I first heard of Second Life (http://www.secondlife.com) over five years ago; it was while we were discussing the impact that technology and in particular social media and Web 2.0 technologies would have on education and our role as educational publishers. After I left publishing to study my Masters in Library and Information studies I began to hear about SL more often and but it wasn’t until I took this subject, INF506 (my final one) that I decided to finally try it.
Before the appointed meeting time I downloaded the software and created my avatar. When that was finished I went looking for my classmates. Guided by our lecturer we went on excursions to sites developed by CSU and other educational institutions. It was an effective and fun way to explore how educators are using Virtual Reality as an educational tool. The comments on Facebook afterwards reflected our enjoyment.
The experience as a whole I found to be very fun but frustrating. I can see how people could become very absorbed in exploring and encountering new people and places; but found the interface to be somewhat complex with its numerous palettes and menus (and I am considered to be technically very able). I also experienced some technical problems (no sound on my second visit) related to the age of my computer and its operating system.
The real buzz about virtual worlds and their potential for education seemed to peak about seven years ago when Gartner predicted that 80% of users in 2012 would be engaged in MUVE (Multi User Virtual Environments – like Second Life) (Gartner, 2007). The following year technical issues had taken some of the gloss off those predictions (Gartner, 2008). Hype aside, educators have been experimenting with using VEs for collaborative learning in various settings and have found easy to use tools are required for even the most basic collaborations to occur and that engagement with both the project and each other is needed for successful outcomes (Livingstone, Scullion and Creechan, 2013).
Virtual Environments may be best suited to learning languages (Berns, 2013) or developing other skill sets that are best learnt in immersive environments (Helmer, 2007). Examples in information services could be for any training that would normally involve role playing or for site orientation prior to beginning university or a new job. Other uses might be creating virtual exhibitions, writers festivals and seminars. And it doesn’t have to be high tech; one Virtual Environment that is definitely thriving amongst tweens and teens is Minecraft (https://minecraft.net/)(Precey, 2014) and many educators are capitalising on its popularity to engage learners inspite of its “low tech” look and feel (Schifter & Cipollone, 2013. Lastowka, 2012).
My verdict – Fun, has potential – use with caution!
Berns, A., Gonzalez-Pardo, A., & Camacho, D. (2013). Game-like language learning in 3-D virtual environments. Computers & Education, 60(1), 210-220.
Gartner Inc., (2007, April 24). Gartner says 80 percent of active Internet Users will have a “Second Life” inthe virtual world by the end of 2011 [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/503861
Gartner Inc., (2008, March 11). Gartner says organizations should carefully consider deployment of virtual environments [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/619513
Helmer, J., & Learning Light. (2007). Second Life and virtual worlds. Learning Light Limited, 2007 [Technical Report]. Available from http://www.norfolkelearningforum.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/virtual-worlds_ll_oct_2007.pdf
Lastowka, G. (2012). Minecraft as Web 2.0: Amateur Creativity in Digital Games. In Amateur Media: Social, cultural and legal perspectives. Available from http://works.bepress.com/lastowka/6
Livingstone, D., Scullion, J., & Creechan, G. (2013). Learning about Collaborative Virtual Environments by Creating Collaborative Virtual Environments. Proceedings of European Immersive Education Summit, 3, 149-161. Available from http://europe.immersiveeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/3rd_European_Immersive_Education_proceedings_2013.pdf#page=166
Precey, M. (2014, March 7). Minecraft gamer’s YouTube hit ‘more popular than Bieber’. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-hampshire-26327661
Schifter, C., & Cipollone, M. (2013). Minecraft as a teaching tool: One case study. Paper presented at the Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2013, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. http://www.editlib.org/p/48540