Schools based in the United States are trapped in a Henry Ford factory model of education that is focused on high-stakes testing. This model was effective when factories needed workers who possessed the same skill set. But the world has changed and societal demands on student learning have increased. Moreover, millions of students are failing to graduate from high school, which is a problem that continues to escalate. In an attempt to prepare students for work in the 21st century and to address the dropout crisis, educators are examining ways to integrate virtual worlds, including digital games, into the curriculum. This chapter begins by summarizing some of the theories that commonly frame the discussions about these worlds. Next an examination of the issues surrounding virtual worlds is presented. The concluding sections outline and describe the pedagogical mnemonic known as the “SECOND LIFE” model.
The demand for education is on the rise. Between 2006 and 2015, the National Center for Educational Statistics (2006) anticipates a 13% increase in college enrollment alone. But for the most part, our academic institutions continue to follow a trajectory put forth in the 19th century (Herz cited in Foreman, 2004) – a path based on rote learning and high-stakes testing. While the Henry Ford model of education may have been effective when factories needed workers, today’s world is different and the societal demands on student learning are higher. Students in the 21st century are tech-savvy and claim that they are bored with school (Prensky, 2001). At the same time, school dropout rates in the United States have risen to crisis levels (e.g., Spellings, 2008). For students who do graduate from high school and college, the reports about their on-the-job performance are not positive. In fact, many employers note dissatisfaction with the young people that they hire (Cassner-Lotto & Wright Benner, 2006).
In an attempt to rectify this situation, individuals are investigating ways to make education more appealing and relevant to students by integrating fun into the curriculum (Barab et al., 2005; Quinn, 2005).To do this, educators are exploring a variety of technological options including virtual worlds such as Second Life (SL). This chapter begins by acknowledging the theoretical perspectives that inform teaching and learning initiatives that take place in virtual worlds. Constructivist, situated learning, and digital game-based learning theories will serve as the framework for this discussion. Next, the discussion explores the educational possibilities afforded by these spaces and the challenges teachers and students may face in-world. And finally, the chapter concludes with an outline of a pedagogical structure to support teaching and learning in virtual worlds - the SECOND LIFE model.