What are Virtual Worlds?

The capability of virtual worlds has expanded considerably in the past few years, with enormous development in building tools, climate simulators, physics engines, and the overall capability of these platforms to simulate reality. Gartner Research, Inc. has estimated that by 2011, 80% of Internet users will have an avatar in a virtual world, and hundreds of platforms to allow those avatars places to interact are already available or in development. Virtually every higher education institution has some sort of work going in around virtual spaces, and in just one platform alone, Linden Lab’s Second Life®, thousands of educational projects and experiments are actively underway. Early projects that drew heavily on real-world forms and practices gradually have given way to more experimental ventures that take advantage of the unique opportunities afforded by virtual worlds and other immersive digital environments. Now we are seeing increased use of these spaces for truly immersive forms of learning and for a level of collaboration that is erasing traditional boundaries and borders rapidly. The technology that supports virtual worlds is advancing at a rapid rate, paving the way for more realistic environments, connections between different platforms, and new ways to enter and use virtual spaces. As participation and development both continue to increase, these environments are becoming ever more interesting spaces with obvious potential for teaching, learning, and creative expression.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

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  • We are working to use virtual world with a pilot group of our secondary students. In the classroom we will use it for student simulation of history events, experiments, language, etc. It will also serve as a closed social networking site for the students (we hope to use the SL Enterprise model.)- jan.morrison jan.morrison Feb 5, 2010
  • Virtual worlds have the capacity to offer students opportunities to investigate and operate within contexts they may otherwise not be able to experience. They have the potential to allow students to test out interactions with others in these environments. Set up well and in ways that are appropriate to given cohorts of students, these students can perhaps gain experiences of things they otherwise might not be able to experience. eg imagine teaching about rainforests. Obviously the best experience of rainforests is to do a school camp in one and undertake structured learning experiences in them. This may not be possible though so if class could go into a virtual world and undertake learning activities there - these may add value to students' learning. I can imagine such environments being particulalrly useful for students (say) with physical disabilities. Virtual worlds can also be used to complement real world experiences. Perhaps there are science experiments that school students should not fully undertake in the real world and further testing could occur in virtual worlds? There are issues to consider though such as: should virtual worlds simply replicate the real world or should they be places that are different to the real world or a mixture of both?- kathryn.moyle kathryn.moyle Feb 9, 2010

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

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  • Who creates the virtual worlds? What virtuals would be useful in K-12 settings? How do virtual worlds link in with OER and open software initiatives? What are the implications for electricity usage of creating classes of avatars? links to green issues? - kathryn.moyle kathryn.moyle Feb 9, 2010
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(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative expression?

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  • I think one of the biggest challenges will be unlearning, assumptions, values and beliefs about the nature of teaching, learning and school. Thus professional development is a crucial issue for our teachers. I saw a presentation by Chris Dede at the FECT Virtual Conference. Some of the things he addressed as relates to use of VW in k-12 education was virtual reality as a learning aid in mastering complex multidimensional information. http://virtual.gmu.edu He also talked about ScienceSpace Worlds (Maxwell World and Newton World. He used this augmented reality project as an example. http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=harp I see VW as a tool to provide sensory immersion for student engagement and learning.- jan.morrison jan.morrison Feb 5, 2010
  • There is considerable potential for impact of virtual worlds on the education sector. Concepts such as distance education could be re-framed. Virtual worlds could be used to overcome issues where physical attendance at school is difficult due to floods or other weather issues that make physically getting to school difficult. Virtual worlds could be used for students to experience potentially dangerous activities in a safe way - or to learn how to do potentially dangerous things online before trying them out in the real world. Virtual worlds could also be used as places where sklls practice could be undertaken. I think there are many potential applications. - kathryn.moyle kathryn.moyle Feb 9, 2010

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

Please share information about related projects in our Horizon K-12 Project form.