Worlds of Education

Lesson Plan Database

Semiotic Analysis of a Virtual World

Created by A. Forero
Created/Updated on 16-Jun-11 04:51 PM

Learning Goal: Provide the student with an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding about semiotic analyses, definition, basic elements and implications, by carrying on their own semiotic analysis in the virtual context of second life (Objective).


Cultural competence is necessary to communicate successfully in any language, in any context. This activity is directed to students of Foreign Languages, linguistics, Sociology, and Anthropology as an introduction to the function of language and its elements as a contextualized social practice. This activity is an introduction to the topic of the semiotic analysis, and its application to the virtual world context. The current activity is required for a final comparative analysis between the social interactions and semiotic elements in virtual worlds and real life.

Grade Level(s): Undergraduate       Discipline Area: Social Studies

World Setting: Second Life

Keywords: semiotic analysis, social interactions, symbols/artifacts and nonverbal language, discourse pragmatics, proxemics and chronemics.

Establishing The Setting

Classes previous to the semiotic Analysis activity:

[Teacher] Introduce students to the importance of discourse and its relation to social interactions. Discuss the elements of semiotic analysis and its importance. Promote a dialogue about social interaction and communication in online contexts and the importance of this activity for nowadays human interaction in different settings.  
[Teacher] Assign articles related to these topics will be assigned for individual reading and in class discussions.

In-class activity: explanation of activity.
[Teacher] Form groups of 8 students randomly chosen by the professor. Each group would collaborate in this and will assume different roles for the purpose of the activity.
[Students] Divide their group into two subgroups; each subgroup of 4 students: group a and group b.
[Students] From both subgroups have to create a Second Life account and their own avatars 2 weeks before the activity. They are also required to explore in-world at least 5 hours during the weeks previous to the activity. This is to make them familiarize with the context and the commands in-world. During those two weeks each group should decide on a place in SL they want to choose for the semiotic analysis. The teacher will provide a list of places. The place should be taken only by one group. Groups cannot repeat same places. A list of places cited in the “materials section” of this lesson plan.
·         The activity will be divided in 2 phases. Phase 1 is related to the semiotic analysis in Second life. Phase 2 related to the semiotic analysis of a real life interaction. During phase 1, group a will be in charge of following group b in the virtual life to observe their interactions among them, with others, and the environment. In phase 2, the roles will be reversed, group b will be in charge of following group a and registering their interaction in the real world.
[Students] Are responsible for assigning the roles of the subgroups.

Group a: Observers
Group b: Participants

[Teacher] Provide students with a rubric that includes the elements they will have to consider for their analysis, based on the readings and discussions about linguistics and semiotics. This activity can also be done as a collaborative process between the professor and students (this part will be optional to the professor).
In-class activity: Phase 1: Observation.
·         With the accounts and avatars already created, and the roles already assigned among the groups (group a & b roles), students will have an hour interaction in-world for them to participate of the activity and collect data for their semiotic analysis.
·         Group a:
-       Take snapshots of each one of the avatars in group b.
-       Take snapshots of the avatars interacting in the environment.
-       Take snapshots of the environment.
-       Register conversations occurred in group b. Group a cannot participate of such conversations, they are there only to observe.
-       Describe the situations generated through conversations and interaction with avatars and environment.
-       Collect group’s b blog entries to consider for conclusions for their analysis.
·         Group b:
-       They will be exploring the place
-       Make use of the different gestures, movements and elements of communication offered to the avatar.
-       The members of this group are not allowed to participate with the observant group.
-       Make use of the chat to communicate as well.
-       Engage in a conversation with the members of the group or interact with other people in the room, except avatars from group a. The conversations are open to any topic.
-       Right away after closing the session in SL, students should go to the class blog and make an entry about their experience in relation to semiotics and the elements that count in a linguistic interaction.
Group work: Phase 2: Analysis.
Students will be given two weeks (more or less) to complete the analysis and present it in class. These phase will be developed during out-class time.  
·         Group a:
-       They will be in charge of working in collaboration by bringing all the information they collected during phase 1.
-       Based on the rubric students start analyzing the interactions of group b. The following table is an example of some of the items to be included.
-       The analysis of these elements has to be linked to the interaction. What do those elements found tell us about the interaction and the meaning of the language used in that certain space? The benefits of the elements to understand interactions and the barriers found in terms of linguistic interactions.
-       Students will use the blog entries of the members of group b to help themselves in the analysis and/or conclusion of their analysis.  

