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Many universities are using Second Life as a learning tool. However, the place to watch for longevity as a true tool is in OpenSim deployed worlds. Virtual world adoption has passed the initial media hyped stage of three years ago and now we will see those that are finding it a useful and valuable educational tool and not a distraction.
The initial hype swept up many educators and institutions as it seemed that Second Life was this incredibly immersive learning environment. It certainly can be, if enough time and talent is involved.
Many universities have found that without a substantial effort by skilled individuals, their sims are of little value and indeed just a distraction. There are some very good programs in Second Life, such as an associates degree offered by Texas State Technical College but there are also examples of the complete abandonment by significant institutions. Notably, Princeton University pulled out of Second Life this month.
Princeton certainly has a pool of skilled individuals, and the monetary resources, to be in Second Life (even with the educational discount, Second Life is still fairly expensive – especially compared with other collaborative education tools such as wikis, Google Groups, BuddyPress, etc.).
OpenSim options are far less expensive and can either be deployed through a virtual world hosting company or deployed on the institution’s own hardware (as opposed to Linden Lab’s yearly $55K option for a private Second Life setup). In researching hosting companies be sure to read Hypergrid Business who maintains a list of hosts as well as articles about them. I am biased toward Reaction Grid who has stellar service and a very stable deployment.
OpenSim can seem to not be as robust as Second Life but it is very close (and in some ways, superior – MOODLE is typically part of standard OpenSim deployments). OpenSim is still considered alpha software but our experience after six months with Reaction Grid is that it is just as good for our purposes as Second Life (Linden Lab’s latest changes to their terms of service give us pause in developing any tools within it and if whether we will always retain full copyright – three years ago Philip Rosedale, founder of Linden Lab, declared that your creations are real and that you should be able to profit from them, now that language has changed to being granted a license from Linden Lab for anything you create).
In my opinion, virtual worlds are not quite “there” yet for mainstream adoption by educational institutions. Second Life has too many issues, politics, and policies that cripple it for education (policies such as age limit and copyright) and is too costly with difficulty in showing a true ROI.
OpenSim is developing quickly and, as it becomes more widely adopted, it may become a clearer choice (there are currently more “private” sims in OSGrid than in Second Life).
Virtual worlds are another communication channel and will continue to evolve and become easier to use. Once they become easier to access, hold more people in one place, and get past some of the negative stigma that Second Life has created (mainly adult content and over hyping by he media), then we will see more widespread use. Once that happens, more developers will create activities and materials that can be leveraged by others (we are a very small example of that with Ener making free office furniture and buildings and having spaces for creative people like the rest of the iliveisl team).
Right now virtual worlds are very much at the stage where everyone is still printing their own books in a manner of speaking and building many things from scratch. It would be hard for a real world Princeton to excel at education if they had to build their own chairs, LCD projectors, and so on.
For many institutions, Second Life was a distraction, for a few it continues to be effective. It takes passionate and talented people to shape any technology into a truly meaningful and effective tool.
Does Linden Lab have those people?
With the loss of Pathfinder Linden and the abhorrent treatment of Jokay it would seem that the educational focus is over. OpenSim is open source and very talented people are developing it with many individuals actively using it for education.
Will OpenSim be “the” virtual world for education?
Only time will tell. The web changes quickly. Five years ago MySpace ruled social networks and Twitter had not been created yet.
reposted from the iliveisl blog
The education community is all a buzz with 3D content. 3D projectors and 3D teaching material is shown to improve grades.
Well . . . duh.
Maybe my reaction is a bit harsh. Do take it (my reaction) with a big grain of salt. What follows is just my perspective on the latest and greatest classroom technology. Let’s put on our travel caps and go back in time a bit . . .
From the 1940s up till 1990, the film strip ruled the multimedia world, at least in K-12 settings. The 1950s, 60s, and 70s saw its use skyrocket (also a time when the rocket was an iconic part of science education). Film strips were much less expensive than 16 mm films and far easier to use (no film to splice). The really fancy ones had an accompanying 33 RPM record (later a cassette tape) complete with audio cue when to advance to the next static image. If you were lucky, maybe you, as a student, were chosen to advance the slides. Ah, fond memories (or bad if you were considered the teacher’s pet).
Seems low tech by today’s standards but that was multimedia. Perhaps even immersive multimedia. After all, vibrant images and accompanying audio with lights off allowed you to be transported into the circulatory system or through the solar system.
