collaborative learning environments & us

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 =)