Virtual Worlds in Education ... why?


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A presentation to the Information Studies department in the University of Sheffield, in the spring of 2009.

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  • Hello Sheffield!\n
  • Is it part of a structured, learning activity? Related to something on the curriculum? What is learning? When are you learning?\n
  • Aleks Krotoski showed me around what she had built in Second Life, which gave me my aha! moment.\n
  • Virtual World Watch was originally funded by Eduserv, but is now moving on to an independent status. Exciting times ahead.\n
  • Okay - onto the virtual world stuff now.\n
  • For a myriad of reasons, more people don’t travel to physically learn in the same room as other people, or the educator. PhD students working remotely are a good example of this.\n
  • There’s many different ways to communicate within a virtual world - text, voice, gesture, private message and so forth. And most of this can be recorded, either in-world or using tools, for replay, debriefing, note taking or analysis later. At events in Second Life, the backchannel can be awesome (and unlike twitter, there’s no restriction on text length).\n
  • Build your own academic environment. Or use someone else’s. Or get your students to build it. Everything starts with a box...\n
  • Virtual Worlds in education are, when used properly, about effective communication. Of information, ideas, speech, conversation, concepts, whatever. A good virtual world allows the presenter to communicate in the most effective way. Here, a powerpoint presentation is being fed into SL, with the audience (who could be anywhere in the world) able to engage with the speaker.\n
  • Yes, that’s the BBC iPlayer. You can stick web content on a prim (the basic building block of Second Life), and do things with flash as well. Nice one, Annabeth.\n
  • This seems to be becoming the year of geo-data (finally), with apps such as Foursquare for mobile devices, open data initiatives, Bing maps becoming 3D and geocaching finally breaking out of its niche and becoming more well-known. Virtual Worlds aren’t being left behind, with some organisations experimenting with linking real-world geo-data to stuff in virtual worlds\n
  • A few examples of how virtual worlds are being used by academics.\n
  • Some headline facts from Virtual World Watch - which are almost as true now as they have largely been for the past few years. Le sigh.\n
  • Bearing in mind that this is from the sample of responses to snapshots, and therefore may not be representative of UK VW activity as a whole.\n
  • At the University of Ulster, the virtual world team have built a medieval cannon. Using principles of physics, the distance the flaming barrel can be thrown depends on a number of variable factors. At Bromley College, wind turbines designed by students can be tested for efficiency.\n
  • A perhaps surprisingly popular subject domain, with 4+ UK universities alone creating midwifery birthing simulations in Second Life. Note the coloured balls, which are actionable. Oh, and if you think this isn’t realistic, then have a go - remember that avatars move and make noises...\n
  • The Virtual Printing Press, developed at Oxford. Zoom in, zoom out, wander around it, have a good look.\n
  • There’s a lot of genetic, biological and chemical stuff in virtual worlds. Makes sense; you can make things, explore them, rotate them, and so on in a quick, cheap and safe manner.\n
  • Cheap to build and safe. Trainees can sit at home and wander around (in the simulation), or practice scenarios. Once they’re sufficiently trained up - THEN they can put on a hard hat and go into the real thing!\n
  • It’s not all plain sailing. Here’s a few issues that crop up with virtual worlds.\n
  • Which virtual world to choose is an issue. Second Life is by far the most popular, and has the most educational traction, but it isn’t problem-free; experiences and attitudes vary.\n
  • \n
  • This is not a heavily controlled environment. People can create avatars, stylise them, move around, explore things, fly, communicate, create things. If this is a problem, then maybe virtual worlds aren’t for you and you need to check out something with much less functionality and options for users. s\n
  • It is really hard to find stuff in them. Everyone takes search and link for granted; in virtual worlds, search facilities are non-existent.\n
  • So? There’s no-one in your local university at 1am. Or in lecture hall 3b for most of the 24 hour day. Does this mean they aren’t useful?\n\nYou need to go into a virtual world with a purpose. Without a purpose will have you wondering what to do next as soon as you are inside.\n
  • \n
  • Less of a problem now in Universities than it used to be, but it still crops up.\n
  • Some of the reasons academics come out with for not considering virtual worlds. The ‘it’ll never catch on’ one is especially good, as some academics have been using virtual worlds for several years now.\n
  • \n
  • Virtual Worlds in Education ... why?

