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.

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

Build a Virtual Biome to Master Science Standards

This gallery contains 5 photos.

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

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

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.

Virtual Literature Circles

Facilitating a literature circle takes skill and even the most practiced practitioners sometimes have challenges in encouraging the reticent to speak up.  In her article “The Virtual Circle” Stacy Kitsis describes how she used blogging to support student participation and thoughtful reflection. This English teacher describes a number of positive observations including increases in engagement and interaction, completion of homework, and active reading.  Ms. Kitsis described how the more reticent students chose to use pseudonyms for their blogs and were ‘not shy’ with their entries.

The success described could be taken a step further by conducting the literature circles in an immersive environment.  Positive aspects achieved in blogging could be even more enhanced as students use their avatars to reflect and discuss the selected literature.  The discussions could take place in voice or in text, the latter offers an archival benefit.

Evidence vs Adult Intervention

Remember the clubhouse in the woods you built with your friends.  It was your clubhouse.  You and your friends thought of it, planned it, gathered materials, constructed it, fought about it, fought in it, plotted in it, pretended to be super-heros or knights in it, and then probably tore it down because it seemed like a good idea and it was yours to tear down.  Remember the playhouse that the little girl down the street had.  Her father built it for her.  It was a beauty; A door with hinges and a door knob, heart-shaped shutters, flower-boxes, shingles, matching curtains and furnishings.  She had a birthday party and everyone got to go into it but you couldn’t “mess it up”. Nobody really played there much, it collected spiderwebs.  It sat forever – a monument to adult intervention.

As I listened to the ISTE Speaker Series on SL Tuesday night, Knowclue’s message was most profound.  She said she is a stickler on students building and making their own environment in SL Teen Grid and now on Reaction Grid where she provides instruction.  I sat in the audience and asked “what evidence do you have of student achievement?”  My thoughts were focused on what so many educators are thinking about:  test scores, numbers, Adequate Yearly Progress, achievement data, standards.  Of course these are important quantifiable data points and so is the remarkable build that her students created.

A student build in a virtual world - minimal adult intervention.

The evidence is that children built a community based on a unit of study.  The student Build required the use of communication, collaboration and problem solving (those 21st Century Skills).  It required the use of mathematics and integration of an artistic sensibility.  The students had to read/research and take notes, write, and compute.  Knowclue has a clue and she also has evidence.  The student product is the evidence.  The students will be tested in the standards at the end of the year and those scores too will be reviewed – together they form the picture of evidence.  My hunch is the students who build will demonstrate more learning gains than the students who have it built for them,  look to the evidence.