MUVE’S: Multi-User Virtual Environments for Teaching and Learning Alejandra Garza Tomas Moreno Birzabit Iracheta Iliana Aguirre
A little history…
Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw (70’s) developed the first MUD (Multi-User Dungeon/Domain/Dimension, depending on the source) to facilitate multi-player role-playing games run over computer networks, allowing groups of individuals to build virtual realities collaboratively.
Limited visual and social cues, Immersion in text-based virtual environments have the capacity to support thriving virtual communities that demonstrate characteristics of traditional communities, such as love, hate, friendship, and betrayal (Rheingold, 1993).
Advances in computational power and network connectivity have driven the evolution of MUDs, resulting in diverse human computer interfaces such as MOOs (object-oriented MUDs), MUVEs (multi-user virtual environments), and MMORPGs (massively-multiplayer online role-playing games), among others.
Although MUVEs are commonplace to gamers (i.e., players of EverQuest, Doom, and Madden NFL), the affordances of this interface are rarely utilized for substantive teaching and learning.
MUVEs have been used in education for:
Creating online communities for pre-service teacher training and in-service professional development
Engaging science-based activities while promoting socially responsive behavior
Helping students understand and experience history by immersing them emotionally and politically in a historical context
Promoting social and moral development via cultures of enrichment
Providing an environment for programming and collaboration
Creatively exploring new mathematical concepts.
Engaging in scientific inquiry
Multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) are a popular form of multimedia-based entertainment. However, recently attention has turned to exploring their use to support learning, and several research groups have been creating MUVEs and investigating their effectiveness. MUVEs designed for the educational community embed tasks or problems within a virtual environment or context. Users can:
a) Access virtual contexts
b) Explore the environment and interact with digital objects
c) Represent themselves through “avatars”
d) Communicate with other users (in some cases also with computer-based agents)
Educational MUVEs are designed to support inquiry-based learning and conceptual understanding. Usually there is no one “right” way to perform the task or solve the problem. Instead, several solutions are justified, although, as in real life, some solutions may be better than others. Importance is placed on the logic of students’ reasoning. Unlike MUVEs designed purely for entertainment, students using educational MUVEs often must gather information offline, and usually there is a final product that they must submit, such as a report or a video diary of their experience.
Harvard University’s River City MUVE (http://muve.gse.harvard.edu/rivercityproject) is an illustrative case study. It is described as “a multi-user virtual environment for learning scientific inquiry and 21st century skills”. The virtual environment is a nineteenth century American town that is plagued by disease. Students work in teams to develop a hypothesis regarding the disease’s cause. They can interview citizens of River City, read relevant documents, visit the hospital, and review photographs. Agents are available to provide guidance, but the students determine the approach they will take.
The focus is on learning both science concepts and inquiry. In one study of nearly 700 students, those who used River City showed greater improvement in their inquiry skills than did control students who used a paper-based curriculum. Additionally, qualitative measures indicated that they had a better understanding of the science content (Ketelhut, Dede, Clarke, & Nelson, 2006). The grade levels for the study were not specified, but River City is designed for students in grades 5 through 12. According to an exploratory study, programs such as River City might also support student development of self-efficacy (Ketelhut, 2007).
ADVANCES IN THE SCIENCE OF HOW PEOPLE LEARN
Parallel to the technological and networking developments necessary to produce MUVEs are the psychological frameworks needed to understand their impact on cognition. Recent advances in the science of how people learn consider the situated and distributed nature of cognition as applied to thinking, learning, and doing in workplace and community settings.
Sheingold and Frederiksen (1994) have noted that, “to change our expectations about what students should know and be able to do will involve also changing both the standards by which student achievements are judged and the methods by which student’s accomplishments are assessed” (p. 111).
MUVEs are a technology-based innovation that..
changes both what and how students learn and teachers teach
lends itself to capturing student learning.
Changing Teaching and Learning
A primary reason for studying and developing MUVEs, such as River City, is their ability to leverage aspects of authentic learning conditions that are hard to cultivate in traditional classroom settings (Griffin, 1995). In addition to creating experiences that take advantage of the situated and distributed nature of cognition, MUVEs also allow for the design of situations that are not possible or practical in the real world. Through the affordances of a MUVE, researchers and designers can create scenarios with real-world verisimilitude that are safe, cost effective, and directly target learning goals.
MUVEs for Assessment
Limitations of traditional classroom practices make it impossible to monitor and track what every student is doing, leaving educators unsure of what students have (or have not) learned. Facial expressions, shows of hands, and cold-calling individual students are tacit ways of calibrating the learning taking place in a classroom; but they fail to capture the efforts of every student. Future trends in MUVE research include establishing efficient and effective mechanisms for capturing and processing what students know and are able to do.