Beyond Powerpoint: 2D to 3D in Virtual Worlds

In an in-world presentation, Lesley Scopes aka Light Sequent presented ‘Learning Archetypes as tools of Cybergogy: A structure for eTeaching in Second Life to VWBPE 2010.  The presentation was worth watching  for the information that was presented, but of particular interest was the presentation method.  Lesley used 3D world tools to present rather than bringing the more frequently used 2D tool (PowerPoint) into the 3D world.  This made the presentation more engaging than presentations I typically attend.   The 3D models brought a unique physicality to the presentation that served to interest the audience.

A 3D representation is used to make a point

The presentation took advantage of tools not available in a 2D platform and perhaps demonstrates the evolution of 2D to 3D much like the evolution of overheads to PowerPoint was a few years ago.  Using the tools available in virtual worlds requires that the presenter have some skills in the area of building.  Light Sequent explained that the 3D items could contain scripts for additional interaction between audience and information 3D graphic. At the very least the presenter should be able to place the correct 3D object in front of the audience at the appropriate time but the actual building of the objects could be built by someone adept at building.

I look forward to using this method of presentation in the future, though I’ll need to label objects carefully so I don’t accidentally place a shoe or a silly gadget in front of my audience.


The Value of Play

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Play connects us to others, fosters creativity, helps with social skills, motivates and increases cognitive growth, according to Vygotsky’s research on play.    We like to play and we learn from playing, so playing in a virtual setting seems to be logical enhancement … Continue reading

Teaching Math in The Virtual World

Mathematics may be one of the most obvious ways to use a virtual world for teaching and learning, particularly when students are in the building capacity.  Students can practice applying   mathematical concepts, while being creative and having fun.  Geometry comes alive as an avatar creates and moves 3D shapes around to construct a real or imagined structure, graphical representations are concrete rather than theoretical.

A geodesic structure in SL

A bridge in Reaction Grid

The tools in the virtual world are simple enough that even elementary school children can use them.   Learning to use these tools may even provide some preliminary knowledge and skills for future use of  more complex engineering CAD tools. Once the students create the shapes (which takes seconds) the 3D polygons can be moved about, enlarged or reduced in size, stacked, linked, rotated, twisted, tapered, even suspended in the air at the click of a mouse.  Students can adjust shapes and angles to fit ‘building blocks’ more precisely, they have the use of coordinates and measuring tools to support their building and learning.  The most important part is the process, not the final product, though the final product may contribute to discussion regarding the feasibility of the structures in real  life.  The process of building and solving the problems of fitting virtual shapes together to construct a planned structure is what makes students think and apply the mathematical concepts.

'Building' a block

Adjusting dimensions of the cube.

Rotating the adjusted cube.

Here an avatar creates a cube and then transforms it to a thinner taller rectangular shape, then rotates it to get it in the correct position.

The syllabus of an educational technology class at Boise State is an example of prospective teachers being provided an opportunity to learn  the skills necessary to use this medium for future instruction in K-12 classrooms.  There are multiple examples of K-12 teachers providing ‘building’ opportunities on the SL Teen Grid and on Reaction Grid  to their students. As these students apply mathematical concepts and address required standards they also practice some 21st Century skills such as innovation, collaboration and problem solving.

Virtual Visuals add to Authentic Engagement

The difference between participating in a cyber educational event via a webinar and one via a virtual world  is dramatic.  When I first started to explore the use of virtual worlds to determine potential use in education I asked, “why not just use an online meeting software package? A webinar allows voice, is in real-time, allows sharing and collaborating, includes chat and sidebar conversations as well as the benefits of not having to waste time in travel and logistics of a F-t-F event”.  The use of an avatar and mechanics of having to find the right outfit for her to wear, to have her transport, walk and sit in a virtual auditorium seemed a little silly.

Avatars attending a building Class at NCI on SL. Snoopy was a classmate.

Having participated in both types of events I can now say that, for me, the Virtual World experience is much more connected.  Even a ‘talking head’ presentation with a Powerpoint is more active in the 3D virtual world than participating in a 2D webinar.  I have observed that in a 3D environment the audience seems more likely to ask questions and provide commentary which adds to the information and addresses adult learning principles.  The chat texts I have saved from regular ISTE sessions are much longer and more interesting than the ones I have from Elluminate and Meeting-Place sessions I have attended.  They are also less formal, more natural.