Symbols and their meaning
Artifacts in relation to the personal representations of the participants (avatars): make up, glasses, physical features, clothing, colors…
Environmental factors: representations of environmental factors: light, temperature, furniture, architecture…
Verbal language
Syntactical elements, pragmatics (implications of the language used in a certain context), grammatical elements, conversational elements (pauses, turn taking, interruptions, laughter, openings, closings…)
Nonverbal language
Body language and kinesics.
Semiotics of space.
Semiotics of time.

[Teacher]The professor has the freedom to add or eliminate elements according to relationship between the goal of the activity and the goals of the course.
      Group b:
·         Based on their participation, experiences and interaction, and immediate blog entries, the members will come up with a summary of the most relevant elements, benefits of those elements and barriers found during the interaction with avatars and space in terms of linguistic interactions.
In-class activity: Phase 3: Presentation and discussion.
·         Each group of observers will present the analysis in class. What they found, meanings, relationship between elements and general interaction, importance of such elements in virtual worlds, importance of virtual world interactions in relation to real life interactions.
·         Each group of participants will also present their conclusion about the experience to the rest of the class.

Presenting Ideas and Materials


·         Introduce students to related materials in previous classes, assign readings and promote discussions about: linguistics, use of language, importance of language, semiotics, semiotic elements, semiotic analysis, importance of semiotic analyses, relevance of this topic to area of study, relevance of virtual worlds to current society, implication of virtual interactions in real life world in relation to educational/sociological/anthropological/linguistic aspects.  
·         Explains the activity (semiotic analysis) to students at the beginning of the course, so students know they will be applying what is learned in class into hands-on activity.
·         Creates a course blog open to all the students in the class for the semiotic analysis participations. Ask students to join the blog and create a profile. It can be used by students to post ideas related to the topics studied in class as well.
·         Provides readings and list of places for the activity.
List of possible places:
TOC Art Gallery: Location: Leelight (51, 62, 659)
Y’s House chirihama café: Location: Chirihama (116, 72, 21)
Blue moon burlesque cabaret theatre: Location: Feschenko (30, 207, 26)
Students are free to go and choose another space if they would like to do it. There is a list of destinations in next link.
Reading materials:
-          Discourse in Society. Website of Teun A. van Dijk
-          Semiotics for beginners
-           Rhetoric in the Age of World Wide Web
-          Handbook of Semiotics  By Winfried Nöth: Chapters: 2 (sign and meaning), 7 (nonverbal communication), 8 (Aesthetics and visual communication)
-          The study of Discourse, an Introduction
-          Semantics Analysis. Teun van Dijk

Providing Experiences


·         Explore topics presented to the class, by individual readings assigned, and exploration/research on their own about the topics.
·         Participate in class discussions about the topic.
·         Create account and avatar in Second Life, two weeks previous to the semiotic analysis activity.
·         Explore second life at least 5 hours before the day of the activity.
·         Organize the division of the group into subgroups a and b.
·         Assign roles for each one of the members in the group.
·         Observers: Take notes, copy chat dialogues, take snapshots; analyze interactions, and present analysis to the rest of the class.
·         Participants: Explore the world in SL. Engage in a dialogue with the rest of the participants of the group and other people presented in the environment. Present their experience to the class.
·         Analyze the different semiotic elements present in the environment.
·         Analyze the importance of the semiotic elements in relation to the interaction and effective communication in-world.
·         Find the benefits and barriers of the semiotic elements explored. How the use of them make the interaction easier or harder.
·         Relate the importance of such element to the study of their current subject matter.
·         Engage in a discussion about the topics referred to by the different presentations.
·         Present to the class the importance of virtual interaction in relation to the current world.
·         Compare semiotic elements and interactions of in-world to real life situation/interaction.

Assessing Learning

[Teachers] will assess students in terms of:

Outcome: Students achieve the objective of the activity. Students make the semiotic analysis and present it to the classroom.
Participation: Students self-evaluate in relation to their own participation, role performance. They also evaluate the members of the group in this regard.
Relevance: Students were able to create significant links/relationships between the semiotic analysis of the virtual world and their subject matter.
Discussion: Students actively participate in class discussions about the semiotic analysis.


[Teacher] set up the next semiotic analysis applied to a real life situation. The previous semiotic analysis activity will be repeated but this time in a real life context.

·         Group b will be in charge of observation, while group a will be in charge of participating on the social situation.
·         Students are open to choose the situation/environment where they want to carry on the analysis. The only requirement is that students have to choose an environment similar to the one they analyzed in SL. (bar, church, art gallery…)
·         Group b will be in charge of observation, taking notes, video recording.
·         Individually students will write a comparative paper comparing the finding (similarities and differences) of both the semiotic analysis in the virtual world and the real life situation.


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