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 and Learning Options in the Virtual World

The virtual environment offers students alternative ways of learning concepts.  Educators understand that differentiating instruction is important and that we should not limit ourselves to telling and explaining.  The information in a lecture or demonstration is magnified when students are given an opportunity to actively engage in an activity that provides a way for students to practice, apply or even play with the new content.  A community college professor demonstrates a virtual world activity designed to follow a lecture and provide  students a chance to “build a molecule” in virtual space.

3 Days (53 hours) of Virtual Education Sharing

The VWBPE (Virtual World Best Practices in Education) Conference will be held in Second Life and other grids on March 17-19.  The Conference offers:

  • Theoretical and research presentations
  • Content-based describing the use of VW for teaching and learning
  • Workshops  offering technical guidance
  • Tours of virtual spaces used for education
  • Panel and roundtable discussions
  • Tools for both newcomers and experienced virtual world users
  • Game and simulation demonstrations
  • Poster presentations
  • Machinima screening and competition

Experienced virtual world participants will have the opportunity to learn and share with a global community of educators. This is also an opportunity for experienced users to introduce more reticent colleagues  to an environment that offers an alternative format for teaching and learning.

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Teaching as a Game Designer

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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

Telling isn’t Teaching… in any World

A lecture hall filled with students and an instructor lecturing about a topic he/she knows very well does not guarantee learning is taking place, neither in real life nor in the virtual world.  Good teaching requires that the students do something in order to meet the objectives of the lesson.  Student engagement can range from taking notes and asking questions to discussing and working on an assignment that requires using information and skills. The level of engagement correlates with the learning that takes place.  The video below is one created by students at Elisabeth Morrow School in Englewood NJ.  Students undoubtedly learned more than the significance of Apollo as they interacted, on various levels, to create the video.  Additional work from middle school students at this school is posted on their wiki.

Some videos illustrating the concept of changing our teaching paradigm are Ken Robinson’s Changing Education Paradigms and  Dr Tae’s Building A New Culture of Teaching And Learning .   They are not short videos but definitely worth a watch…. and a share.  The men in these two videos describe eloquently how teaching needs to change in order to impact student learning, I suggest teaching in the virtual world should have a level of engagement similar to what they advocate.

Educators who have ventured into the virtual world have some innovation and sense of adventure to begin with – just by their presence.  Instruction in the virtual world must mirror that innovation by changing the paradigm, making sure that students (whatever their age) do more than “just sit there”.  Getting students to move into groups and perform activities in the real world requires classroom management skills, and an impact on space, time, and sound that could be disruptive if not handled with expertise.  The virtual world has these elements but   it is easier to move and alter the space, it takes less time, and sound can always be mitigated with individual headphones and microphones.  The part that takes some effort is ensuring a student focus. At the lowest level of engagement, the instructor should ask students/participants for feedback and then address the questions.  For more intense interaction and more learning the instructor can:

  • provide students with instructions to complete a task, either as individuals or in a group
  • have students present findings or completed tasks to the group
  • have students develop video clips and/or pictures of concepts to be shared on a common site

In either world,  the person doing the communicating is the person doing the learning.

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Build a Virtual Biome to Master Science Standards

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Environments in virtual worlds can be realistic or fantastical, each has benefits for students both as visitors and as creators.  National and state educational standards require that students can identify, describe and understand the differences in both land and water-related … Continue reading

Managing a Virtual Environment Classroom

The traditional physical classroom has not changed much in the past hundred years.  It contains desks and chairs for students, a teacher desk and chair, a board on which to write or project and wall space which is often decorated with appropriate curricular materials. The most important instructional resource in the classroom is the teacher. A skilled teacher manages the space, materials, furnishings, and students to ensure that students are engaged and learning.  A virtual learning space has less boundaries and limitations and a skilled teacher is again the most important resource.  The teacher must  manage the three-dimensional virtual space, guide students to navigate and interact with the environment and provide experiences to ensure that learning takes place.

Often virtual learning spaces are a replica of the traditional, providing a frame of reference for participants and taking advantage of the potential available in a virtual setting with ‘backchannel’ chat and follow-up assignments.  Teachers and students understand the traditional role of  “sage on the stage” and play the respective roles in the virtual setting, with the added benefits of a virtual setting.  Students can be physically in the same room using computers (a lab setting) requiring both real world and a virtual world classroom management strategies or in remote locations which would require more intensive virtual strategies to ensure engagement of students.  The teacher must :

  • Plan
  1. Design experiences which are interesting, relevant and aligned to curriculum objectives
  2. Plan appropriate amount of time for completing of tasks
  3. Provide direction and guidance so that students know expctations
  • Deliver and Guide
  1. Give clear directions
  2. Encourage questions and answer according to the protocol established
  3. Circulate (virtually and/or physically) among students to provide individual support and ensure engagement
  4. Institute a “buddy” policy for peer support
  5. Intervene when necessary

Norma Underwood uses both real-life and virtual world classroom management strategies to ensure learning for 5th - 8th grade art students on her sim in Reaction Grid.

Constructivist Learning, Virtual Worlds and Future Work Skills

Teachers know that differentiating instruction is most effective and that the more involved in the learning a student is, the more that student will learn.  Thus knowledge/concept retention from lecture is significantly less than from group discussion and actual practice by doing.  As educators we also know that when an individual “teaches” or provides instruction to another they learn it better themselves.  Using gaming in a constructivist teaching environment has merit. The theory of constructivist learning comes from the philosophy that people can understand only what they have personally constructed.  The nature of constructivism:

  • is interdisciplinary with the emphasis on the learner rather than the teacher
  • requires that the learner interacts with the environment and gains understanding
  • ensures the student making meaningful connections
  • requires problem solving
  • requires personal involvement
  • is based on the application of concepts to be learned

Constructivist teachers structure learning experiences that foster the creation of meaning,  building lessons around big ideas to foster learning.  Virtual worlds used in a way that students can build, collaborate, solve problems, and teach others certainly are aligned with the tenets of constructivist teaching.

According to Gartner information, the  World of Work in 10 Years will require a similar set of skills:

  • Work Swarms -problem solving with less structured  situations
  • Weak links – work with people you don’t know or barely know
  • Working With the Collective informal groups of people, outside the direct control of the organization
  • Spontaneous Work new opportunities and creating new designs and models.
  • Simulation and Experimentation active engagement with simulated environments
  • Hyperconnectedness – existing within networks of networks, unable to completely control any of them.
  • Virtual workplace – meetings occurring across time zones and organizations  increasingly happen 24 / 7

The alignment between  constructivist learning and skills for the future make teaching in a virtual world an obvious option.

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.

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.