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Towards a Theory of Immersive Fluency
Nicola Marae Allain, Ph. D.
SUNY Empire State College
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866 USA
This is a presentation given during an Immersive Education Summit in Boston, June 2013. The presentation was accompanied by a full paper published in the Journal of Immersive Education.
The author discusses the theory and practice of immersion applied in the Master of Arts in Learning and Emerging Technologies (MALET) at SUNY Empire State College, which provides graduate students with immersion in virtual worlds learning as they acquire fluency across literacies. Learners co-create in collaborative virtual environments as designers of teaching and learning experiences. They participate in peer review in preparation for an open, juried showcase presented in virtual worlds, and design a complete learning environment for the Advanced Design Seminar. The fluency they acquire requires moving beyond literacies as they work in environments which foster a host of experiences leading to visual, digital, media, cultural, and critical fluencies.
Immersive education requires participants to push beyond basic literacies. The act of immersion in itself includes the integration of a complex set of skills – habituation to being within an avatar embodiment, habile navigation, handling headsets, communication etiquette, orienting oneself to the environment, etc. In immersive learning situations, students are also asked to interact with, and create, a variety of digital media in interdisciplinary contexts. In collaborative settings, they must also coordinate the complex logistics of teamwork and content creation as they master the new environments.
Regardless of entry literacy level, students and teachers in immersive environments quickly learn to integrate skills and literacies and apply them to emergent experiences. For example, in a Media Arts course in which students co-create interactive media works, they create work with mastery of digital literacy skills at the level of fluency. In fact, fluency in at least one of the media arts is a prerequisite for the course. They apply critical literacy to the peer review of works and visual, cultural, and information literacies to the development of content. The work culminates in a juried Media Arts Festival hosted in a virtual world. Presentation of their piece for the festival requires a high level integration of immersive fluency.
The challenge of working fluently across a combination of literacies is, of course, a major hurdle in implementing immersive education. Even when students, particularly digital natives, embrace the complexities of the medium, faculty often struggle to develop the technical skills required to create immersive experiences. Their skills and knowledge sometimes fall short of the fluency required to succeed in these environments. The author includes a discussion of challenges and strategies to reach fluency.
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