Gallery

As The Virtual World Grows, Shrinks and Stabilizes

This gallery contains 3 photos.

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

Gallery

Icons, Pseudonyms, and Avatars – Oh My!

This gallery contains 4 photos.

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” Oscar Wilde Struggling to figure out why a workforce does not actively participate on an Internet-based forum, wiki, … 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.

Related articles

Virtual Worlds as Part of a Transmedia Literacy Experience

Transmedia Storytelling is a strategy that uses current and emerging technologies along with traditional strategies to enable the participant to become immersed in a story to increase engagement and understanding.  Henry Jenkins, Professor of Communications, Journalism, Cinematic Arts, and Education at the University of Southern California, explains that “In transmedia, elements of a story are dispersed systematically across multiple media platforms, each making their own unique contribution to the whole.” It is a strategy that is used in the world of marketing and entertainment, still lagging in the education sector.

Telling stories across multiple platforms and formats addresses multiple learning modalities, encourages participation and motivates participants.  Stories are used to teach a wide variety of concepts at all levels of education.  A virtual world with a sim designed to draw students into a “game”  could potentially result in a high level of learning of a literary work, historical event, or scientific phenomenon.  The compelling attributes of transmedia storytelling are the capacity to engage participants and the capacity to promote creativity among the participants.  Engagement is crucial to meaningful learning and creativity is identified as a 21st Century skill necessary to solve problems and be competitive in a global environment.  As we look into school reform and teacher preparation for 21st Century schools it may be beneficial to ensure that teachers have some knowledge and skills in the the use of Transmedia storytelling.

Teaching Strategies for Using Voice and Text in the Virtual World

The Internet is a text-rich environment, smart phone technology and social networking facilitate the use of text,  in a virtual world instruction can be provided in either text or voice mode and each has pros and cons.  Shambles Guru provides a useful video describing the setup of voice in Second Life using Viewer 2.

Text allows you to think about what you are communicating, seeing the written word allows for some processing and editing prior to clicking the send button.  Text can also be saved and referred to at a later time, always beneficial.  Text is the preferred method to communicate when language translation is required and the appropriate communication with hearing impaired students. The downside of text is that it is difficult to simultaneously demonstrate while communicating in text.  Another potential drawback is “text speak” and typos.  Though typically understood there is potential for misunderstanding and it develops a habit of ignoring typos and using abbreviations.  A class participant must be able to read and follow instructions in text.  This has potential for problems depending on the audience and individual capabilities.  Responding to individual questions in IM texting can be confusing (not seeing the message, having too many message boxes open, blocking view of the screen due to message boxes).

Voice allows an instructor to deliver a message the way that an instructor delivers in a real life classroom setting, a clarification is immediate and intonation is clear.  The lack of visual cues requires an instructor to use other methods to engage students and to ensure the message was delivered.  Ideally the students are also using voice so that 2-way communication can take place.  This requires an etiquette system of watching the screen for who is speaking, listening to the spoken text and speaking at a specific pause, so as not to interrupt the speaker.  It requires that the communicators listen more carefully than they may do in a real life classroom.   The teacher must also be watchful of students as they are performing particular tasks in the virtual setting.  The teacher needs to continuously move the camera around and watch students to ensure that students are performing tasks as directed, providing appropriate verbal direction as needed.

The ideal strategy is to use both text and voice.  This addresses various learning styles and takes advantage of the pros of each method, minimizing the cons.  This can be done is several ways.  The instructor can:

  • provide  notecards with vital information, in text, to supplement the spoken instruction.
  • type main ideas as he/she speaks.
  • have an assistant or student type the text as he/she speaks.
  • take advantage of the back channel in local chat to address questions

Teachers should practice the strategies in order to become comfortable and adept at using them, ultimately selecting which is most appropriate.

Gallery

Teaching as a Game Designer

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Teaching as a “performing art” has validity.  In the book with that title Seymour Sarason compares teacher preparation to performer preparation,  describing that a teacher must practice, be articulate, know the curriculum (script) and engage the audience. We all remember … Continue reading

Gallery

Sharing Educational Machinima

This gallery contains 1 photo.

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

Gallery

Virtual Learning Communities Flourish

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Learning communities (LC) are active in the virtual environment,  consisting of like-minded individuals who have a  common interest and get together regularly over long periods of time  to both share and gain knowledge and skills.  Many of the learning communities … Continue reading

Virtual Worlds Via the iPhone

Movement controls inworld on an iPhone

Accessing virtual worlds via the iPhone with Pocketmetaverse is possible but there are limitations. Yes, I do have the new iPhone 4 and yes I have downloaded an array of apps to test out my new toy. I have found that I can enter the virtual worlds of both Second Life and Reaction Grid, chat locally and in IM mode, teleport and be teleported, see what friends are online and view profiles, search for people and places, look through inventory, listen to media and even move my avatar, no flying.

the inworld view on an iPhone

The experience is somewhat outer-body, however. On the iPhone you cannot see the action, you cannot even see your avatar beyond a yellow dot among the green dots. A friend told me I was like a zombie, there but not there, not knowing when I was bumped and not being able to interact beyond chat. This access relegates the experience to a web social networking one.

The application is available on the iPad, I have not seen that one in action. If it is possible to view the visuals in the 3D worlds there could be some educational potential to interact in and to consume the virtual world, without that view the virtual world becomes a flat one.

Virtual Environments and Education

In virtual environments students are able to experiment with identity and develop shared values. As they use and interact with the environment and objects, observe and interact with others, student participants can experientially develop a deeper understanding of a theme, topic, period of time, or concept. Since players are offered many options and the environment responds to their choices, student-players often feel as if they are in control of their learning and, as a result, own their learning process (Herz 2001).

Some students claim that they learn more through an online game than they would have if they had only read the text (Van 2007). Additionally, scaffolded activities are likely to create a safe environment with minimal risk of failure or embarrassment (Steinkuehler 2004).  Virtual environments enable students to practice skills vital to the world of work including but not limited to collaborating, communicating, critical thinking, navigating and evaluating resources. The power of play is motivating for some students ( Squire 2005), another feature available in virtual environments.