On May 20 Iggyo wrote about Princeton’s abandoning Second Life “…replicating a campus and setting up lecture halls make little sense in a world where we can fly and where a lecture can be streamed to the flat Web. Virtual worlds are places for simulations and immersion, not recapitulation and passivity.”
It is interesting that so many universities “rebuild” their campuses on Second Life, the administration buildings, the student socializing areas and the classrooms. When I ask, why? the response I get is something like “people need a frame of reference”. Indeed, many of the builders I have met on SL do build structures they are familiar with or have at least visited. The environments are true to the geography even with the flora and fauna – with an occasional fantasy figure thrown in ( a mermaid in Maine, or a Loch Ness Monster in Scotland) maybe not so true to scale, so some interpretive expression is taking place. They take great pains to find just the right textures so the build is true to the real place. Perhaps it is an evolutionary process – we build first what we are familiar with, we copy, replicate, duplicate, imitate. We do what we have always done but in a different place, in this case a virtual place.
The next step will be to do things differently and the virtual environment does encourage doing things differently. Why talk at students about what happens when you mix certain chemicals instead of letting them do it safely and inexpensively? Why lecture to students about a period in history instead of giving them the opportunity to experience it? Why show pictures of an artist’s work instead of having students immerse themselves in that work? Why describe how geometric forms fit together in building structures instead of providing opportunities for students to experiment with these structures?
Active engagement is something we say we strive for in classrooms yet we continue to tell, lecture, demonstrate, talk-at and describe. We know that the ones doing the talking and the ones doing the doing are the ones doing the learning – perhaps the virtual environment can help to move us in that direction. It does not make sense to gather students in a virtual room and talk at them – we have had mixed results doing it in the real world with this Talk-at-you strategy. As Iggyo said “...Virtual worlds are places for simulations and immersion.” Active learning produces better results in any world so perhaps taking advantage of the VW capabilities will provide what we have been unable to provide in the real world.