This week I explored immersive learning technologies: virtual worlds where one can explore information in content-rich way, almost like virtual games, but with the twist that they are not really like other games in that they don’t have rules or give any direction. The whole concept had me asking the question of “Ok, but what do you do?!”, throughout my experience learning about immersive technologies. I ultimately found that these virtual worlds can provide a meaningful learning experience, but with added direction by an educator.
In terms of learning activities within a virtual world, Second Life (SL) has a multitude possibilities, although I only tried a few. As I explored in the learning activity, students could visit a library to research different religious traditions and see their own religion through a different perspective, as well as read selected texts and view embedded videos. Students would be directed by the class blog or course management system (CMS) to research a location within SL with the objectives in mind. Next, they could share their findings via the synchronous or asynchronous class discussion board and ultimately create a project as a group, based on their findings. As suggested by Livingstone & Kemp (2006), a more pedagogically-based approach can be possible by integrating CMS and other new technologies with the virtual world.
The fact that the virtual world of SL is wholly unstructured was a hindrance to me, but could be a strength for learners, as can be seen by the popular use of Minecraft (which is also unstructured). I don’t think that this would form good activity for my secondary students, I think it’s more age-appropriate for my higher education students. Another issue is the possibility of a student becoming distracted and not finishing a learning activity at all. One would have to set up location-specific access where the educator controls where the student can explore.
I have had the opportunity to use helicopter flight simulators (sims), most recently a newer model of helicopter sim used like those used by the military. This was the most rich experience I have ever had in a virtual, 3D environment. The virtual world inside the sim was more life-like as I imagined it could be, with no lag-time and crystal-clear pictures. Physically, the sim shaked and the controls mimicked the actual hydraulic pressure on a real helicopter, successfully fooling the senses. I had been in flight sims for the Huey UH-1 ten years before, and the difference between the two experiences was striking: the latter was definitely more immersive, as the picture covered the side windows instead of just the windshields, the picture was infinitely more life-like and the physical sensations much more believable. It was ultimately exactly what I expected a multi-million dollar, government flight sim to be: using the most cutting-edge technologies to mimic real-world experience in a physically-stimulating fashion.
As mentioned above, SL was a difficult concept for me to get my head around and it took me about an hour to get my bearings and have the ability to perform basic tasks. I believe this was compounded by the fact that I actively disliked playing computer games for most of my life. I had fun chatting with different people, though, and I think I could make a English language-learning activity by having students chat with different people from around the world and then copy their conversations down for me to check.
Observations and Conclusions
I think that the formation of a network of different educational opportunities (a type of internet in the virtual world) would be useful in making a resource of easily-accessible learning activities. I feel like immersive virtual worlds have potential, but I don’t think they are currently being used to the degree that they could be. The experience left me wanting more of a guide, an experience inside a virtual meeting and presentation would be better suited for me. Because of cost savings, meetings and even trainings within SL are economical and can be highly collaborative due to the voice and written chat options. I did find the experience somewhat liberating, as one can make an avatar look a number of ways, in fact one does not even need to be a human.
I strongly feel that there should be more educational research into SL, as I would feel more confident in using it by example. I have changed my initial view of SL simply being a time-wasting escape-from-real-life game into an engaging activity that can actually foster collaboration. I do not see SL as a game anymore, but more like a different medium of experience.
Livingstone, D. & Kemp, J. (2006). Massively multi-learner: recent advances in 3d social environments Retrieved from https://post.blackboard.com/bbcswebdav/pid-1870311-dt-content-rid-19160421_1/courses/EDU625.901238026230/Documents/Unit%206%20Resources/Massively_MultiLearner.pdf