How could Second Life (or virtual worlds like it) radically transform education? Share this VoiceThread with your students and colleagues, and start a conversation. This was the intro to our presentation today at the Virginia Ed Tech Leadership Conference.

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Hi. Well it's not just SL which is transforming education. It's other enabling VR technologies too like Croquet and others. One thing that software designers do not take into consideration is how students learn best within these environments. And when it comes to younger learners, educators need to consider what is the driving force behind what student love to do...it's create! Our students at 3DLearn.com are demonstrating what can be done when you allow that innate sense of creativity to explode by allowing them to invent their own 3D worlds as part of their studies. But, we had to go through hell and back again to development tools to create the right educational setting that was 1) SAFE 2) Allow for easy student building 3) could be extended in new directions as we evolved.

Tools for educational VR have always been far and few between. Even trying to shape SL into an educational platform is a little like putting the cart before the horse. So, we have spent the better part of the last 8 years creating an entire educational program that proves 3D is here to stay. We are now extending EduKaydia, (our 3DLearn environment) so that teachers can bring in classes and do all kinds of exciting 3D projects of their own and we are actively trying to teach and empower teachers to experiment with virtual worlds and offer their students the kind of exciting video gaming type experiences today's generation of kids demand. The key is finding authentic ways of learning in virtual worlds and to dig through the bells and whistles to get to meat of the educational process. Contact me if you are a K-12 teacher interested in being part of our "EduKaydia" free trial group.
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I think you've hit the nail on the head there, Janet - I've seen SL in Education in action and just feel it's technology for technology's sake - a glorified worksheet. Perhaps that's jsut me being stubborn, since I don't see the point of having a second life (I struggle to keep my first life together as it is!)

I'd be interested in seeing what EduKaydia has to offer, though - the prospect of kids actually creating in a VR platform sounds really interesting (without the laborious red tape of SL, I take it?). Can you hook me up as part of the free trial group?
I haven't had a chance to see EduKaydia yet because as far as I can tell it's Windows-only. Also the fact that it's a closed system with subscription fees makes it less usable for public schools, though it may be a good solution for alternative homeschooling. Good luck with your work.
Hi Janet
I am interesting in this. I would like to be part of the free trial group.
Brian
Direct manipultion and natural input will make our virtual experiences as seemless as possible - giving students the ability (as naturally as possible) interact with virtual learning objects - ALA Mitch Kapor & this story Here as well as the very beginnings of this genera of interacting with virtual learning objects through the Edusim projects here - http://edusim3d.com
Does a child have to sit in a desk in a classroom in order to learn? For that matter, does the child even need to be in the same room with the teacher? Visionaries and futurists will tell you that in the digital age, the idea of learning anytime and anywhere is not only feasible but for some students might even provide a superior learning environment.

On the path to that goal, I have been able to help a small group of tech savvy staff explore the idea of a virtual classroom alternative using the program Second Life. Why would we do that? Aside from the natural student interest in gaming, many universities now have learning spaces on the Second Life grid (virtual world). Even congress has had meetings in Second Life. If we are truly going to be a 21st century school, then we need to start thinking about the types of higher learning to which our students will be exposed. People are already getting degrees online. Many of our students will never go to a traditional school after high school and will need technology skills to succeed in a world never imagined. Along with this, we move students to the top of Bloom's revised taxonomy. When students are creating and using higher level thinking skills, they have a much better chance of remembering. We all know the old 'teach a man to fish' saying. We are just teaching them to fish virtually!

Imagine student avatars, all wearing their virtual school T-shirts, teleporting to their private Learning Island. Instead of sitting at a desk filling in spaces on a worksheet in science class, they might be collaborating in small groups to create their own 3D models of cell mitosis. Their proud teachers facilitate from various locations on campus while they privately instant message each other.

Doing things as an avatar helps students learn how to interact and cooperate. It helps give them the freedom to express ideas and opinions they might be too shy to do in a traditional setting. Thomas Edison brought the world together with his improvements on the telegraph, wireless radio, phonograph, copying machine, and moving pictures. From those early inventions we now have a digital world. The creator of many of the world's greatest communication inventions, would have loved Second Life!
I love the idea of giving students a "second life" to perform duties and participate in activities that real life may not offer to them. I think that the authenticity of the experience would also depend on what the classroom teacher would do to prepare their students for entry into these simulated activities. For example, in forming a new country by working in small groups which represent states, students would need a great deal of background information about the US Constitution through a combination of reading, and presented information. Before entering the simulation, there would have to be a measure of their knowledge base in order to assure that they would find some success. How does a teacher monitor the activity taking place on Second Life? I feel that it is time that we as educators, begin to explore tools like this in order to use them to enhance the learning experience in the classroom. I would prefer that the students meet in the classroom rather than from home so that I could at least facilitate the experience and monitor their practices as they participated in learning activates throughout the day
One of the great things about this sort of experience is that students get to contribute their ideas to the process. After all, we haven't been very successful promoting our specific brand of democracy around the world, so why do we assume that is what students would choose as their own government? I'd be willing to bet kids would come up with quite the barter and trade system first and isn't that how it really did evolve? As a teacher, I would be there to facilitate but not impose. We would discuss what they are learning in various classes, but the students would be the creators of their own content.
The authenticity comes from the innovation and creativity the students bring to the table and how willing the teacher is to let them be in charge of their own learning. We would gather together in seminar fashion to discuss and reflect on the process and productivity.
Right now this is a semi-moot point as we have the private island but funds were cut off before we knew we had to hire an outside source in order to register students.
http://pesdisland.blogspot.com/
There is often an urge to project one's personal ideals into a virtual world. The ability to build vast learning spaces is tempting, as is the ability to imagine any educational scene you wish, or to radically change education.

As a cautionary note, it must be said that educational pedagogies do not magically shift because you've entered a virtual world. You have some new tools, and some new limitations. As a general rule, try role-playing any ideas before building anything. Include issues of travel, limits of manipulation, limits of screen-base interaction and visual layout. Don't be afraid to do research. Online virtual worlds have been around since 1986, and a Second Life only view will limit you. Educational games predate the computer, and the term Serious Games goes back to the 1970's. Also, there's a often Baby-Boomer bias in current approaches - its worth remembering that our students are Millennials and want a teacher to guide them and provide structure.

What's quite odd is that while the educational rhetoric is lofty, the majority of educational spaces seem to rely heavily on sitting students in virtual chairs and viewing PowerPoint presentations or do tour-like spaces but still with flat content. There is a wide disconnect between what is said and what is done. No scholars appear willing to address this either.

As for me, I teach in a cutting edge virtual world of my own design. I lead my students, I create space for them to explore, I listen and offer feedback. My pedagogy is ancient...

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