Ubiquitous Learning Spaces

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Last week I attended a national conference and learned from keynote speakers, educator presentations, and conversations with newly met colleagues.  I also learned from an eight year old at the airport and from his mother on the plane.  My week … Continue reading


The Grid Report – Quirky Bits From The Metaverse

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Hypergridding is possible between most public grids. Of course there are those private grids, kind of like gated communities. Sometimes you look the same when you arrive and sometimes you get a little mutated. ………………………………………………………………………….. There is something of a … Continue reading


Online Teaching and Learning: From Independent Study to Immersive Collaboration

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I come across an article several times a week that describes a K-12 district or a state’s efforts for offering the opportunity  for students to “learn online”.  Higher education has been involved with online/distance learning for a longer period of … Continue reading


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

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.

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.

VW – What’s the Point? Would a score help?

I have been in a cloud – in a trough of disillusionment.  As I encourage colleagues and superiors of the potential in using VW for teaching and learning – and actually get some to register and spend some (limited) time in a virtual world, I get the questions “So what is the point?”  or  “Ok I kinda get it – but is this the best way to…?”  Both are valid questions and questions like these require a thoughtful response.  Some people get it right away, others need guidance, support and demonstrations.  Many need proof – yes metrics.  A hunch is great, a description of happy children makes for good feelings but nothing works like data.

Rubrics are an effective way to capture observations and quantify what participants accomplish and the way in which they do so.  A simple rubric design may look something like this:

Communication Collaboration Problem Solving Use of Information Points
Objective: Participants will work together in teams of … to …..
Participant has minimal communication with other participants Participant works alone Participant has no unique contribution Participant includes only known information 1Points


Participant uses voice to effectively communicate with peers Participant demonstrates ability to work with 1 to 2 individuals primarily as a follower Participant participates in solving problems in a unique way Participant contributes to information by completing some research 2points


Participant uses both text and voice to collaborate with peers Participant collaborates with peers as a follower as well as a leader Participant provides unique contributions to solve problems Participant contributes with both known and newly researched information 3points


Participants would benefit knowing how well they are doing and the objective in the use of the environment needed to succeed. Success depends on the process. So points are awarded when students

  • work with others to accomplish a task
  • communicate effectively
  • locate and use information effectively

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.

21st Century Teacher Preparation Using VW

Prospective and veteran teachers have an opportunity to participate in a teacher preparation/training model using the virtual world of Second Life at West Virginia University.  The program at West Virginia University has found it to be particularly useful for math and physics training, an area of concern for schools across the US.

Universities in general seem to have explored VW technology more readily than the K-12 sector, perhaps the safety/security/liability concerns have something to do with it.  Their incoming students are over 18, certainly more tech-savvy than their predecessors, and professors are quickly becoming more digitally literate to support the student population they serve.  It seems that a pre-requisite for attending college today is a computer.  How this translates to the more cautious K-12 sector is still up to policy makers.  At the very least, the new teaching force will have a digital comfort and will use the digital environment to enhance their own content knowledge via learning strategies that seem to translate theory into application effectively.   The VW teacher preparation can also provide opportunities to learn teaching strategies that do not require digital methods.   Role playing in a “traditional classroom setting” can take place more frequently and without disrupting learning in an actual classroom.  Prospective teachers can pre-practice with avatars before actually practicing in an actual classroom with real children, thus honing skills and building confidence.

Change is not easy. Although K-12  teachers are currently using VW with their students for standards-based learning and 21st Century skill acquisition, the numbers are comparatively low.   Perhaps new teachers coming out of universities that use the technologies will help us to make some changes in the K-12 sector to update and benefit teaching and learning.