Virtual Worlds in Practice Primer

My friend Leon Cych from the BBC has released his article Educator in Virtual Worlds on Open Sim… the pioneers and it is full of information on the bleeding (and sometimes crashing) edge of Open Sim and virtual worlds.  He obviously spent hours in open sim recording what is actually happening in there, so if you're a Second Lifer or one who is fascinated, take a look at what he is showing that is happening.

Leon's conclusion is powerful and I think, on point:

“I feel the technology has now got to a point where Virtual Worlds are indeed a viable option for education at all levels – not just Secondary but also Primary schools and eventually a whole global network – a backbone of Open Source servers, will break open entirely the way we do things in education at the moment – a whole series of interconnected 3D learning environments that will almost certainly, in time, lead to a Hypergrid of interconnected learning spaces that will act as an intellectual crucible for innovation, creativity and new practices for 21st Century learning. It will be the 3D web…”

10 Benefits of Virtual World Use in Education
Taking off on the nine points from the March 2007 blog post I wrote called The Future of Education Web 3D there are some basic benefits of virtual worlds. After having spent a semester actually DOING it, I'd like to update those points and add a new one.

  1. You can go places that you cannot visit today.
    • Transport to Another Place and Time

      You cannot visit ancient Rome or the eye of a hurricane, but with virtual worlds, students can literally immerse themselves in another place, time, and even body for that matter.  For example, the UC Berkley students have an island that they use to share archaeology findings with others. (Slurl: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Okapi/128/128/0)

    • We need an Open Repository of Educational Islands

      We do not have an immense open repository of place and time immersive experiences for students but we should start envisioning and considering how this would look.  Our open educational virtual world grid  should allow us to be able to share the rich places and experiences that our students build with one another – perhaps even packaging these in some sort of “kit” that can be installed on an island and uninstalled and students creating and releasing their own.

      We need to start doing this and truly, this open type sharing, transmitting, and packaging of islands hasn't seemed to happen yet, but it should.  Just as we're seeing open textbooks begin to emerge, in the next 3-5 years perhaps we will see open ev-worlds emerge for the taking and sharing.  Really, these don't have to be created by adults but could be created by students and added on to! 

      In fact, projects like SLENZ (Second Life Education New Zealand) are actually researching to demonstrate the benefits of creating country-wide grids to share in this way. But this is more than having grids that we share – it is in having the ability to take an island, zip it up and port it to another place:  like a school that doesn't allow outside access being able to install digiteen island on an internal open sim installation after we posted it in an OpenSim Educational Open Repository of Islands.

    • Self-Teaching Islands

      The most important aspect of this is that we will need to use scripts to allow these environments to run themselves without another “live” avatar being present.  For example, when working with students in virtual worlds, I leave a “comment box” around the island that has my current notecard for the students working in that area.  When I give feedback to an area I update the notecard and the color that the floating text has so they know they have feedback.  But, it should go further and the spaces should literally be scripted to teach students and others about the spaces – it isn't that hard (Second Life for Dummies has all the scripts you'll need.)

  2. You can overcome stereotypes.

    Peggy Sheehy's Exploring Body Image project is precisely an example of this.  How does this work.  In Peggy's synopsis of this project, this is what they did:

    “The project began in the library Mac Lab with the students viewing the short video, http://www.campaignforrealbeauty.com/flat4.asp?id=6909 Students were then asked to create avatars that resembled their actual real life appearances as closely as possible. After they created their realistic avatars and each took a snapshot for comparison purposes later, they were put into groups to discuss how comfortable they were with these images in Second Life.

    The next day, they changed their avatars to resemble what they thought was the media’s representation of perfect beauty. Again, they went into groups to discuss how they felt about that process. On the third day, students were again challenged to represent media beauty, but this time they were asked to switch gender. The girls then portrayed the media explanation of beauty for males and vice-versa. Afterwards, in discussion, many illuminating misconceptions were revealed. This allowed students to discuss how the media portrays beauty, how realistic those images are, and how they personally felt in these different portrayals. Once students became comfortable using the messaging systems and note cards, I was amazed to see the learning that was happening in the discussion groups.

    At first it was difficult to predict what the students would get out of this project. I expected them to enjoy the process of creating avatars, but I had no idea how profound their discussions would become when they formed groups in the “pods”.”

    The learning here was REAL and could not be truly duplicated in another way. This means that such an experience would be an excellent addition to health and PE programs.  But again, if there is a way to do this and there are certain scripts, tools, etc. if an Open Source Repository of Virtual Objects were created then we could share the objects easily and port them to our island to do this lesson.

    The latest trend of having kids “wear” the fat suit to understand what it means to be obese is powerful but not practical.  In virtual worlds you can put on persona like you change your T-shirt.

  1. Student Collaboration opportunities abound.
  2. You have rich Authentic Assessment/ Project Based Learning opportunities.
  3. Role playing opportunities.
  4. Potential for Group Synergies (I build something that you use and vice versa.)
  5. Storage, Legacy, Global Audience
  6. Scenario Simulation
  7. Digital Storytelling

What are we doing?
Leon created some very good video that I'd like to share including interviews on the grid and my students.  What we're doing is BEGINNING. 

There is a saying I have:

“I will not think that I have arrived, lest I forget how far I have to go.
I will not think about how far I have to go, lest I forget how far I have come.”

This fits what we're doing here. I am a total beginner (NOOB as my SL friends say) and struggle with scripting, building, all these things, but we are doing it and we are learning and having fun with it.

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