Living Literature in Virtual Worlds

The Pardoner on Second Life provides a setting for one of Chaucer’s tales.

The use of Virtual Worlds to explore and enhance the literary experience is a useful activity for pre-reading, ongoing as a specific piece is read, and/or  as reinforcement after the reading is complete.    The value of a virtual world in studying literature is realized as students transport into a time and place that is unfamiliar, a setting that makes a classic piece of literature more familiar, engaging and relevant.  The Pardoner Sim on Second Life  provides artistic interpretation and fun as an avatar walks the terrain of old style text, along the trail left by the Canterbury pilgrims and among the unmistakable landmarks of the story.  The sim provides an open-ended way to interact with the virtual environment as parts of the story  are revealed.  Surprises, created by scripts that are activated upon avatar contact, reveal elements of the dark story that contribute to making connections and understanding of Chaucer’s work.

Ann Frank’s Room on Enlightenment Island.

The Islands of Enlightenment is a sim on a private grid operated by

WNYRIC – Model Schools  in New Your state. Eighth grade students studying the Holocaust and reading The Diary of Ann Frank  “experience” moving about the small spaces and perhaps gain an appreciation of what the young author felt as she wrote her in her diary.  The build includes a museum with student created artifacts based on specific assignments related to the book and the period in history.  Despite the New York ownership, the creations on the sim are contributions from educators in Arizona, Australia, Maine and occasional guests met in other virtual worlds who are willing to help out.

The Globe Theatre on Second Life is the setting for productions in a virtual world.

The SL Shakespeare Company  on Second Life includes a replica of the Globe Theatre 24 offering “live” performances.  Recent word is that this particular sim will soon be leaving Second Life but it may be recreated in OpenSim.  A dramatization or full play production  may not seem that different from performing a dramatization in a classroom.  In the virtual environment  costumes and sets can be readily available and interchangeable with a click, providing more time for the dramatization and focus on the literary work rather than the mechanics of setting up a real life stage production.  Using video capture to create machinima clips of the dramatizations adds another element that may prove useful to the understanding and appreciation of the work, though this does require additional technical knowledge.  The focus is on the words and the way their delivery.

Shopping for a time-period costume.

Virtual World sims with sets and costumes for every great literary work on a reading list does not yet exist, nor does a class of literature students need to take the time to create these.  The task of building the sims, costumes and props could be assigned to students in the area of the visual arts and computer science.  Students learning to use digital art tools could select a work to depict in the digital world, providing yet another way for students to enhance vocabularies and increase knowledge of great works, while learning to use digital art tools.  In a matter of a year it is feasible that a school or a district would have multiple sets to be used for living out the literature in books.   The builds could be enhanced over time, and of course shared with other educational organizations willing to collaborate for the benefit of literature learning objectives among all participants.

Literary Worlds created by a team of Western Michigan University professors and doctoral students uses EnCore 4, an online virtual learning environment.  This project was used to conduct research on the impact of a virtual environment on students studying literary works.  The project provided an opportunity for students to become immersed in a literary work through role-play in a virtual world.  Findings indicated that students had a deeper understanding and improved analysis of assigned work.  Literature Alive used a “holodek” idea to provide sets for students to participate in a similar immersive strategy on second life.

Rigor, vocabulary, and  comprehension are all areas that too often come up as deficits in standardized testing reports as well as in teacher observations.  The vocabulary, syntax and references of Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Dickens can be difficult to understand and these types of works are often provided in an abridged format or even via video, as a last resort, because students struggle with the vocabulary and the inability to connect with something written in another  time and place that they fail to connect with.   Teachers employ a variety of supplemental activities to help their students understand classic works including dramatizations, video clips, socratic seminars, creative writing and art.  Teachers have even assigned digital related tasks such as Powerpoint presentations, web-quests, blogs, social networking assignments (what would Hamlet’s Facebook profile look like?) or  movies using video editing software.  A Virtual World immersion into classic works is another way to teach and learn about great literature, time and research will inform us of the value.

3 comments on “Living Literature in Virtual Worlds

  1. Thanks for the comment. I am looking forward to visiting “Descending Road” as well as meeting you inworld in SL, I am Tanya Smedley aka Gridjumper.

  2. It’s great to find that others are exploring the virtual world aspects of literature! A library webmaster friend of mine posted a link to Gridjumper’s Blog and its story “Living Literature in Virtual Worlds”. In that blog post, the poster described a vivid Chaucer Second Life build titled “The Pardoner Sim”, created b yanother friend of mine, an author and scholar. In that same post I found your Literary Worlds work.
    I invite you to take a look at my own work “Descending Road”, which comprises a kind of electronically amplified literature. It’s on my Website, freely available. I write and publish fiction and nonfiction, now mostly on the Web. A VW representation of the primary setting of Descending Road is now open for visits in Second Life also, where my avatar is Jeddin Laval.
    Best wishes in continuing your explorations! I think these new literary and educational forms are transforming learning, making now an exciting time to be doing what you do.

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