Thanks to multiple-retweeting, I recently discovered the Higher Education Academy (who fund SWIFT)-commissioned “A literature review of the use of Web 2.0 tools in Higher Education” and it has an interesting section on Virtual Worlds (VWs).
Overall, the report [pg. 40, somewhat reworded] sums up the challenge of benefiting from VWs as:
1. Understanding that “traditional” pedagogic approaches are not always the best
The thing is, university teaching could be much more effective if we were to design it from scratch (see Laurillard, 2002). The VW environments have features that the real world does not have and allow more teaching approaches, but given that we are not utilising much of what we already have, it’s not surprising that too many projects have simply taken traditional teaching and replicated it in VWs. So, when people ask “What’s the point of a lecture hall in a VW?”, my reply tends to be “What’s the point of a lecture hall in real life?”.
2. Finding the most effective way to use this new tool
Virtual worlds are a physical environment that can provide a practical learning experience in context. With reference to my last post, the learner can interact with modelled real world spaces (e.g. Genetics Island, 1920’s Berlin), explore social situations (role play) in the context of those spaces (e.g. virtual hospital, language school) and learn directly from experience (e.g. virtual hallucinations).
3. Developing new VWs
Moodle and Blackboard both benefit from having the other as competitor. The VW of Second Life has benefitted from others such as OpenSim, and vice versa. This should, and will, continue. But really, I see a different type of VW emerging. It needs to be more iPad app style.
4. Removing technical and social barriers to VW use
In 1995, I was studying Psychology and the AI tutor announced that “There’s something new in the library that you should go and see. It will be important. It’s called the World Wide Web.” 15 years later, we can all have that in our pockets. The same, I’m sure, will happen for VWs.
5. Adjusting institutional policies to allow teaching with VWs to be as mainstream as VLEs like Blackboard and Moodle
VWs are easily dismissed as “just a game”, because they look like that at first glance, and first glance is all that some people give them. The technology will always be inferior to the real world that we are used to. Yet what we have in VWs is quite capable of doing what we need. It’s like being used to a bus, wanting a car, and being dismissive of the offer of a bike, when the task is visiting the corner shop on a sunny day.
Institutional policies do not usually change easily. In fact, it may take until we change the way Universities teach in real life before it suddenly becomes helpful to teach with VWs. Maybe the painful process of budget cuts will have this change as a silver lining. Or maybe it won’t. But there are better ways of teaching than simply standing on a stage and lecturing. Sooner or later, change will come.
Paul Rudman, BDRA
Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking University Teaching: a conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.