Gallery

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

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.

Grid Hopping: One Av / Multiple Grids

I joined an international group of “Gridizens” a couple of nights ago to experience a hypergrid.  Our Avatars teleported from one grid to another.  In this case we teleported from Reaction Grid to Jokaydia.  The technical aspects are explained on the Opensim wiki. Hopping from one grid to another – hypergridding –  is like linking from one website to another.  We do that everyday on the 2D web without really thinking too much about it, and many create those links in wikis, blogs, and in social networking and bookmarking pages.  A virtual world is a little more complicated because you have an agent or avatar that is entering the grid.  Typically, the user needs to register in each of the worlds and use a different avatar or agent, so the benefit of the hypergrid is that it allows you to use the same avatar in each of these worlds.

Entering the Hypergrid portal on Reaction Grid.

Implications for education and collaboration are significant.  Imagine being able to do extend what is now done in a flat environment like Facebook,  Google Docs, or Diigo in a 3D environment.  A single sign-on, a single username and password,  a single inventory repository simplifies entering the Virtual Universe and visiting the worlds within it.

On Jokaydia Grid with a member of the Jokaydia Grid - the tags indicate the Grid of origin for the visiting Avatars

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.

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.

Architecture for the Virtual Environment

When people build in the virtual environment they create structures that resemble ones in the real world.  Buildings, offices, houses, castles and classrooms have standard walls, doors, windows, and furnishings that replicate the real world.  Perhaps it is because building what we are familiar with provides a frame of reference and feeling of comfort. In her blog,  Avril Korman refers to Virtual World architecture as virtuatecture and discusses this desire for a home that looks familiar.

Virtual world “physics”, almost limitless creative possibilities, and avatar abilities suggest a more innovative architectural approach.  Accommodating avatars who transport or fly in for a meeting requires a space that can be easily accessed with wide doorways, minimal walls or open rooftops.  You can still have the familiarity of RL spaces with the added benefit of virtuatecture to accommodate the unique qualities and possibilities of the virtual setting.

The rooftops at CLIVE in Second Life allow for easy access.

The buildings at CLIVE (Center for Learning in Virtual Environments) are generally standard looking buildings, with the exception of large openings in the rooftops for avatars to be able to fly in and exit easily.

The iSchool classroom on Mellanium in Reaction Grid

The iSchool classroom on Reaction Grid is an open air classroom, easy to access via either a teleport or flying in, yet the space is somewhat traditional with the students desks in rows facing the instructor station and presentation area.

These two spaces illustrate the best of both worlds.

A wide ramp helps avatars to make their way into Gridizens market on Reaction Grid.

Rails keep an avatar from falling off a steep ramp.

Another feature to keep in mind is the ground  (stairs/ramp) access to a facility.  In real life we typically have stairs with a narrow ramp for wheelchair use.  In a virtual setting avatars generally do better with wide ramps or rails with narrower ramps so they don’t fall off.

XSS Bucky Fuller on Mellanium in Reaction Grid and Museum of the Globe are two builds that take full advantage of the attributes of virtual environments.  This virtuatecture looks unlike what we would encounter in the real world yet it works effectively in the virtual setting with large attractive spaces that can be reached via teleport and used in a variety of ways.

XSS Bucky Fuller in Reaction Grid

Museum of the Globe on Second Life

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.

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.