The Prospects for Teaching in Virtual Worlds

The Prospects for Teaching in Virtual Worlds

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2122-0.ch050
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The aims of this project were to develop the participants’ skills and knowledge in educational design of Virtual World teaching, in management and construction of virtual objects and learning environments with examples of learning activities in Virtual worlds; to develop their capacity and confidence using Internet and its available resources, their knowledge of 3D environment and its usage for creating new learning scenarios, their knowledge of learning methods, good practices and lesson planning adopted in the Virtual worlds; to identify and assess the effectiveness of the results of the various activities carried out inworld to plan strategies, activities and resources for learning in the various subjects; to integrate the Virtual worlds as an innovative tool in daily teaching. During the course, teachers were also involved in developing a Project Work, experimenting subsequently with the students and evaluating the didactic use in the classroom.
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This paper talks about my experience as an e-moderator in AVATAR Course, a two-year research project (November 2009/2011) funded with support by the European Commission, Lifelong Learning Programme, Comenius, as an expert in Virtual worlds, Instructional Designer and ICT teacher.

Promoting the utilization of ITC is on the agenda in secondary schools throughout Europe, the Avatar project had the goal of raising the utilization level of ITC in education, providing teachers with new methodological and pedagogical tools to introduce virtual learning environments in their teaching programs, in particular Virtual worlds. (Schwartzenbacher & Guida 2011)

These environments represent a didactical tool that can engage and motivate students, and at the same time improve the quality of their learning process, and stimulate cooperation, reflection and learning by doing.

A virtual world is a 3D digital environment where users, through their avatars, can interact, creating and utilizing objects and communicating with text, images, gestures, sounds and three-dimensional representations. Virtual worlds represents a new powerful v-learning platform for teaching, offering a wide range of tools for social interaction, innovation in education and for encouraging active participation from students. Virtual worlds can be adapted to different didactical needs and can operate beyond the limits of the traditional classroom where certain tasks can be difficult to accomplish because of economical or spatial issues (AA.VV. 2009).

V-Learning promotes students’ responsibility, allowing them to personalize their own learning path, offering both the simplicity and immediateness of online courses and the interactivity and immersivity of 3D Virtual worlds.

Project activities have been carried out by 120 secondary school teachers in Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Italy, Spain and Great Britain, with participation as coordinator of FOR.COM (Italy), Free University (Bulgaria), University of Southern Denmark, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (Spain), University of Hertfordshire (England), Information Design FH Joanneum University of Applied Sciences (Austria). The results reported in terms of skills are referred to level 5 of the European Qualification Framework (EQF).

The primary aim of the course is to consider how the features of a 3D environment can be applied to give the best support in reaching the learning objectives for students. The results show a good match between the needs of the beneficiaries and the labor market, which requires transversal skills such as communication in foreign languages, digital skills, initiative and innovative patterns of behavior in the social contexts.

Manage the connections between the attendees both on the e-learning platform and in SecondLife, adopting G. Salmon's model (Salmon, 2004) to promote interaction and communication through modeling, participation and construction of knowledge and expertise.

Introducing a tool as virtual worlds, new methodologies come into use, extending practice beyond the boundaries of traditional education delivered in verbal and textual way, involving students and teachers in an immersive laboratory teaching experience (Barker, Haik & Bennet, 2008)

Most efforts was applied to involve participants already experienced on virtual worlds to share with others colleagues their expertise keeping all connected to prevent the abandonment of the Course as well adopting measures to avoid identification of the two roles of facilitator and tutor.

An accurate analysis of attendees’ posts in the fora and a systematic observation of their behavior in the 3D world made me aware day by day that they feel comfortable with their tasks or, sometimes, that someone was asking for an additional help.

Participants were asked to fill in a self-assessment form at the end of each module indicating whether they have acquired the skills and knowledge relevant to that module. Relevant knowledge and skills that have been acquired outside the AVATAR course can also be listed. Participants receive a certificate upon active participation in the course.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Virtual World: An online community that takes the form of a computer-based simulated environment through which users can interact with one another and use and create objects. The term has become largely synonymous with interactive 3D virtual environments, where the users take the form of avatars visible to others.

Learning by Doing: A phrase associated with John Dewey and the representatives of “progressive education,” whose trends dominated American schools in the early 1900’s. According to a pragmatic and progressive perspective, there was an effort to bring the school into the real world making it capable of delivering the information and values necessary in those changing times. To understand and store information effectively it is best to operate practically, manipulate, simulate, use the entire body, but on one condition: that the experience is accompanied by thought, by reflection. Thus the key to effective learning by doing is learning by thinking! Reflect on experience, revise, integrate; make new experience, reflect, revise and integrate again- a continuous cycle of experience and reflection.

Emotional Bandwidth: Emotions are an important part of the user experience in human machine interaction. Mitchell Kapor used the term in 1990. In virtual worlds the sense of presence is very strong and the physical representation by avatars makes it easier for users to establish relationships, and other people that present themselves next to us with their avatar are perceived as being almost physically close.

3D Digital Environment: An immersive-digital environment is an artificial, interactive computer-created scene or “world” within which users can immerse themselves to create a sense of full immersion. Immersive digital environments could be thought of as synonymous with Virtual Reality.

Second Life’s Virtual World: Objects, landscapes, character shape, audio and visual content, services, etc. The peculiarity of the world of Second Life is that it gives users the freedom to use copyright on the objects they create, which can be sold and exchanged between the “residents” using a virtual currency (the Linden Dollar) that can be converted into real U.S. dollars. This setup gave rise to an internal economy continuously monitored. It is considered a platform and a new medium for different sectors- learning, art, business, education, music, role-playing games, media, various skills, business, architecture, machinima and animation, etc., and uses synchronous as well as asynchronous communication tools and integrates a search engine, a physics engine, presentation tools and streaming video and audio, an internal programming language (LSL-Linden Scripting Language) to realize objects, a system of voice transmission, instant messaging, public chat, a mini-browser for the web and more. It is constantly developing.

Open Source: An IT term to indicate computer software whose authors (more precisely the rights holders) allow, even encourage its free sharing, studying and modifying by other independent programmers.

Metaverse: A term coined by Neal Stephenson in Snow Crash (1992), a cyberpunk science fiction book, it defines a kind of virtual reality shared via the Internet, where people are represented in three dimensions by their own avatar.

Socio-Constructivist learning: Sociological theory of knowledge that applies the general philosophical constructionism into social settings, where in groups construct knowledge for one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings. When one is immersed within a culture of this sort, one is learning all the time about how to be a part of that culture on many levels. Its origins are largely attributed to Lev Vygotsky.

Second Life: A virtual world launched in June 2003 by the American company Linden Lab, from an idea of its founder, physicist Philip Rosedale. A free program (client) called Second Life Viewer allows users, represented by Avatars, to interact with each other. Residents can explore, socialize, meet other residents and manage individual or group activities, create partnerships, marry, create projects, teleport and travel through the islands and lands that form the virtual world. Digital data are stored on a grid of servers in San Francisco. The system provides its users (called “residents”) with tools to add new graphic content. Examples of metaverse are MMORPGs and 3D Virtual worlds such as Second Life or Active Worlds.

Learning Object (LO): A reusable unit of instruction for e-learning. Learning objects are special types of learning resources, self-consistent, modular, accessible, reusable and interoperable, characteristics which allow their use in different contexts.

Cooperative Learning: an approach where students must work in groups to complete tasks collectively so they capitalize on one another’s resources and skills

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