Virtual Constructivism: Avatars in Action

Virtual Constructivism: Avatars in Action

Laura M. Nicosia (Montclair State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-654-9.ch009
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Contemporary educators have been reassessing pedagogical frameworks and reevaluating accepted epistemologies and ontologies of learning. The age-old debate whether knowledge is gained or constructed seems drawn to a consensus in the 21st Century: those who seek knowledge are active participants in the learning process and they have uniquely 21st Century attributes. Web 2.0+ technologies, various social media (Facebook, MySpace, Blogger, YouTube) and online virtual reality environments (Second Life, World of Warcraft, Sims) have influenced today’s students in ways that constructivists should explore, embrace and exploit. This essay explores how Second Life (SL) effectively employs and distills the principles of educational constructivism. SL offers endless opportunities for immersion within user-constructed environments and activities. Educational use of SL may facilitate learner-led activities and yield learning that is prompted by desire and curiosity rather than learning for learning’s sake. By exploiting these qualities with constructivist pedagogies, educators create environments that challenge and enable students to engage in the deepest kinds of learning.
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Teaching within Second Life—one of the most successful three-dimensional online virtual worlds—characteristically enables the deployment, application and distillation of several key principles of educational constructivism. Second Life (SL) offers its participants virtually endless opportunities for immersive experiences within user-constructed environments, communities and quests. By exploiting these qualities inherent within the SL platform, educators may create mediated, distributed learning scenarios and environs that challenge and enable students (as 3-D graphical avatars) to participate in their own learning. Such learning is motivated by curiosity and may provoke deep thinking and the construction of new knowledge.

The use of SL as a constructivist milieu ultimately rouses learner-led and learner-centered activities. My experiences inworld have shown that hands-on learning (even virtual hands-on) is constructivist at its core due to the intense engagement of immersive cognitive responses and the application of scaffolded learning from user-participants. Utilization of such pedagogical practices is promising, especially considering how many neomillennials seem to live their wired lives. The advent of Web 2.0+ technologies, various social media (e.g. Facebook, MySpace, Blogger, YouTube) and online virtual reality environments (e.g. Second Life, World of Warcraft, Webkinz) have appealed to and acted upon today’s youths in ways that constructivists should explore, embrace and exploit for educational purposes—across the disciplines.

We have all seen our students juggle hypertexts, collaborate on synchronous and asynchronous storytelling, produce PowerPoint presentations and iMovies, send photos via their cell phones, update their romantic status on their web pages, while they simultaneously text and instant message each other. Despite questions of access and the injustices of the economic and digital divides, this generation of students—in general—is comfortable in the digital world.

Consequently, as SL and other virtual environments continue to grow in their capabilities, and as their technologies become more elegant and more ubiquitous, the academy may find itself on the wrong side of the educational digital divide. Unless academicians learn to appropriate, adopt and adapt various digital and virtual reality environments to our special disciplinary needs and to our students’ multi-modal, multi-tasking learning styles, we may lose this opportunity to stay on or ahead of the technological curve. We must do so however, with pedagogical authenticity and constructivist validity.

Based on the work of several foundational pedagogical theorists and educational technologists (such as Dede, Gee, Kuhn, Vygotsky and Yee, among others) this essay discusses how educators may exploit these constructivist characteristics of SL and enable avatars to:

  • Journey through the learning environment’s unfolding episodes and processes

  • Foster and nurture community between and among classmates and the instructor

  • Engage in collaborative knowledge-building

  • Distribute cognitive capital among and between the engaged groups and individuals

  • Forge identity formation strategies

  • Communicate with each other

  • Strengthen their own sense of agency

  • Engage with digital and virtual artifacts

  • Construct and learn content in context and in application

  • Activate meaning-making strategies

While theoretical in principle, this essay is the outgrowth of nearly two years’ worth of personal and academic, inworld experiences and gleanings from my time within SL exploring ways to supplement my upper-level university literature courses.

