Information Communication Technology (ICTs) literacy has been an important professional competency for teachers for over a decade (Kirschner & Davis, 2003; Steketee, 2005). As such pre-service teacher programs have proceeded to mandate the use of ICTs as a core skill in line with the development of national and state based curriculum standards of ICT integration (ACARA, 2012; Department of Education, 2012). The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority outlines the importance of ICTs thus:
Increasingly, ICT permeates every area of our society and lives. Students need to be equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to use ICT to support contemporary learning and living. ICT affords the opportunities to personalise learning and to learn both within and out of school. (ACARA, 2012)
Despite the integration of ICT specific courses in teacher education programs, pre-service teachers and teachers still report that they feel ill equipped to implement ICTs effectively (Gill & Dalgarno, 2008). With the exponential increase in the use of ICTs in students’ personal lives through mobile and social networking technology, the need for pre-service teachers and teachers to be comfortable with and confident in integrating ICTs is ever more pressing. The types of ICTs that teachers are required to integrate into their teaching needs to move beyond word processing and spreadsheets as highlighted in the announcement by the UK Education Secretary Michael Gove that he was “scrapping the existing ICT curriculum” so that “Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch”(Gove, 2012).
Virtual worlds (VWs) fit firmly in the category of new ICTs that are being used by children. Ten to fifteen year olds are the highest growing sector of VW users with 787million registered accounts at the end of 2011 (KZero, 2012). VWs are an evolving ICT that provide a computer based 3D simulated environment in which participants can interact with objects, their surroundings and each other using both asynchronous and synchronous communication media. There are currently 2 billion registered user accounts with over 200 VWs being used for education, gaming, socialising, medical, entertainment, and creative pursuits. Over the last decade interest and use of VWs in higher education has increased as evident in the research literature (Kirriemuir, 2008; Messinger, Stroulia, & Lyons, 2008; Moschini, 2010; Warburton, 2009). Savin-Baden (2011) proposes that VWs are useful in higher education because:
Experimentation can occur in ways that are not possible in real life;
Online and distance education offers opportunity to develop communities, create trust and increase the sense of presence in learning;
It offers an opportunity to play with roles and identity; and
Activities tend not to have real life consequences (e.g., gender swapping or flying into buildings) (p. 7).