL simulated world as a space for the teaching and learning of writing, performance and media.


  • To trial a range of teaching, learning and assessment methods within a virtual community.
  • To consider whether virtual communities can allow for teaching across a) theory and practice and b) critical and creative work.
  • To pilot teaching within a Second Life with a view to extending virtual world engagement within the curriculum of the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Northumbria and more widely across the Sector.


The project will be undertaken through monitoring and evaluating the development and delivery of a series of teaching sessions (lectures, seminars and tutorials) aimed supporting students in the production of new digital texts. The closest current equivalent would be of a subject-guided creative dissertation module. Focusing, therefore in terms of the creation of new works specific to the sites developed by Theatron, pedagogy will take account of

  • The use of re-created historical spaces as teaching spaces to develop new texts which use the unique attributes of avatars and objects in Second Life.
  • The rehearsal and creation of self, text and world in virtual worlds
  • The role of video streaming, blogs and information kiosks in the production, recording and. dissemination of new texts.

The project has been broken down into fours key stages to assist in effective management against deadlines and targets.

Stage One: Mapping (Underway)

  • Identifying interests and parties including a) the development team b) teaching/supervisory team c) the student cohort.
  • Mapping of technological requirements in collaboration with all partners.
  • Mapping of orientation needs for staff and students

Stage Two: Development

  • Developing teaching and delivery materials and sessions (formats and content)
  • Developing clear timetable of teaching events
  • Delivering orientation sessions.

Stage Three: Delivery and Assessment

  • Class size: 10-15.
  • Levels: 5 and 6 (by exception 3).
  • Students from BA (Hons) English, BA (Hons) English and Creative Writing, BA (Hons) Performing Arts, BA (Hons) Media Production, BA (Hons) Drama and Scriptwriting.
  • 2-3 hrs per teaching session.

1. Pre-sessional: Orientation/Project Introduction

Delivery Method:

  • Supported Delivery (In Computer Lab with Academic sessions giving examples of in world material, and with technical support.)


  • Students will be aware of the aims, objectives, schedule, content, modes and locations (i.e. Theatron) of teaching, learning and assessment required for participation in the taught sessions.
  • Students will be aware of the core competencies required to operate effectively within second life.


  • Within a week of completion students should have created avatars, completed the tasks on Orientation Island and have collected designated material from Theatron locations.

Reading list to include:

  • From: R. Schroeder (ed.) The Social Life of Avatars: Presence and Interaction in Shared Virtual Environments. London: Springer-Verlag, 2002.

2. Teaching Session A: Self: Furrie or not Furrie?

Delivery Method:

  • Blended Delivery (In Computer Lab with Academic content delivered both in and out of world)


  • Students will understand critically the relationship between avatar and context to/for the cultural construction of the virtual self.
  • Students will be aware of the significance of a range of languages (social, visual etc) available to them in world.

Indicative Content:

  • Humanism/posthumanism.
  • Material and immaterial bodies.
  • Voice and self-performance.
  • Identity boundaries.


  • Within one week of completing the session students will have begun blogs (within defined parameters) within which will be recorded the progress of their work.

Reading list to include:

  • From: N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics, University of Chicago Press, 1999.
  • From: Anna Munster, Materializing New Media: Embodiment in Information Aesthetics, Anna Munster, Dartmouth College Press, 2006.

3. Teaching Session B: Text: the role-play’s the thing?

Delivery Method:

  • Blended Delivery (In Computer Lab with Academic content delivered both in and out of world)


  • Students will be able to engage creatively and critically with a range of new textual forms/strategies afforded by virtual world environments.

Indicative Content:

  • Digital Story-telling.
  • Games Theory.
  • Narratives.
  • Experiments in form and content?
  • Role plays/Hyper-texts/Cybertexts/Games. Assessment:
  • Students will register progress and initial/preliminary choices of project type within their blogs.

Reading list to include:

  • From: Richard Coyne, Technoromanticism: Digital Narrative, Holism, and the Romance of the Real, MIT Press, 2001.
  • From: Marie Laure Ryan, Avatars of Story: Narrative Modes in Old and New Media, University of Minnesota Press, 2006.
  • From: Janet H. Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, The Free Press, 1997.

4. Teaching Session C: Worlds: Why have stairs?

Delivery Method:

  • In World Delivery (At locations determined by students with teaching delivered wholly in world)


  • Students will understand the historical/cultural significance of the original and recreated theatre spaces.
  • Students will be aware of the environmental impact of the location of their chosen projects.

Indicative Content:

  • The history of the theatres.
  • Virtual Environments.
  • Locative writing.
  • Site specific work.


  • Students will register progress and final choices for initial/preliminary choices of project location within their blogs.

Reading list to include:

  • From: Nick Kaye, Site Specific Art: Performance, Place and Documentation, Routledge, 2000.
  • From: Marie Laure Ryan, 2001. Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.
  • From: David Wiles, A Short History of Western Performance Space, Cambridge University Press, 2003.

5. Tutorials/Final Project

• Tutorials will focus on the work to be produced. Students will choose one or more of three theatres offered by Theatron and, using gestures, scripts, sets and costumes available free in world, will produce/ perform a new work. The work will be agreed with the tutor following discussion of a project plan (within which final project type and location will be agreed) and recorded by a fellow student.

Stage Four: Evaluation:

  • Assessing with partners the value and success of the project against its agreed aims and objectives.


  • Consultation with students by the project evaluator and staff to gather feedback on delivery and content and feed-in to next stage development.
  • Consultation with a range of non participating students by Northumbria staff to assess potential future development needs.
  • Analysis of qualitative and quantitive data..
  • Monitoring with Northumbria staff and the project evaluator the strengths and limitations of both Second Life and Theatron’s sites for pedagogic practice, including consideration of further developments.


  • At least 2 x conference papers (eg ISEA)
  • At least 2x publications (one case study one journal article) and publication through Palatine and the English Subject Centre project pages
  • 1x one day event on SL teaching
  • 2x presentations at subject centre events for Palatine and the English Subject Centre
  • 2x papers at internal University learning and teaching events


The project itself is interdisciplinary and intended for consideration across subject communities in Higher Education. Any lessons learned will be of value for any discipline that is considering teaching in a virtual communities and dissemination activity will ensure that the outcomes extend well outside of the departments involved.


Members of the team have, variously, experience of/expertise in project management, working with external partners and collaborators, receiving awards and funding for innovative teaching practice and projects, editing international journals, undertaking international level research and working at subject level to teach courses across English Literature, Creative Writing, Performance, Drama, Fine Art and Media.

Project contact

The School of Arts and Social Sciences,
Northumbria University,
Lipman Building,
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE1 8ST

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