Student grades went up with the use of film strips. It’s not hard to see why, you had a break from your teacher (there are many good teachers, but also many that just lecture and are, frankly, boring and drone on and on), the lights went out, you had larger pictures and audio that surely was done by some high level expert! When you take a class setting that has students sitting neatly at their desks, a teacher in the front of the class, a textbook on their desks, plus all the pressure from other students and how you, as the student, thought you had to act, it’s no wonder film strips made a difference and helped students learn better.
Once the lights go off, it’s easier to forget about those around you (unless you were focused on note passing), let your guard down, and learn more. Different pathways of the brain become active with a different voice, brighter images, and so on – this leads to deeper learning.
When I see all the hoopla about 3D in the classroom these days, it reminds me of the same claims made by film strip producers. Higher engagement, better grades, blah, blah, blah.
The reason? It’s the same as film strips – it’s different and different is often exciting and reaches different parts of the brain.
But . . . in the long run, many of these technologies fail as we strive to build the “smart classroom”. Integrating technology does not lead to better education in, and of, itself. There is also a rush to adopt new technologies without understanding that teachers will adopt those things that work and work well. The film strip succeeded because it was reliable, inexpensive, and easy to use. The same happened with VHS tapes (which made film strips obsolete). A VHS tape allowed for many teachers (myself included) to tape (hmm, pirate in reality) great shows and show them in the classroom. That was a great resource because you had vast amounts of programming out there and could find something that fit your lesson and your perspective.
With 3D learning materials, you are limited to a much smaller pool of material. And you have a technology that is difficult, if not impossible, for the teacher to create their own material in. With the VCR came video cameras. I could (and did) film model rockets, rock climbing, rivers, SCUBA diving, and sailing to illustrate certain concepts (science home movies, how’s that for geeky!).
Certainly, there is value to 3D material, but will it last? Will it replace some of the home-grown nature of teaching? And what about schools with tight budgets? Is one $700 3D LCD projector the very best way to reach more students in a school running on a small budget?
Sometimes we forget that it is the content and the teacher that make the impact on learners. While technology is cool and maybe even fun, it won’t improve mediocre teaching very much.
What are other 3D options? This is easy to guess if you read what I write or what Ener writes. =)
Yes, Second Life had its hype a few years back. But it is very expensive and takes some serious time to create activities in for students to use. Actually, the biggest stumbling block is the age limit. You have to be 18 to use the main grid. The teen grid only goes down to 13 years old and it’s hard to get in as an adult and build activities. Plus, Second Life has a certain stigma to it with its “adult” areas. This is a real concern for teachers and parents. It’s a real drag to be holding a class in Second Life and have some nude dude walk by! The FTC report on this was discussed by Ener some time back, with the FTC finding that sexual material was readily available in Second Life: ” . . . heavy amount of explicit content” and “during the Commission’s review, explicit content was still easily available free of charge in Second Life, without account verification.”
That’s Second Life and, unfortunately, it has somewhat tarnished what virtual worlds can be for education. There are great examples of fabulous education programs in Second Life, but mainly for post-secondary level.
There are options though that behave just like Second Life (because they are built on the same code) but cost far less and are suitable for primary and secondary education. And some of these options already see K-12 teachers building activities for students. We are in Reaction grid doing this type of development. But, we are also very grounded with it.
Virtual worlds are not a magic bullet of pedagogical nirvana.
Rather, our approach is that it is simply that virtual worlds are a medium for communication. The purpose of a textbook and it’s images are not to be the ultimate material to learn. They should spark a conversation and act as a different “voice” to help expose the student to a more rounded view of the subject at hand.
For example, almost all depictions of the water cycle do not place people, animals, or even trees as part of the cycle. They typically show radiation, evaporation, condensation, precipitation, runoff, and maybe ground water. And there is nothing wrong with that. But how do we fit in? Isn’t Earth mostly a closed system and are we not part of it? We must factor in, even if in a minute manner. And we do! Respiration in humans and animals includes water vapor. We exhale some water as byproducts of cellular combustion. Plants don’t breathe but they do transpire and that involves water too (remember the stomata?).
When I taught the water cycle, I always added a stick figure dog and person (yes, it was a pretty sad-looking dog, but students understood) and trees. That gives a sense of context and it ties us into the cycle and into the environment. We all know that we impact the environment so why not depict us within all of these systems?
A drawing on the chalk board, later the dry erase board, later the overhead, and finally a flash animation I made (still had the odd stick figure dog in it) are all simply channels of communication. The same can be done drawing in the dirt or in creating a 3D version in a virtual world where the student can become the “stick figure” and walk around within it.
