It’s Learning Jim but not as we know it (or is it ?)Panellists and audience at Virtual Worlds at Work SleminarMany years ago (long before the desktop computer and in the age of punched cardinput) I joined the Post Office (gives you a clue as to how long ago that was) before itbecame British Telecom. I was a Student Apprentice with a Post Office scholarship tostudy electronic and electrical engineering at Birmingham University as part of a thicksandwich course. In the pre-University year we used to go for training at HorwoodHouse - out in the country near Little Horwood, which I suspect is now in the middleof Milton Keynes.My greatest claim to fame during these often tedious weeks was that I responded to atabloid article breaking the news that Harry Corbett’s “Sooty” contract with the BBCwas not being renewed. Prompted by a mixture of boredom and mischievousness Iwrote an irate letter to “Points of View” suggesting that my colleagues and I werebeing groomed for senior positions in the Post Office and that when one of us becamePostmaster General we would revoke the BBC’s licence to broadcast. My patheticattempt to disguise the identity of the sender was to get all my course colleagues tosign in a circle, but I compounded my crime by using the first notepaper I could laymy hands on – which unfortunately was the college’s official headed notepaper.The letter was aired on national television and, the next morning, a large red facedtutor demanded to know the identity of the writer. After an embarrassing pause Iowned up to the crime and after an even longer and more embarrassing pause,following which he graphically described the flood of calls from Post Office HQ, helet me off the hook by saying how amusing people thought it was.
I mention this anecdote because the tutor had been given the nickname “Or is it?”because of his habit of asking rhetorical questions all of which seemed to end with thewords “Or is it ?”This is perhaps a rather contrived segue into the topic of this article – an explorationof the role of electronic games and virtual worlds like Second Life in Learning. AsBones might have said to Captain Kirk on the deck of the Starship Enterprise “ItsLearning Jim – but not as we know it” to which I will neatly add the question “or is it?”In my role as Director of the Serious Games Institute on Coventry University’sTechnology Park, I often encounter a lot of scepticism about the role of electronicgames and virtual worlds in learning. There is a sense, especially amongst thebusiness community that it is all a gimmick and alien to true learning activities. Myresponse these days is to point out that games and virtual worlds have beenfundamental to effective learning since the dawn of time.Children’s Games by Pieter Breugel (Copyright ?)The painting by Pieter Breugel shows a whole host of activities where people arelearning about themselves, developing new skills, discovering the world around them,and measuring their capabilities against their peers. Today, the activities are the same– it is only the medium that is new. The current generation are in a world wheretechnology can assist and accelerate these processes to the point where young peoplehave many skills and capabilities that exceed those tasked with teaching them.
Entering the virtual world created by the cave artistNor are virtual worlds new to learning activities. Whenever we look at a painting,read a book, listen to the radio or watch television we enter a virtual world which weshare with the creator of that work. The virtual world is a shared experience which isshaped by 2 or more people coming together into a space which only exists in ourminds and which is dynamically created by the different experiences and perceptionsof the creator and the beholder. By definition the learning experience is individual,personal and unique to the learner. In these types of virtual worlds, the learningexperience is asynchronous because the creation and the learning experience areseparated in time.Today’s virtual worlds of the web conference and Second Life Seminar (SLeminar)are only different in the sense that they are synchronous and more like traditionalclassroom learning in which real time interaction can help shape a more uniform andhomogeneous learning experience.
Neurosky uses brainwaves to control the computerOnce the notion becomes commonly accepted that serious games and virtual worldsare not new concepts in the spectrum of learning, the world may have to brace itselffor a whole host of new devices that could potentially totally transform the way weuse technology to learn.Devices like the Neurosky monitor brainwave activity to determine levels ofconcentration and meditation. With surprisingly little practice and without calibrationof the device, most people can quickly begin to control technology with the power ofthought. When this begins to find its way onto the consumer market on the scale ofthe Nintendo Wii, once again we may hear the cry “Its Learning Jim but not as weknow it – or is it ?”David WortleyDirectorSerious Games InstituteCoventry UniversityTel: 07974984351Email: email@example.com