When I attend a “flat” webinar I have a tendency to multi-task, to have the webinar on in the background while I do some other work at my desk.  Conversely, when sitting in an audience of avatars there is a feeling of presence.  I look around and see who else is there, I may chat with someone I know, introduce myself to someone I don’t know and contribute to the conversation in local chat for everyone’s benefit or chat privately on the issues being discussed.  I rarely do other work and concentrate on the topic at hand.   I am more engaged.

Virtual events that incorporate instructional strategies such as grouping participants, taking “field trips”, and interacting with content in the environment are even more engaging and push participants to participate.

A class getting ready to go on a field trip

The use of the virtual world medium is still evolving and it seems the majority of decision makers have yet to be convinced of potential educational merits.   I was not convinced until I had mastered some basic avatar communication and mobility skills and had participated several times in sessions that were of particular interest with skilled presenters.  I have paid more attention to the cartoons in virtual worlds than to an unattached voice and a whiteboard on my computer desktop.

Black and White or Shades of Grey

In the WSJ article on June 5, 2010 Does The Internet Make You Smarter or Dumber?, Clay Shirkey author of Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age and Nicholas Carr author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains describe opposing viewpoints – who is correct?  As usual, they are both right and wrong.  I happen to agree more with Shirkey’s perspective but I have to acknowledge the research described by Carr. The bottom line is that it is a revolutionary time,  the digital world has arrived and it is what we do with it that matters.  There are always negative byproducts – we can’t stop innovation because of those – we need to learn to mitigate the negative while moving ahead with new developments, we simply cannot go back to the way things were.

To apply the title to the use of Virtual Worlds – Do Virtual Worlds Make You Smarter or Dumber?  Well, again – it’s what you do with it.  Some of it will be inane and meaningless and even bizarre, there are also positive aspects like collaboration, experiential learning, engagement,  constructivism, improved communication, and motivation.  As educators we need to take advantage of innovations and learn to use them to benefit our students.  That means as educators we will need to learn to do things differently, to use these technologies to instruct, assist and guide our students.  There are examples of this being done effectively.  Those who are at the forefront have intellectual curiosity, a sense of adventure, and the realization that it is a different world than the one we were students in.

Engagement and Immersion

On May 20 Iggyo wrote about Princeton’s abandoning Second Life “…replicating a campus and setting up lecture halls make little sense in a world where we can fly and where a lecture can be streamed to the flat Web. Virtual worlds are places for simulations and immersion, not recapitulation and passivity.”

It is interesting that so many universities “rebuild” their campuses on Second Life, the administration buildings, the student socializing areas and the classrooms.  When I ask, why? the response I get is something like “people need a frame of reference”.  Indeed, many of the builders I have met on SL do build structures they are familiar with or have at least visited.  The environments are true to the geography even with the flora and fauna – with an occasional fantasy figure thrown in ( a mermaid in Maine, or a Loch Ness Monster in Scotland) maybe not so true to scale, so some interpretive expression is taking place.   They take great pains to find just the right textures so the build is true to the real place.  Perhaps it is an evolutionary process – we build first what we are familiar with, we copy, replicate, duplicate, imitate.  We do what we have always done  but in a different place, in this case a virtual place.

The next step will be to do things differently and the virtual environment does encourage doing things differently.  Why talk at students about what happens when you mix certain chemicals instead of letting them do it safely and inexpensively?  Why lecture to students about a period in history instead of giving them the opportunity to experience it?  Why show pictures of an artist’s work instead of having students immerse themselves in that work?  Why describe how geometric forms fit together in building structures instead of providing opportunities for students to experiment with these structures?

Active engagement is something we say we strive for in classrooms yet we continue to tell, lecture, demonstrate, talk-at and describe.  We know that the ones doing the talking and the ones doing the doing are the ones doing the learning – perhaps the virtual environment can help to move us in that direction.  It does not make sense to gather students in a virtual room and talk at them – we have had mixed results doing it in the real world with this Talk-at-you strategy.  As Iggyo said “...Virtual worlds are places for simulations and immersion.”  Active learning produces better results in any world so perhaps taking advantage of the VW capabilities will provide what we have been unable to provide in the real world.

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.