Virtual Worlds: Second Life
This week in INDT 501, I explored the possibility of using virtual worlds in the classroom, specifically the most widely used virtual environment known as Second Life. Initially, I was super hesitant of educational uses in an environment like Second Life, given what I already knew about it being a place to exploit others, usually sexually, just as AIM chats were often abused in the 1990’s. As I continued to read and learn about Second Life (SL), the issue of exploitation in virtual environments was addressed by a number of factors:
- There are two separate “grids” in SL, one for those 18 years and up and one for teens. The adult grid contains a considerable amount of explicit content– whether it be violent or sexual; whereas, the SL for teens is highly regulated and excludes adults, unless approved via background check and/or adults entering and approved as educators. Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission assessed the risks of virtual worlds and delineated the amount of explicit content found in various virtual environments. As predicted, the amount of explicit content for virtual worlds specifically created and regulated for adolescents contained considerably less explicit, adult content compared to the adult worlds. FTC. (2009) “Virtual worlds and kids: Mapping the risks.”
- The learning gained from virtual environments outweighs the minimal risks.
– Virtual environments provide opportunities that might otherwise be unavailable to schools/students. For instance, students can virtually travel abroad quickly and essentially at no financial cost. What makes traveling abroad in virtual environments different from visiting historical, tourist sites in Google Earth is the capability to interact with one’s peers and other young people while there. Bringing me to my next point…
– Learning is social. Virtual worlds provide students with an enormous community of young people with which to interact with and learn.
– Even when language acts as a barrier, most students can still manage to communicate using technology. Even students from different origins can come together over the same virtual environment, using the same code and computer skills. Take, for instance, Changchun American International School, where “about half [of the students] are Chinese and the rest are from the US, Germany, Australia, Korea, Mexico, and other countries” (Korolov, 2011). Despite different levels of fluency, all students communicate in English and build code together in OpenSim, a SL environment designed for these students.
-Given that students in today’s classrooms are digital natives, the learning curve in virtual worlds is typically small for adolescents. In fact, learning how to use virtual environments is usually more difficult for the teacher than the student– adding more support for more extensive professional development in technologies!
-John K. Waters (2009) elaborates on the benefits of using SL in the classroom in his article “A ‘Second Life’ for Educators.” This article helped me see SL as a more viable classroom tool.
On the other hand, the downsides are…
Like other new technologies, I think there are some problems regarding access and financial burden. While most people have access to internet, they may not have the latest and greatest computers or bandwidth capabilities. While students do not have to download the entire world of SL onto their (or school) computers– they simply need to download the viewer that takes up relatively little space on hard drives, the actually creation of virtual learning spaces involves using large amounts of bandwidth and actually using real money to buy or rent virtual real estate. Moreover, to use virtual worlds at optimal speed and efficiency, the most recent, updated computer systems are recommended. Given that most schools contain only one or two mildly updated computer labs and a couple computers, usually outdated, in each classroom, successfully utilizing virtual worlds, or other technologies for that matter, can be downright frustrating — if not completely impossible.
At the end of the day…
I see myself attempting to use virtual worlds, given the technological capacity to do so in my classroom, even if only for a few days/one or two projects. I want to give my students the opportunity to try out new technologies, like SL. If I find it to be successful and fun for my students, I might consider incorporating virtual environments more often. Like most things in teaching, it will be a matter or trial and error/experimenting.
Moreover, I think virtual worlds are highly conducive to blended learning, which is an approach I would like to try when I get into the classroom. An article I read recently by Josh Woodward (2012) clarified blended learning in a way that I find relevant to INDT 501 and using virtual worlds:
“Blended learning is not about replacing teachers with machines. Rather, it’s about leveraging technology to provide students and teachers with immediate feedback, holding each individual student accountable for his or her academic success, and personalizing coursework to best meet students exactly where they are.”
I think Woodward is spot on in his definition of blended learning. I also think using virtual worlds in the classroom may help teachers successful utilize the blended learning approach. Virtual worlds have great potential for personalizing learning and for students showcasing both their individual achievements and community successes.
On that note, I conclude this week’s INDT 501 wrap-up. While this may be my last INDT 501 weekly blog reflection, I will try to maintain some degree of habitually updating this blog and posting my latest educational thoughts. See you next time!
Federal Trade Commission. (2009). “Virtual world & kids: Mapping the risks.” Retrieved from http://www.ftc.gov/os/2009/12/oecd-vwrpt.pdf
Korolov, M. (2011 February 15). “China school programs in 3D” in Hypergrid Business. Retrieved from http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/2011/02/china-school-goes-3d/
Water, J.K. (2009 January 1). “A ‘second life’ for educators” in THE Journal. Retrieved from http://thejournal.com/Articles/2009/01/01/A-Second-Life-For-Educators.aspx?Page=1
Woodward, J. (2013 March 27). “How blended learning saved my teaching career” in Education Week Teacher. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2013/03/26/fp_woodward_blended.html?tkn=ZYOF7lXU8bJIQt5t5yA%2F%2FMXuiJBaV49uDcPO&cmp=SOC-EDIT-FB