Practical Considerations When Using Virtual Spaces for Learning and Collaboration, with Minimal Setup and Support

Practical Considerations When Using Virtual Spaces for Learning and Collaboration, with Minimal Setup and Support

Eileen O’Connor (SUNY Empire State College, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-762-3.ch018
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Working within virtual, three-dimensional environments offers the promise of moving beyond geographic constraints, enhancing distance interactions, providing more cost-effective presentations and forums, and allowing the formerly un-doable through simulations and virtual experiences. However, working effectively in these environments can require a significant investment in time, planning, preparation, and resources. This chapter assembles practical advice from the author’s three year experience with Second Life and from the education and technology literature to allow an instructor or developer: to work with limited resources; to consider the types of virtual experiences that are possible; to stage such experiences to grow participants’ abilities; to consider the breadth of objectives that can be addressed in virtual spaces; to prepare a range of individuals for participation; and to assess and improve virtual experiences. These practical, design-and-implementation suggestions will allow developers and instructors to find effective yet feasible ways to grow their skills and abilities in virtual development and design.
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Virtual spaces, such as Second Life and Active Worlds, create new types of opportunities for teaching, learning, meeting, and collaborating within educational, training, and business organizations. These spaces can foster richness, interactions, commitment, and conversation across distance and geography – you can literally create your own world as posited by Johnson & Levin (2008). And, they can bring together individuals from organizations and locations that may not have had the time and funding to meet otherwise. And, they can also allow experiences that would never have been possible or feasible – a tour of a molecule; a visit to Notre Dame; a ride on a hurricane chaser. Schools and businesses are finding that these platforms expand opportunities and experiences (Borremans (2007); Deubel (2007); Greenberg, Napkie, & Pence (2009)); academic debates ensue about the value of virtual learning and collaboration (Craig, 2007). However, the development and integration of virtual platforms can take considerable time and effort: a new environment needs to be learned; curriculum, experiences, and meetings needs to be cast into a very different framework; virtual settings must be borrowed or acquired; and approaches to training the learners must be developed. The objectives of this chapter are to provide introductory, technical and procedural information and resources and to suggest instructional-design considerations so that you can determine if, how, where, and when you might begin to add virtual experiences to your training, research, collaboration, or educational ventures. If your organization is making the commitment to bringing significant aspects of its educational, meeting, and simulation experiences into this space, it will be necessary to consider the larger organizational goals and objectives (as studied by Fominykh, Prasolova-Forland, Morozov, & Gerasimov (2009) in their case study of a virtual campus) and to develop a pathway that can accommodate and allow for growth in areas such as land management and permissions, delegation of space, creation of simulated environments, and the like. These important considerations are beyond the scope of this chapter. However, the reader will be provided an overview of important practical considerations and ideas so you might begin to develop, test, and improve instruction and experiences within virtual environments, even if initial support is minimal.

Please note, although there are several virtual providers and more becoming available, the basic instructional, design, and management concerns addressed herein will be relevant for most development applications.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Objectives: the learning or experience expectations that will hopefully be achieved as a result of the course, meeting, or simulation experience

Technology self-learning: understanding how to work within environments that are complex, evolving, and often poorly documented and how to tolerate and prevail despite consistent ambiguity and set-backs

Affordances: the experiences that are allowed by the use of a technology product, for example, in virtual environments an affordance is that avatars can communicate through text or voice

Virtual: experiences, locations, and simulations that take place within 3-D interactive computer-represented environments

Machinima: movies made from within the virtual experiences

Developmental planning: a course and experience design process that develops elements and activities that can, over time, grow the participants’ ability within the virtual space as well as extend their understanding of the desired content or scenario

Avatars: animated characters that represent the individuals that are working within the virtual space from their computers

Marshalling resources: the process of assessing, assembling, evaluating, and applying the materials and supports needed to create an effective learning or collaboration experience

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