I have just read the article by Seeley Brown and Adler (2008) about innovations in learning and I found the scientist in me interested to learn more about a project Harvard Law School implemented. They ran a course in Autumn 2006 on CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion. The thing that particularly interested me about it was the distinct ways in which learners could engage in the course, akin to the different conditions of an independent variable in a scientific experiment:
1. Law School students could enrol in the class and attend face to face i.e. in a traditional learning environment.
2. Other Harvard students (not studying law) could enrol in the class through the Harvard Extension School and could attend lectures, participate in discussions, and interact with lecturers within second life.
3. Anyone in Second Life could review any lectures or other materials for free.
Now as a scientist I would obviously like to be able to compare how the outcomes of the three groups of learners on the module but to make that meaningful they would need to matched on all manner of characteristics and this was clearly not what Harvard set out to do. Nonetheless I decided to do some further research to see what happened with this innovation. Google scholar threw up nothing of note and so I decided to see if anyone had published anything indexed in Academic Search Complete. I found just three publications, from 2006 to 2008. One was written by an academic involved in the project:
Harvard to Offer Law Course in 'Virtual World'However, what I hoped would be an extensive article explaining the rationale for certain features and details of use appeared to be more of an advert for it.
As it appeared there was no published evaluation or summary of this I decided to look on the university pages instead and found their main intro page:
The latest entry I could find on this was 2008 which implies it is no longer running but a later item found online implies this may have switched to a facebook group and so the main blog from Harvard is no longer used.
In the years immediately after the course was launched they gained a lot of publicity with articles in newspapers such as the Guardian and more specialist publications such as the TES and Computer World, all of which discussed the innovation of this course.
It goes without saying that interest declines in something new over the years and over a decade has since passed so I would not necessarily expect to find more recent articles but it is disappointing that there was published material evaluating the course. The first two groups listed above were students enrolled at Harvard so presumably they could have been tracked and interviewed or even their attendance reviewed. Innovation is great and we should all strive to be innovative but I think to be truly innovative we must add to an evidence base in education and it seems this has not happened here.