That’s precisely what we are doing in OpenSim-based virtual worlds. We are building places to spark conversations between teachers (or parents) and students. This is a film strip in 3D that you can walk around in.
Is it the end all be all of education?
No more than the current 3D projector is. But I think it can be accessible and economical. It leverages the work of others (like our work) and also allows teachers, that have an interest, to build their own places. I know of one group that are using virtual worlds to have their students build an historic recreation. The students themselves are creating a historic town. That’s pretty cool.
I was reading Tony Karrer’s excellent blog, in particular a post on simulations, games, and social learning, and wanted to express my take on virtual worlds as a social learning tool. I have shifted from a purely “eLearning” use of virtual worlds to also developing environmental science activities aimed at Earth Science students (7th grade).
I have been doing corporate eLearning for about 8 years and before that I was an Environmental Science professor at Miami Dade College for seven years and for three years prior to that, a private school science teacher. While I love doing eLearning development work in Flash (I even ran my own Flash forum for a few years), I truly love teaching and developing curricula.
A large part of this shift is due to how economical virtual worlds have become. Reaction Grid‘s hosted OpenSim has allowed me to do more than filming in temporary office sets on vacant lots. As far as expressing the social nature and “vision” of how virtual world’s can fall into social learning, I can’t sum it up any better than our chief builder and full on virtual world expert – Ener Hax. What follows is an unedited repost (how is that for a disclaimer!) from the iliveisl blog:
collaborative learning environments & us
*barf* okay, i feel better now!
it’s just that the term “collaborative” is sooo overused when in comes to virtual worlds. but it is a good word to describe what virtual worlds offer. being able to share a real time workspace with others that are from all over the world is really great
it’s easy to gripe about lag or inventory or sim crossings, but only because it is easy to forget what we are really collaborating within
virtual worlds are instant rendering 3D applications. try creating a room in Blender 3D, add physics to it (there is a Blender game engine), put a person in the scene (Make Human is an open source person creator for Blender – like Poser) and then create a walk cycle and render out a one second walk at 24 frames per second. just the rendering will take a few minutes (could be hours too – did you know that some individual frames of the movie Cars took up to eight hours to render?). now add to that the ability for the Blender person to chat, create prims, do scripting, and be able to view thousand’s of objects and hundred’s of textures and you would have, err, you’d have a virtual world like second life or opensim!
the point being – it is easy to take a collaborative environment like we think of for granted
the most important thing about a collaborative environment are the interactions it allows, not the technologies it is made of
these environments also include things like google docs which several people can work on at the same time, ning networks (bah on the free ones going bye-bye), moodle for education, and so on. all allow many people to work and learn together at the same time
that’s what we are doing with Enclave Harbour – creating a learning space for secondary students. it’s not a simulation as talked about in eLearning and education circles. Enclave Harbour is a representation of selected real world settings designed to be used in conjunction with a lab manual/workbook – things like solar, wind, and nuclear ener-gy =p
but . . . virtual worlds get a mixed rap in the education community. there was so much media hype three years ago, do you remember all the news about Second Life? it was like the best thing since sliced bread (ener <– still a fan of sliced bread)
corporate eLearning people were preaching that it was the ultimate way to do training (subQuark has had 11 venues to share his eLearning use of it) and universities were diving head first into Second Life. at its peak, there were about 250 universities and colleges isl
once the media hype smoke cleared, the majority of the eLearning community never actually got into virtual worlds (they did a lot of talking) because of the cost and the amount of time to get good at it. it’s hard to “learn” second life on a 9 – 5 job if you are not crazy passionate about it
the eLearning gang moved on but the education gang stayed and is still pretty big on virtual worlds. now that opensim options are out there, and much less expensive, some universities are in both or have fully moved from second life
Princeton University just pulled completely out of Second Life. i have not heard if they are continuing on in any virtual world
so what happened? hype. simply over hyped and expectations were often never met
virtual worlds can be great collaborative environments, but only if key passionate people develop them and keep them going for their respective organizations . . . and expectations are realistic (virtually realistic?) =)
for Enclave Harbour, we get to build some neat things and offer it as a way to let people communicate and learn. our expectations are to create points of discussion for specific topics and that’s it. it’s like taking a text-book picture and making a 3D virtual version of it and letting you walk around it
currently, 3D LCD projectors are all the rage for K-12 but that means big expenses for schools to buy not only the projector, but also the 3D class materials. in the end, students are simply looking at 3D art. why not go a less expensive route with virtual field trips where you could even collaborate with other schools in other countries?
that’s our take on collaborative learning environments =)