What are some of the affordances of a virtual world for education?
Students who learn in a technology rich environment are perhaps more comfortable and therefore engaged than those who are left without these resources. As Nicosia (2008) contends, “Today’s students are most deeply engaged when their senses are stimulated visually and physically.” Whilst a virtual world is still not common day practice for most adolescents, it is almost guaranteed to engage them. And isn’t this one of the greatest challenges educators face today?
In regards to reading and writing, Second Life and the virtual world are not rich in print-based-text, although written text is available it is not the focus. One of the things that virtual worlds offer the classroom are comprehension tasks, the ability to expand on texts, and to visit ‘physical’ sites.
Some examples and ideas for using the virtual world in the classroom include role play and play, which could be interacting with characters or entering a site, i.e. a historical site or a place from a novel, guided tours of sites, taking part in historical events, scavenger hunts and interacting with works of art (MaryAnnCLT, 10 August, 2007). These activities across different learning areas are heavily interactive allowing students to gain a deeper understanding of the topic at hand.
The text based chat element in Second Life allows students to participate in discussions, which may then be saved and used for documentation or assessment (Nicosia, 2008). This adds another component to virtual world learning. The previous activities listed are intended to improve learning and understanding of the topic. Adding text based chat allows for teacher, peer and self assessment to take place.
One fantastic use of virtual world learning would be distance learning (Nicosia, 2008). The Internet and modern technologies have allowed for students in remote areas to access information they would otherwise have been denied. Second Life would allow them to see themselves in virtual classroom, talking, learning and interacting with the teacher and fellow students.
Whilst Second Life is currently complicated and time consuming to integrate into a curriculum, it has the potential to greatly enhance the classroom and student learning.