Real Barriers to Virtual World Use in Education

Each time that I attend a professional meeting in a virtual world the question of general adoption of virtual worlds in education always comes up.  Attendees at these events are the early adopters and they struggle with what is so obvious to them.  The barriers are inter-related and will require time, money and effort to overcome.

Barrier Possible Solution
Cost is often cited as a barrier. Linden Lab eliminated educational discounts on Second Life.  Grids on OpenSim are significantly cheaper but do not contain the assets of SL and other more developed worlds, developing these would take time and money.  Cost is a factor in multiple barriers listed. Organizations may host their own virtual worlds, reducing some cost.  OpenSim and self-hosted grids are typically limited in content but advocates contend that much of the learning lies in the development of this content. There is a growing availability of free and shared content for use in virtual worlds.
Access ( Firewall issues) are more commonly an issue with K-12 than in higher education.  This barrier relates to acceptance and perception of virtual Worlds in general.  Districts have concern about both student safety and the potential financial liability associated with legal action. Control systems are necessary to protect students and prevent inappropriate access, teacher supervision coupled with policies and procedures are effective in keeping children and employees on task in an appropriate manner.  Literature is mounting in favor of adjusting firewalls and access to support student learning in the 21st century.
Technology requirements of Virtual worlds, both infrastructure of Internet access (bandwidth) and device capabilities aren’t up to the requirements needed to run virtual worlds effectively. IT and support personnel may need training to adequately support staff needs. Funding for innovation is essential to effectively prepare our students for their future.  Grants may be the best solution, at this time, to fund the necessary equipment, infrastructure and training.
The Learning Curve in using the interface and acquiring the comfort to be able to manipulate an avatar and eventually more complex tasks inherent in virtual world participation can be a challenge. A model of mentoring colleagues, prior to the expectation of working with students, can provide the confidence and skills.  The use of a virtual world for professional development is a possible evolutionary step to use with students.
Change is difficult. Educators need convincing that a virtual world delivery model will be better than what currently exists. Research demonstrating effectiveness could be the most useful in changing minds.  Those who are effectively using virtual worlds for instruction should publish/share their work.
Attitudes towards gaming and virtual worlds can be negative based on some unsavory stories and misconceptions. Marketing of research and positive examples are needed to overcome the impact of negative attitudes.   There is mounting research in the area of games, student engagement and their positive influence on learning.

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10 comments on “Real Barriers to Virtual World Use in Education

  1. Pingback: Real Barriers to Virtual World Use in Education | Gamer/Learner

  2. Control or Classroom Management strategies are a little different in an online environment than in the physical one but the principles are the same.
    • Students need to be kept engaged – a talking head in any world is boring and will cause students to become distracted. Planning activities to keep students busy and a part of the process is vital. Academic games, response rates, pacing, and physical proximity can be used effectively in a virtual setting. A skilled teacher notices when students are not engaged and adjusts to engage them.
    • Clear learning goals and scales must be provided up-front. Students need to know expectations so that they can have an end in mind.
    • Establishing routines for students to follow is as necessary in the virtual world as in the real one. Students who do not follow routines are subject to consequences, in a virtual world the consequences may be slightly different than in the real one.
    • Organization of the space in a virtual world allows for some innovation but the instructor must be able to have full command of tools to adequately monitor student activity. Using audio cues, text cues, and avatar movement can help a teacher to manage students in a virtual environment. Use of the camera, muting, and ejecting tools can offer additional support to the teacher in a virtual setting.

  3. Examples that clarifies the control.
    citation: “Another risk taken when having a presentation in a 3D environment is the opportunity for participants to do other things on the side that can be distracting. You will probably never have full control over a group in a 3D environment when you are not in the same room as them”
    citation: “Lack of feedback if students are paying attention or not (cannot force the students to pay attention)”

  4. I wonder if students feel there is a “lack of control” because the students do not understand requirements and procedures. It would be worth it to ask them what exactly they mean by no control.

  5. Pingback: Real Barriers to Virtual World Use in Education | Gridjumper's Blog | Virtual University: Education in Virtual Worlds - 27 and 28 October 2011 |

  6. Right, I agree that full control is not what we want in terms of guiding students to think and innovate. This is just what our students say. So, maybe I don’t have “lots of practice”, true…

  7. Control as in “classroom Management” comes with comfort in the environment. There are ways to manage and facilitate student participation which include using audio and video cues, monitoring conversation, and awareness of students just like in a RL classroom. There are tools to reprimand students who misbehave – correct behavior, change proximity to the student, and in severe cases mute or expel an avatar.
    I’m not sure that “full control” is what we want in terms of guiding students to think and innovate. There is a balance, skilled teaching requires “withitness” in any environment. I do believe that to achieve a comfort in the virtual environment teachers need lots of practice and professional development BEFORE they jump in and work with students in the environment. One way to achieve this is to offer Professionl Development opportunities in the virtual environment where teachers have the comfort and security of being with peers while they learn to participate in a virtual setting.

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