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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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VWBPE Conference 2012

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The Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) Conference will take place in Second Life, with tours to other virtual environments,  on March 15-18.  Conference organizers are requesting those interested to register for the event at http://vwbpe12.eventbrite.com/.  The free conference … 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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Virtual Pioneers To Host History Conference 2012- Virtually

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The Virtual Pioneers are hosting the Second Annual History Conference 2012 on Friday, January 20 – Saturday January 21.  All educators, particularly those who teach the Social Studies are invited to attend this fun, free event online. You will need to … Continue reading

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Translating Academic Research Into Public Knowledge via the Virtual World

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The Rosewood build in Second Life is an example of the use of a virtual 3D environment as a way to bring historical archeology to the public.  Edward Gonzalez-Tennant is an instructor of archaeology and Director of the GIS program at … 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.

Related Article:

5 Reasons Collaboration Matters

Skilled Teaching Works in All Worlds

I was curious about sculpting 3D objects and figured “I am capable, I can do this”.  I downloaded Blender, bought a book and made an attempt.  The multiple tools and buttons in the software were overwhelming and The first chapter of the book discussed how difficult Blender was to learn.  Time for Plan B.  I turned to a RL friend who is not a teacher but user of multiple 3D programs and talented artist in  multiple mediums.  I sat with him for about an hour and watched in amazement as he transformed ordinary spheres and cubes into something more interesting and asymmetrical, still I had no idea how to do it myself.  Fast-forward a few months when a friendly avatar invited me to come along to introductory sculpting class at the Danish Visions Class Group (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Danish%20Visions/126/119/24 ) in Second Life.   We had to hurry as “the room is locked after the lesson begins”, I was told, “and you can’t get in late”.

The Danish Visions Classroom space on SL

What a difference quality instruction makes.  Inge Qunhua, the Danish instructor provided the lesson in voice (in English), as well as in text for those who did not have audio capabilities.  She began the lesson with a quick reminder of classroom norms and  necessary materials with time to download Sculptypaint.  She then provided the objectives of the lesson and explained that at the end of the hour we would all have an individually designed comfy chair with rounded edges and a pedestal table. “A lofty goal – I’m a beginner”,  I was thinking, “how is this possible?”

With a minimized SL screen of Inge’s presentation and a working screen with Sculptypaint software I followed instructions, using a 15 inch laptop.  Inge monitored the students, corrected and provided feedback, and evaluated results.  At the end of the hour we had all met the objectives.

My newly constructed sculpty chair and table

Telling and  showing is not teaching, though it’s part of the process.  Good  teaching must include

• planning meaningful activities to meet objectives
• monitoring students as they practice until they reach a level of success
• explaining expectations and what success looks like
• evaluating results and providing feedback for improvement

The elements of this virtual world lesson included research-based effective teaching strategies and the results were evidence of capable instruction.

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Machinima As An Artifact in A Virtual Portfolio

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Assessment is a necessary part of teaching and learning.   Although standardized testing is a piece of the evaluation picture, other evaluation strategies add to the data and provide a more comprehensive view of the success of teaching and learning. … Continue reading