WoW in Education: A MOOC Adventure

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The VWBPE MOOC took me into WoW last week.  It was a bit of a learning curve, but  my Virtual World (SL, RG, Opensim) experience did give me some frame of reference, particularly with basic movement and communication skills.   … Continue reading


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

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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Middle School Students Build A Virtual World

The students in “Norma Underwood’s” class in an Arizona public school are building and scripting in a 3D environment, sculpting in Rokuro, collaborating on projects, and communicating with their peers and interested visitors.  I had the opportunity to visit Norma’s  virtual class space on Reaction Grid,  never having to leave my home state over 2000 miles away.  What a treat  to see 12 and 13 year olds assembling, communicating and cooperating in a medium that many are completely unaware of.

The class is an art class, lucky for these students they have a teacher who acknowledges and has taken the time to learn an art medium for the future.  The young architects and 3D artisans have used floor-plans to build 3D homes, decorated them and added items like video games and chess sets. Learning objectives  focus primarily  on standards in the area of art and mathematics. Additionally, Norma is incorporating 21st Century objectives like collaboration, communication and problem solving.  These are not as easily tested in the traditional assessments required by the state but obvious in the products the students have created and obvious as well when you watch them engaged in their work.


Sharing Educational Machinima

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Multiple sites exist for sharing video, including Machinima, Wikipedia has an ‘almost’ comprehensive list. Each has benefits and drawbacks, selecting the right one depends on your goal, there are special considerations when the focus is education rather than entertainment, though … Continue reading


It’s a Grid, It’s A Game …. It’s Learning

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When asked to describe virtual worlds to my colleagues I struggle in giving an adequate definition.  There is a game quality in virtual worlds, and we know that  game based learning is motivating and effective.  I run into newcomers “inworld” … Continue reading

Firewall Content or Teach Digital Citizenship

So I tried to check out a couple of educational sites that would give me information about educational use of virtual worlds and this is what I got.  I made the mistake of doing this from my workplace, an educational facility.

Virtual Pioneers, a site for collaborating educators, is classified as “dating, computing, social networking” and the URL is blocked by my school district.

Jokadia, a site to document the educational uses of a range of virtual worlds and games was classified as “games, reference material” and is also blocked.

This is what educators deal with daily in an attempt to be innovative and meaningful with the students they teach.  The challenge of preparing students with 21st Century skills is daunting enough and made more difficult with the constant battle over what can be accessed.

On June 4, the Online Safety & Technology Working Group sent its 150-page report to Congress. Anne Collier co-chaired the committee and discussed the recommendations at the most recent ISTE Speaker Series on another blocked site, Second Life – I watched it from my home at 8PM.  Anne discussed  “a more intelligent approach”.  She suggested an approach  in which children are given opportunities to practice with social media under adult supervision.  The participants at the ISTE event were educators from around the world and it was obvious that the ones from the United States were having the biggest struggles with the issue of filtering and blocking.  We all agreed that privacy and safety features were essential but that teaching students about good citizenship in an environment where behavior occurs is essential for their futures.  According to Ms. Collier the educational systems in Australia and in the United Kingdom promote helping students to use appropriate filters rather than enforcing strict filtering polices as we do in the United States.  Teaching children to filter prepares them to deal with Internet safety and appropriate behavior,  implementing  a strict filtering policy does not.

There are some school districts who are more progressive and forward thinking, less fearful.  A high school in New Jersey is taking advantage of social networking and using the technology to help students.  A school in Oregon has documented improved student achievement after social networking was embraced.  Teachers do get tired of “the fight” and just go back to an old-fashioned way of doing things.  My suggestion is to keep doing what you know is right to help our students be prepared for a future we are uncertain of.

Social Learning in Immersive Environments

Much is discussed on the topic of Social Networking and the potential use of this technology in education.   Research indicates that individuals benefit from a social approach to learning.  L. Rendell et al. states that “Social learning (learning through observation or interactionwith other individuals) is widespread in nature and is centralto the remarkable success of humanity…” .  Immersive environments have gained acceptance in post-secondary education for the past several  years. VLearning: Is The Future Of Online Education A 3D Virtual Classroom? describes several studies that determined a positive correlation between the increased interaction among classmates and instructors in virtual classrooms and involvement in the course work and comprehension of material.  It states, “… this to be particularly true for students who have a difficult time engaging in face-to-face discussions, but who will ask questions freely and contribute to live debates in a virtual classroom.”

In their book The New Social Learning Bingham and Connor devote a chapter to the topic of social learning in immersive environments, describing the successful uses in multiple corporate training programs.  Social learning involves interaction, engagement and mutual exchange and benefit to participants.

The research on the  successful use of immersive environments in professional development and post-secondary education are certainly reason to consider exploring these strategies in the K-12 sector.

What’s the distinction between Protection from and Prevention of the Net?

The topic of safety on the Internet and protecting children from the perils of the Internet, as well as protecting organizations from possible lawsuits, have been coming up more and more frequently. A few years ago I would encounter the “ACCESS DENIED” screen not more than once every couple of months.  I would even have participants in a training purposely type in a URL that would produce that same screen, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the system keeping children secure and I would also report a site for needed blocking, if I stumbled upon something that was clearly inappropriate.   When encountering ‘the screen‘, I would continue with my work  and possibly check the source I was looking for after hours from my home computer.

Today I encounter the “ACCESS DENIED” screen several times a day and my colleagues report a similar experience.  The firewall is becoming a barrier to research, learning, collaboration and  innovation.  Now I contact the appropriate department requesting adjustment of the site I am trying to get to and  inevitably get the answer that “there is nothing that we can do – the School Board will not allow this site as it is classified as______”.  Are there more inappropriate sites than there used to be?  Are we blocking more than we used to?  Are we screening effectively?  Are we effectively teaching the appropriate use of the Internet?  Has the firewall become a replacement for teacher monitoring and supervision?  Is there a difference between social networking and professional networking?  How are social networking and social bookmarking the same/different?

The advent of social networking and virtual worlds used by the working world have caused me to ponder these questions and push back a little at our well-meaning and disciplined “Internet Police”.  I wonder if the fear of what students MAY encounter has caused us to prevent encounters that could be useful and educational.  Can social networking sites and working in virtual worlds positively impact collaboration and learning?
A government site,, provides information for parents to know what to look for and to discuss with children regarding safety on the Internet, including social networking and virtual worlds.  Could this be curriculum material for educators to use?   In an ISTE 2010 address Mario Armstrong referred  to school districts blocking of the Internet as the  Locked Net Monster.  Check out the learning today blog for some ideas on teaching digital safety in a k-12 school setting.

I am not suggesting we unlock the firewall to all that is available, just a more thoughtful approach to what could be useful.  An approach that includes academic review, intellectual curiosity and alignment with 21st century skills.  The approach would require diligent supervision by teachers and appropriate preparation for use of the tool that has become ubiquitous, except in the classroom.  In the meantime I’ll do like the kids – use my smartphone, call a friend or wait until I get home to look it up.