Using Second Life® to Teach Collaboration Skills to Pre-Service and In-Service Special Educators

Using Second Life® to Teach Collaboration Skills to Pre-Service and In-Service Special Educators

Melissa D. Hartley (West Virginia University, USA), Barbara L. Ludlow (West Virginia University, USA) and Michael C. Duff (Discover Video Productions, USA)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2815-1.ch014


Second Life®, an online virtual world, is currently used at West Virginia University for simulation activities and role-playing exercises in teacher education programs in special education. The purpose of this chapter is to describe a design experiment in a pilot case study, explain the rationale for using virtual reality, describe how learning activities were developed, implemented, and evaluated, discuss plans for future research and practice, and offer suggestions for using virtual simulations in other teacher education programs.
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West Virginia University is a major public research university and the land grant institution for the State of West Virginia. The Department of Special Education offers both campus-based undergraduate programs and online graduate programs designed to prepare prospective and practicing special educators in multiple areas of specialization. Campus-based courses are offered using hybrid delivery, with a combination of face-to-face class sessions and Web-based learning activities and assessments. Online courses are offered through both synchronous and asynchronous formats, combining live interactive class sessions in real time using a virtual classroom with multimedia modules, threaded discussions, and online assignments available on demand. This department has been a leader in incorporating emerging technologies into teacher education programs and faculty are currently experimenting with a variety of virtual reality applications to see how they can enhance teaching and learning at the undergraduate and graduate levels. A major focus of this effort has been on the use of Second Life for simulation activities and role-playing exercises in both campus and online courses to support teacher education students in developing skills for collaboration and communication among professionals working in schools.

Simulation and role-play have a long history in education and in teacher education. These activities are grounded in the theories of constructivism (Piaget, 1952), discovery learning (Bruner, 1961), experiential learning (Kolb, 1984), and situated learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991). A recent study of role-playing in education found that it increased motivation and skill acquisition (Poling & Hupp, 2009). Yet, only now are educators considering how to use new technologies to support these learning experiences (Clapper, 2010). Virtual immersive environments, in particular, have multiple features that can be used to enhance the realism of simulations and role-plays and promote learning by individuals and groups in teacher education programs (Franklin & Annetta, 2011).

A virtual immersive environment is a digitally created online setting with multiple sensory information that simulates experience in the real world (Loomis, Blascovich, & Beall, 1999). Wang (2012) has argued that virtual learning can support acquisition of real-world knowledge and skills through by combining stimulating cognition through enhanced visual and auditory representations and manipulation of self and objects in virtual space. Orlando (2011) asserted that digital gaming is an effective teaching tool because it stimulates motivation through action, provides interactive decision-making contexts, and creates opportunities for more dynamic assessment. Mayrath et al. (2007) noted that virtual worlds have advantages over other forms of virtual reality because they allow greater flexibility in designing and manipulating the environment. Consequently, virtual worlds offer even more meaningful physical contexts and opportunities for social interaction (Foster & Meech, 1995) and sustaining engagement in a flow state that creates motivation for learning (Kapp & O’Driscoll, 2010). Studies have shown that using virtual simulations in professional preparation programs can provide a social context to increase engagement in learning (Poling & Hupp, 2009), to acquire and practice skills (Russell & Shepherd, 2010; Steinkuhler, 2008), and to develop collaborative problem solving strategies (Dickey, 2005).

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