Pioneering in the Virtual World Frontier

Pioneering in the Virtual World Frontier

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9679-0.ch016
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Immersion in virtual worlds presented opportunities for simulating the qualities valued in face-to-face classes with the flexibility afforded by online learning. Immersive learning engaged educators, curriculum designers, campuses, conferences, and educational community groups to devise new ways to collaborate and engage learners. Dreaming of opportunities that were not possible in the online classroom, educators saw the potential of building communities in virtual worlds. They gathered to share their and to employ novel approaches to address educational challenges. This chapter explores the phenomenon of selfhood and society integral to the development of a vibrant educational community. At the heart of virtual world education is an ecosystem of institutions, groups, and conferences comprised of the early adopters and pioneers who stimulated their imagination and pooled their resources to encourage and strengthen the community and cast their eye to the future.
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The River City project (Dede, 2003) fueled the imagination of educators with a historical multiuser virtual environment (MUVE) created for middle grade science students. Designed within a commercial virtual world called Active Worlds®, the science-oriented learning environment was funded by National Science Foundation grants led by Harvard’s Chris Dede (2003) in collaboration with the Virtual Environments Lab at George Mason University, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American history, and research partner Thoughtful Technologies, Inc.

The goal was to help learners discover a love of science. The curriculum mapped to established assessment methods and gave educators tools for studying the cognitive audit trails, which served as both a metaphor and a method of assessing when learners were ready for the next level. River City represented the early promise of virtual world education and employed a team-based approach to using scientific methods to analyze and address serious problems while increasing interest and a desire to study science.

The River City simulation featured traveling back in time to address 19th century problems and in particular, three diseases using 21st century tactics. It wove historical, social and geographical content amid the threat of diseases that stemmed from airborne, water-borne, and insect-based sources within the immersive landscape. Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education coordinated the design, with pilot tests conducted with Boston public schools and the implementation of the immersive MUVE (Dede & Ketelhut, 2003). The project reflected on scalability issues and how to offer the environment to schools throughout North America. Over 100 teachers and 5,000 students studied in River City across twelve states during the first two years. The River City project inspired the educational community and served as a road map for what might be possible for teaching other subjects. Active Worlds was a popular tool with educators, but a variety of forces, including financial and ownership changes led educators to seek other opportunities.

Key Terms in this Chapter

VWBPE: Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education, an annual conference since 2008 hosted by the Rockcliffe University Consortium, a virtual world university.

OSCC: OpenSimulator Community Conference, held annually to nurture the open source community. The first conference was in 2013.

Virtual Worlds: A simulated environment where people and 3D content converge. The setting can look like an island, a parcel of land, reside underwater or float high in the air, and the content can vary from realistic objects and buildings to imaginary spaces. The virtual worlds come to life when people interact with one another and the world around them through communication and content sharing.

New Media Consortium (NMC): A consortium of over 200 museums and schools devoted to innovation in technology and education. The NMC and EDUCAUSE published the Horizon Report, a publication that forecasted the next five years for technology in education. Several editions of the Horizon Report are published each year, including Higher Education, K-12, and several international publications.

MUVE: A multiuser virtual environment includes a variety of online shared spaces for large groups of people. Examples include a virtual world, a massive multiplayer online game (MMOG), a massive multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) like the World of Warcraft , or smaller multiplayer games like Minecraft , or other shared spaces, like multiuser dungeons (MUDs), chat rooms, and online social spaces.

Archipelago: A group of regions that look like islands with a related theme. The NMC hosted an educational archipelago of 110 islands.

ISTE: The International Society for Technology in Education offers conferences and year-round support for over 21,000 educators around the world. Each year, ISTE hosts a conference for many of their members, and in the early years, held regional exhibits and a virtual conference simultaneously in Second Life with live speakers presenting from the SL or Virtual Environments Playground.

Grid: A collection of regions that comprise the virtual landscape. Architecturally, two of Second Life’s largest grids featured the Main Grid in which the regions are connected and look like a continent. In the early years, Linden Lab operated a Teen Grid for approximately 6,000 residents ages 13-17.

AU: The Air University hosts open source virtual worlds for education that feature both practical and playful spaces designed to stimulate thinking and creativity, blending the art of the possible with a passion for excellence. The learning activities to support research in signature character strengths and evaluation of serious games as well as data analytics.

OpenSimulator: Open source virtual world server software that looks and behaves in a manner similar to Second Life. The code has features that differ from SL, and visitors log into these worlds using a third-party viewer.

Second Life: A commercial virtual world operated by Linden Research, which conducts business as Linden Lab.

Region: A virtual world simulator, often installed on a virtual machine that processes and displays the virtual landscape. A single server can host multiple regions.

Hypergrid: Including the ability to move between virtual worlds using the same account.

CTU: Colorado Technical University, a for-profit higher education institution that featured doctoral, graduate and undergraduate classes in computer science, emerging media and virtual worlds that met and designed projects in a virtual world from 2006-2016.

TCC: The TCC Worldwide Online Conference began in 1995 under the original title Technology in Community Colleges. Over the years, the mission of the TCC conference has evolved, yet continues to foster research and sharing the best practices in online education. The TCC held preconference events in Second Life, and held after hour’s events on the Squirrel Island hosted by their conference partner, Learning Times.

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