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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Virtual Worlds?

Virtual Worlds?

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I've often heard about the educational potential (especially for distance and online learning) of virtual worlds, but I haven't ever really seen it in action. I remember a teacher at a school I used to work at created a whole virtual world using Atmosphere Builder (which, sadly, no longer is available) based on the school he was teaching in, and students could enter with an avatar, walk around, read the notices, talk to each other and so on. However, that was about 6 or 7 years ago - virtual words have definitely moved on since then, if you look at the explosion of games like Second Life and World of Warcraft. Anyway, I guess I'm saying is there anyone out there using them? What do you think are the educational benefits? What are the risks? Here's a link to an interesting article from Australia about them http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/opinion-analysis/virtua...

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Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi Michael,
Totally agree with you regarding the effort vs the benefit of Second Life. I, too, have experimented, and generally found it too 'clunky' and 'awkward' for use in an educational setting. Others might, of course, disagree...

That 20% playtime is a great idea - I've actually worked in a school where we were given an extra period off each fortnight to work on an action research project of our choice - which, for me, involved the use of laptops to boost student learning. (It was about 10 years ago!)

The proviso was that that the end of the term, we'd have to present our findings to other members of staff, in a way that might influence their own practice. It was a great idea, but kind of fell flat due to a lack of vision from some of the Senior Management Team.

Oh well...

JB's picture

Hi Keith,

Online learning has become a big deal, we agree on that. Nevertheless, Second Life and Warcraft are more like games rather than serious learning platforms. There are many more school-like e-learning platforms (and some of them are free!) such as Moodle.

You can take a look at the following if you want to know about about LMS: http://www.funderstanding.com/spotlight/lms-and-lcms-similarities-and-di...

I hope you find this helpful!

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi Julien,
Thanks for the resource. You raise some interesting points about the difference between learning platforms and games. However, I think that something that is really growing at the moment is what has been termed the 'gamification' of learning - whether that growth is good or bad is yet to be decided.

I've used Moodle a lot, amongst other platforms, but I find that they all lack a truly immersive experience - something that the best games do very well.

Interesting times...

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

A brief update: I am going to explore Unity3D and Jibe as a tool for creating that immersive 3D experience. I will share more depending on how I get on.

Chris Bonfield's picture
Chris Bonfield
Knowledge Transfer Associate at Academy 360, Sunderland UK


I am new to this site and the group, so please be gentle :-)

I am based in a school in the UK which covers both primary and secondary. We are just starting on a two year project to create mobile applications and virtual world scenarios (not necessarily in 2nd Life) to roll out across the school. The school is in a socially and economically deprived area (bottom 5% in the country), and has traditionally seen low levels of attainment, engagement and attendance. It is hoped that the new technology, if used correctly, might help to turn this around.

We are specifically designing our own middleware so that teachers will be able to create their own virtual worlds using a drag-and-drop type of interface, independent of 2nd Life. This *should* speed up the process, and reduce the need for lots of technical training. The school will purchase its own server, to run the world in-house.

We are in the very early stages, but like others here, I am interested in finding out how others have used Virtual Worlds in the classroom, to find out what kind of scenarios work and what does not etc etc. Obviously cost, time and technical expertise are barriers, but I wonder what others people have come across (did students actually like it, did they engage with the process?) From my reading of the subject thus far, much has been said about the possibilities of virtual learning, but there has yet to be solid evidence to 'prove' the value added, and a theoretical+practical framework to ensure that the 'games' have a solid pedagogy.

Anyway, any thoughts/comments are very welcome, and anyone interested is welcome to drop me an e-mail: c.bonfield@hull.ac.uk

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi Chris,
Welcome to the online learning group. Sounds like you are your colleagues in Sunderland are working in a very exciting environment. I think you are right in your assessment that, in education at least, there is a lot of talk but limited evidence.

However, I think that you might be able to find examples of successful use of these tools from private and public industry and adult education. Here's an example: http://www.informationweek.com/news/government/security/229500160

On a side note, can I ask what a Knowledge Transfer Associate is?

Scott Merrick's picture
Scott Merrick
Online Learning Specialist at Metro Nashville (TN) PS

Hey, all, and thanks for starting this discussion, Keith. I've been working with teachers who are using virtual worlds for years, and I can point you to a very valuable online community where you can learn so much your brain will likely implode if you're not selective. The Special Interest Group for Virtual Environments (SIGVE) at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) hosts a wiki at http://sigve.iste.wikispaces.net that contains links to research, machinima, discussions, and platforms where you can learn how this valuable "sense of place at a distance" is being leveraged by innovative educators on a global scale.

Every year at ISTE (formerly NECC), the organization's annual conference, we host a "Virtual Environments Playground" that showcases at least two full days of 30 minute back to back presentations both onsite and virtually (in Second Life and other platforms) for folks to learn and share. All that info will be available at the wiki as we get closer to the week of, this year June 25-27 "in" San Diego, CA.

I look forward to hearing what others have to share. It's a field ripe with learning. I'm working on my own Unity Jibe build at http://jibemicro2.reactiongrid.com/MNPSVS and while it's sparse at the moment, I'm trying to add something daily. Feel free to drop in.

Perpetual n00b,

Rosemary Manges's picture
Rosemary Manges
educational consultant at an education service center in Texas

We are currently researching the possibility of creating a teacher/administator training virtual classroom/campus in which teachers and administrators can practice newly learned skills in a virtual world where avatars act like real children and teachers. I know that Second Life has some on-line classes delivered in this kind of environment but we want to develop a professional development opportunity which allows teachers and administrators to implement knowledge and skills and recevie feedback on the effectiveness. Does anyone out there have examples we can view or experience upon which we can further our efforts?

VenueGen's picture
Creator of immersive environments for learning

Rosemary, We have been building virtual private environments for learning for three years on a massively multi-player platform with amazing success. The service scales and has the protections for privacy and intellectual property missing from most of its predecessors. We work with higher ed worldwide and would be happy to demonstrate the VenueGen platform for you. You can see a video of our environment and sign up for a free account at www.venuegen.com. I also have high ed use cases not shared on our website. Contact Richard Kristof (rkristof@venuegen.com) our Chief Learning Officer. He is the best person to help you.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi VenueGen,
Your work sounds interesting - can I ask if you've done any work with other sectors of education, like primary and seconday? If not, why have you made that decision?

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