Editor’s Note: This is part two of Using Virtual Worlds to educate. You can find part 1 here.
You probably never thought you could attend a virtual lecture, discussion, exam, or lab in 3D. In fact, this is already possible. Virtual worlds have clear advantages over traditional classroom settings.
I once had to teach high school students the importance of safety precautions for a welding class. I presented several powerpoint presentations, a safety exam, and then allowed those who passed the exam to begin welding. I trembled. Despite knowing I had prepared them well, I would have much preferred for students to interact in a virtual world first. As a teacher, I can see the many advantages virtual worlds provide.
I delved a bit further into the uses of virtual worlds and even created an avatar of my own (PiJustice) to see the current applications of virtual worlds in education.
Here is what I found:
Virtual worlds are emerging as a meeting place for the most prestigious universities, non-profits, and academic institutions in the world.
Their uses are varied and can adapt to different needs.
But not all virtual worlds are created equal.
The HITLAB (Human Interface Technology Lab) of the University of Washington has explored recent applications of virtual worlds. Some educational applications of virtual worlds are better than others. HITLAB refers to best practices in Christine Youngblut’s research paper for the Institute of Defense Analysis, on the Educational uses of Virtual Reality Technology.
She explains that virtual spaces can be best applied to visualize abstract concepts.
Youngblut’s research has found some crucial characteristics for the successful integration of virtual worlds.
In addition, virtual worlds can be used to effectively integrate media, such as:
What is the Current Trend?
Virtual World Watch has monitored the use of virtual worlds by UK academics and made reports and presentations on the uses of Second Life in education.
According to the survey observations of one academic, “We seem to be moving into a phase where virtual worlds are taken very seriously as potential environments for learning which means, as an institution, we don’t waste time trying to repeatedly convince ourselves any more.”
For some universities, cost seems to be a looming issue, due to recent cutbacks in educational funding. In response to this, some educators are exploring free, open-source platforms for virtual worlds besides Second Life, such as Open Simand Open Wonderland. OpenSim is emerging as the most popular open source platform for academics.
Image by John Lester