Complete Chapter List

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Michael Sherman
Carla R. Payne
Chapter 1
Maria Luisa Pérez Cavana
Taking into account the complexity and multiplicity of constructivist theories, the first part of this chapter focuses on the relationship between... Sample PDF
Closing the Circle: From Dewey to Web 2.0
Chapter 2
Noel Fitzpatrick, Nóirín Hayes, K.C. O’Rourke
Constructivism has become the comfortable face of educational theory in recent years, due in no small part to the mainstreaming of learning... Sample PDF
Beyond Constriction and Control: Constructivism in Online Theory and Practice
Chapter 3
Barbara de la Harpe, Fiona Peterson
There is a strong move worldwide for a constructivist theory to underpin the way teaching and learning are viewed in today’s colleges and... Sample PDF
The Theory and Practice of Teaching with Technology in Today's Colleges and Universities
Chapter 4
Karen Swan, D.R. Garrison, Jennifer C. Richardson
This chapter presents a theoretical model of online learning, the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework, which is grounded in John Dewey’s... Sample PDF
A Constructivist Approach to Online Learning: The Community of Inquiry Framework
Chapter 5
Jennifer Lee, Lin Lin
Based on constructivist principles, this chapter provides a new instructional design map for online learning environments. This instructional design... Sample PDF
Applying Constructivism to Online Learning: A New Instructional Design Map
Chapter 6
Beth Rubin
Constructivist education usually involves authentic assessment, which is affected by the media used to teach. Information technology can enhance or... Sample PDF
Enhancing Authentic Assessment Through Information Technology
Chapter 7
Xenia Coulter, Alan Mandell
The adult college student, caught between the competing demands of work and home, has recently become a valuable commodity in today’s fast-changing... Sample PDF
Nontraditional Students and Information Technology: The Siren Call of the Virtual Classroom and its Impact on Progressive Educational Ideals
Chapter 8
Jakko van der Pol
This chapter aims to perform a thorough analysis of students’ online learning conversations. Although offering a high potential for collaborative... Sample PDF
Online Learning Conversations: Potential, Challenges and Facilitation
Chapter 9
Laura M. Nicosia
Contemporary educators have been reassessing pedagogical frameworks and reevaluating accepted epistemologies and ontologies of learning. The age-old... Sample PDF
Virtual Constructivism: Avatars in Action
Chapter 10
G. Andrew Page, Radwan Ali
The key idea that sets constructivism apart from other theories of cognition was launched about 60 years ago by Jean Piaget. It was the idea that... Sample PDF
The Power and Promise of Web 2.0 Tools
Chapter 11
Shalin Hai-Jew
This chapter examines some ways information technologies (IT) are deployed in higher education courses to help learners create robust mental models.... Sample PDF
IT-Enabled Strategies for Mental Modeling in E-Learning
Chapter 12
Roisin Donnelly
This chapter critically explores the design and implementation of a blended problem-based learning (PBL) module for academic professional... Sample PDF
Transformative Potential of Constructivist Blended Problem-Based Learning in Higher Education
Chapter 13
James G.R. Cronin, John Paul McMahon, Michael Waldron
Reception and use of information technology by lifelong learners within a “blended” learning environment needs to be articulated within a... Sample PDF
Critical Survey of Information Technology Use in Higher Education: Blended Classrooms
Chapter 14
M. Beatrice Ligorio, Nadia Sansone
In this chapter, the case of a blended university course will be described in detail. The main focus of this description will be on how some... Sample PDF
Structure of a Blended University Course: Applying Constructivist Principles to Blended Teaching
Chapter 15
Hwee Ling Lim, Fay Sudweeks
As educators utilize an increasingly wide range of technologies for facilitating interaction between distant learning parties, there are concerns... Sample PDF
Constructivism and Online Collaborative Group Learning in Higher Education: A Case Study
Chapter 16
Linda Lohr, Nicholas Eastham, David Kendrick
This case study describes how a constructivist theory of learning guided the design of distributed learning environment for a three credit hour... Sample PDF
Constructivist Strategies to Optimize Four Levels of Interaction in a Distributed Learning Environment: A Case Study
Chapter 17
Alessio Gaspar, Sarah Langevin, Naomi Boyer
This chapter discusses a case study of the application of technology to facilitate undergraduate students’ learning of computer programming in an... Sample PDF
Facilitating Students-Driven Learning of Computer Programming with Technology
Chapter 18
John Miller
A central component of constructivist pedagogy at the college level is the modeling and practicing of critical thinking, and since Socrates... Sample PDF
Designing Asynchronous Discussions to Teach Critical Thinking
Chapter 19
Mark H. Schulman
The challenges for Goddard College posed by 21st Century information technologies are their incorporation into, and reflection of, the foundational... Sample PDF
"To Be in Occasional Touch": Goddard College's Progressive Principles and Distributed Learning
Chapter 20
Carol R. Rinke, Divonna M. Stebick, Lauren Schaefer, M. Evan Gaffney
This chapter presents a critical case study on the use of information technology in a pre-service teacher education program. The authors integrated... Sample PDF
Using Blogs to Foster Inquiry, Collaboration, and Feedback in Pre-Service Teacher Education
Chapter 21
Michal Zellermayer, Nili Mor, Ida Heilweil
This chapter describes the learning environment that the authors created for veteran teachers, graduate students in Teaching and Learning who are... Sample PDF
The Intersection of Theory, Tools and Tasks in a Postgraduate Learning Environment
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