    1. 1. Virtual worlds in education ... why? Department of Information Studies Sheffield UniversityPaolo Margari
    3. 3. MY EPIPHANYBefore: “This looks like areally crap video game.Why is it so popular?”During: “Oh. I can do whatI want. And these are realpeople, makinginformation available.”After: “Ah. It’s people andinformation, and what youmake of it.” Roo Reynolds
    4. 4. VWW: VIRTUAL WORLD WATCH“Snapshots” of who is usingvirtual worlds, and how, in UKuniversities and colleges.Unexpectedly large numbers ofdownloads.Funded by Eduserv from 2007to about Roo Reynolds
    6. 6. THE DEATH OF TRAVEL TO LEARN? Quoting Martin Bean, Vice-Chancellor, Open University
    7. 7. John Kirriemuir
    8. 8. BUILD WHAT YOU NEED... PF Anderson
    9. 9. MIX UP YOUR MEDIA N Speller
    10. 10. ...INCREASINGLY, ANY MEDIA Annabeth Robinson
    11. 11. BLEED IN GEO-STUFF, MAPS DadenMedia
    13. 13. CURRENT STATE OF PLAY• 90%+ of UK academics who use VWs use Second Life.• (new) Every UK university has done something in VWs.• Activity in UK colleges much patchier.• Some, but not much, overlap with academic communities who use other technologies e.g. Blackboard, digital games.• Steadily growing research base of materials.• Difficulty in quickly/simply showing benefits of virtual worlds to colleagues, students, noobs underlying problem.
    14. 14. MAIN SUBJECT AREAS OF VW USE Health and medicine. Art and fashion. Nursing training. Legal training. Midwifery. Theatre and drama. Health and safety training. Computer science programming. Physics simulations e.g. wind turbines. Crime scene training. Information science theory. Languages, esp. Spanish.
    15. 15. PHYSICS SGVW Team, University of Ulster
    16. 16. MIDWIFERY Kate Boardman
    17. 17. MECHANICS AND HISTORY Kate Boardman
    18. 18. MICRO LEVEL STUFF Hiro Sheridan
    19. 19. SIMULATION (QUARRY) University of Derby / Institute of Quarrying
    21. 21. SECOND LIFE: EMBRACE OR AVOID? “It’s easy to use.” “It’s hard to use.” “There’s loads of free stuff “Bloody expensive to get a in there already.” decent chunk of land.” “There’s lots of other “Academics I know have academics in my subject been scared off it because area using it.” of newspaper stories.” “Been around for many “Every week a VW seems to years, so looks solid.” fold; is Second Life next?”
    22. 22. “IT’S JUST A GAME!”Things wrong with this:1. It isn’t (what’s the game objective if it is?). You don’t understand what a game is.2.What’s wrong with games anyway?3.Some games used in teaching and learning.4.Psychological limitations: fun is dangerous, not useful?
    23. 23. WTF IS GOING ON?!! Bettina Tizzy
    24. 24. FINDING ‘STUFF’ IS HARDMillions of people usevirtual worlds.There are many virtualworlds.Search facilities range frombasic to non-existent.“Stuff” is inconsistentlylabelled.There is no ‘google’. John Kirriemuir
    25. 25. “THERE’S NO-ONE HERE.” UM, SO?
    26. 26. OH NO! SOMETHING BAD! “The Internet is bad.” “If you go online you will immediately encounter sex, nudity, perversion, wherever you go.” “University students must be kept away from it.”(Rather than teach them how todeal with it in all forms of life). Sari Choche
    27. 27. TECH SUPPORT SAY “NO.”
    28. 28. ACADEMIC SAYS NO“I don’t have the time tolearn new stuff.”“What I use works fine forme.”“I’m retiring soon so it’snot worth it.”“It’ll never catch on.”“In my day...” Pelican
    29. 29. NOW YOUR TURN (IF YOU WANT)Go into Second Life with a purpose. An event, a groupmeeting, a specific list of locations to explore.Allow an hour (yes, 60 minutes of your life) to edit youravatar and get used to flying around.Try all forms of communication.Trying clicking on interesting stuff to see what happens.Do physical stuff; ride a fairwheel, go skydiving, drop in at apub, go disco dancing, try on some free costumes.