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Enhance your Virtual World IQ; Join A MOOC

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Sign-ups for “A Virtual Worlds, Games and Education Tour” MOOC begins today March 7 at the P2P U site.  The 4-week open and free course aligns with  ISTE NETS standards for teachers and gives VWBPE Conference participants more time to deepen knowledge regarding … Continue reading

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As The Virtual World Grows, Shrinks and Stabilizes

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Virtual Environments are plentiful and increasing. With  dozens of Grids on Opensim such as Franco Grid, Jokadia Grid, Reaction Grid, and ScienceSim, and a rising number of additional stand-alone virtual worlds there are hundreds of engaging environments, many of which are used for teaching and learning … Continue reading

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Take a Photo, Capture an Idea in the Virtual World

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We all take photographs but few of us know how to take the photograph that causes people to stare.   A weekly gathering provides virtual world artists, interested individuals, and  the curious  an opportunity to hone the skills of image/idea … Continue reading

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EDUmachinima Fest Expands Categories for 2012

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The Internet is changing the world of journalism, publishing, the music industry, education, storytelling and moviemaking.  Video capture and editing tools provide an opportunity for anyone to create, entertain and inform using video and audio.  Machinima, originally used to capture … Continue reading

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Virtual Pioneers Take Weekly Virtual Field-trips

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The Virtual Pioneers are a group of educators interested in using virtual environments in the teaching of Social Studies, particularly history.  The group meets on Sunday evenings at 8:00PM EST  at the EduIsland location on Second Life.  They are taking … Continue reading

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High School Students Create and Display Art Virtually

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The Digital Art Students at Skowhegan High School in Maine display art work from the ‘real’ world in virtual museums and galleries.  Approximately 50 students enrolled in Paul Skowhegan’s (all avatars use the last name of their school) art classes … Continue reading

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Virtually Speaking: SIGVE Speaker Series

The 3rd Tuesday of every month ISTE hosts a speaker at the ISTE Island Auditorium- Second Life. Speakers are educators and researchers from both the K-12 and higher education sector. The one-hour session uses a format of a typical talk-show, … Continue reading

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Book Clubbing, Virtually

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Belonging to a book club is like belonging to a gym, once you join there is fun and personal growth but you sometimes need to push yourself. The League of Extraordinary Dorks (LED) Book Club meets each month at the … Continue reading

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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Collegiality and Collaboration in the Virtual Environment

Teaching is something of an isolating profession.  Teachers close their doors and instruct, at all grade levels and every subject.  Teachers work alone, receiving an “observation” compliance visit by the supervising administrator as part of the annual evaluation. The structure of school in the United States makes shared planning time difficult if not impossible, students need supervision at all times so teachers cannot have the same planning time and of course the one hour, or less, of “planning” time is the only time a teacher can use the rest room, take a breather, contact parents, check the mailbox and prepare materials for the rest of the day or the next day.  Lunch is typically a half hour, which often includes escorting students to the cafeteria and back to class.  Collegiality and collaboration are not easily achieved when you don’t see or have time with your colleagues.  A school calendar  typically provides a planning day once a quarter or grading period, that’s when grades are due.  So when can teachers share, discuss, plan and collaborate?  After hours.

I have personally found virtual environments to be a space and time for synchronous collegiality and collaboration.  On Tuesday nights I visit ISTE Island on Second Life, sometimes for a planned event and sometimes just to talk to teachers about challenges I’m having and get suggestions.  I have met teachers from various states and countries with whom I share struggles and ideas.  Periodically I logon to Reaction Grid or Opensim and sometimes find a teacher I have met online to exchange strategies and developments.  I visit classes in session and interact with students, the collegiality and trust required of a Professional Learning Community (PLC)  exist despite never having actually met my virtual colleagues.   PLNs and social/professional networking sites offer a sort of sharing and collegiality, it is not the same as on-the-spot, in world “in-person” communication.  I think of it as a cross between face-to-face and online.  Much is available about the connections made in virtual settings. The authenticity of virtual friendships becomes evident to anyone who spends any time in this type of environment .

My virtual friends include people who are not teachers, people I may never have met as someone who moves primarily in an  educator world.  Interactions with these people enrich me both personally and professionally.  I have a better idea of trends and realities to discuss with students and peers;  jobs in the STEM area, business planning, software and data visualization tools, the music business. A real plus was car buying advice  received from a virtual friend, the mechanical engineer and part-time SL space explorer.  I have met people from other countries and have conversed with the assistance of an instant translator, picked up a little Italian and improved my Spanish.

Virtual worlds are not the answer to life, but they do offer a relatively easy and inexpensive opportunity to interact with colleagues and professionals that can help you grow.

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