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RIDE2013 presentation: Teaching in Virtual Worlds: A 2013 snapshot


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Presentation from 'Future Technology' strand at the CDE’s Research and Innovation in Distance Education and eLearning conference, held at Senate House London on 1 November 2013. Conducted by Dr Clare Sansom (Birkbeck College, University of London).

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RIDE2013 presentation: Teaching in Virtual Worlds: A 2013 snapshot

  1. 1. Teaching in Virtual Worlds: A 2013 Snapshot Clare Sansom Department of Biological Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London Fellow of the Centre for Distance Education
  2. 2. What is a virtual world?  An immersive online environment or alternate reality     People move and interact in-world as player characters or avatars Generally richly 3D graphics based Technology based on or derived from games such as World of Warcraft But now often used for serious purposes, particularly education
  3. 3. The most popular (and populated) world: Second Life  Launched in 2003 by California-based Linden Labs     A fully commercial Internet company Basic use is free Offers educational discounts (but these vary) “Millions” of user accounts; currently about 50-60,000 avatars active online at any time
  4. 4. Gartner’s Hype Cycle
  5. 5. 2007: Peak of Inflated Expectations?  Gartner estimates “by the end of 2011, 80 percent of active Internet users will have a ’second life’ [that is, will be active in virtual worlds] but not necessarily in Second Life”.  2007: ~330M Internet users  2011: >> 250M virtual world users - ???  The journal Nature hosts lectures and discussions in Second Life  John Kirriemuir of Virtual World Watch publishes first of 10 snapshots of virtual world use in UK higher education  And Birkbeck College dips its toe in the water…
  6. 6. Birkbeck’s Experience   Piloted Web 2.0 technologies to facilitate learning in a distance learning MSc course Included meetings of a “focus group” of past and present students in Second Life   Mixed experiences     Hoped to try interacting with 3D molecular models Some very positive: particularly one exstudent with Asperger’s syndrome Some “couldn’t see the point” Many unable to access due to technical issues Steep learning curve for staff and students
  7. 7. 2011-12: Trough of Disillusionment?      User numbers vastly down on Gartner’s expectations Linden Labs removes many of Second Life’s academic discounts John Kirriemuir notes “some diminution” in VW use by UK academics in his 10th (and last) snapshot Birkbeck has abandoned the experiment But the technology still has important educational advocates … Or plateau of productivity???
  8. 8. The 2013 Snapshot  Eight in-depth interviews with academics with extensive experience of virtual world use in academia  All   but one UK based Shorter interviews with academics who choose not to use the system A short literature survey
  9. 9. The Interview Questions        Which virtual worlds have you used for teaching and/or research? What is your institution’s official position? Has it changed recently? What successful case studies are there (particularly in teaching)? Any unsuccessful ones? Which teaching scenarios or pedagogical approaches are supported most effectively by virtual worlds? What are the main challenges to virtual world adoption in HE? What are the main competitors to this technology? How do you see virtual worlds being used in education in 5 years time?
  10. 10. Which virtual worlds are used?   All participants had used (or tried) Second Life Some have used…  Open Sim: a wholly open source Second Life equivalent  Wonderland (a little)  Unity 3D: a virtual world “engine” for creating closed virtual environments  Used for specific “game” scenarios
  11. 11. A Taxonomy for Virtual Worlds Fewer participants Unity 3D “scenarios” Narrative driven Open ended Second Life More participants
  12. 12. Institutional “Buy-In”   A very mixed picture A few very keen – e.g. University of Edinburgh    Some still interested but less involved   The Virtual University of Edinburgh Parallel graduation ceremonies held in Second Life The Open University Some have no interest, with involved academics “very much on a limb”  The University of Greenwich
  13. 13. The Virtual University of Edinburgh
  14. 14. Successful Case Studies I “Real Life” scenarios that are difficult in real life    Managing major incidents Accident investigation and “triage” Court based scenarios for law students “you can’t replicate the sense of immersion that Second Life offers the students even with role play”.
  15. 15. Successful Case Studies II Learning and Practising Methodology  Procedural learning  Preparation for field or practical work   Enabling students to make the best use of their time in field or lab Learning how to operate intricate and expensive equipment Virtual Genetics Lab., University of Leicester
  16. 16. Successful Case Studies III Exploring Digital Identity   Image © Andromeda Media Group More “open ended” scenarios work well in psychology and social science disciplines if the aim is to explore the students’ own perception of their inworld identity These rely on student understanding more than the other case studies
  17. 17. And what doesn’t work?  Virtual “chalk and talk” – replacing lectures for students at a distance  Immersion doesn’t add value beyond more accessible technologies  Unplanned open-ended “activities”  “I just went into Second Life and wandered around, I didn’t know what to do there” (Disappointed student)  Most explorations of molecular structure  Perhaps a surprising addition
  18. 18. So… what’s wrong with molecular structure?     Steep learning curve for creating “interactive” molecules Graphics programs offering more complex rendering are far simpler to learn and use Immersion fails to “add value” Games can sometimes work well Protein structures viewed in… Second Life Standard molecular graphics
  19. 19. Pedagogy in Virtual Worlds  Mark Childs (Coventry) identified four pedagogical approaches      Most successful case studies fit into the cognitive or social constructivist categories   Associative (transmitting information) Cognitive (problem solving) Social constructivist (forming ideas by discussion) Connectivist (emerging from interaction between people) Using well defined contexts or situations Game-based scenarios offer benefits over both more restricted and more open-ended approaches
  20. 20. Challenges to Virtual Worlds  Financial    Steep increase in “building” charges for educational establishments  Led to many institutions disinvesting  Now partially reversed Across-the-board funding difficulties led to refocus on “core” activities Institutional   Overall scepticism, particularly from key senior staff Poor digital literacy
  21. 21.  Technological     Technology difficult for educators to learn to use well Students unable to access due to firewalls or inadequate kit Software still “clunky”: early adopters expected it to improve more quickly Students!   Some like the approach, others hate it… All (or almost all) prefer mobile technology for learning
  22. 22. Competitors to Virtual Worlds And perhaps most of all…
  23. 23. The strongest competitor is mobile Almost all students prefer to use their smartphones for… almost everything
  24. 24. … And the Future?       “change will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary” “virtual worlds will settle down in their niche, with appropriate applications that work well” “more blended learning, combining the real and the virtual… augmented technology” “A complete virtual city… Linden Labs is working on this, but it will take much more than 5 years” “Broadband speeds will eventually become fast enough for virtual worlds to go mainstream” “A virtual world that runs on a smartphone will be very popular, but it will be very difficult to write one without using Java”
  25. 25. Some Conclusions   Virtual worlds, recently over-hyped as educational tools, are settling down into a “plateau of productivity” This will involve       Task- and game-based scenarios Closely linked to situations that students and professionals will meet in “real life” Learning through collaboration Appropriate design is crucial Students with disabilities can find them particularly helpful Mobile, virtual reality based learning is an aspiration worth aiming for
  26. 26. Acknowledgements         Jean-Claude Bradley, Drexel University, USA David Burden, Daden Ltd. Mark Childs, Coventry University Sara de Freitas and colleagues, Serious Games Institute, Coventry Liz Falconer, University of the West of England, director of MA in Education in Virtual Worlds Jim Gritton, University of Greenwich Shailey Minocha, Open University Austin Tate, Virtual University of Edinburgh