Monday, March 12, 2012

A virtual world takes “real” time to learn

Second Life is a 3D virtual world where people can create avatars and communicate with other people in the Second Life world. Avatars can simulate almost any real-life actions. It is basically a game taken to the next level. It’s can be used in education for online role-playing games which teaches analytical skills, team building, and problem solving techniques.  There are over a half a million acres of virtual lands and users can interact with people from around the world and visit any location or historical landmark. Teachers can teach their students about the world and its inhabitants through a virtual world of information. The students can voice chat or text chat with others and they can participate in a virtual world of learning. Students can learn firsthand how science, math and literature are used in the real world and they can gain knowledge while having fun. Virtual worlds can have a positive impact in the classroom.

That being said, there is one big disadvantage that I see when introducing a virtual world like Second Life. The extensive amount of time it takes not only to get comfortable enough with the tool but also to use it efficiently.  It takes so much more time than average web tools to learn and train students how to use properly and safely. First, the system requirements needed to run Second Life are pretty specific. You need to run it on a decent video driver for it to work well. My brand new laptop didn’t cut it!

Secondly, once you login, it takes a while to get situated and get your bearings. You need figure out where you are and where you are going and how to interact with people along the way. You need to find some purpose in your adventure or you will find yourself lost hours and hours later. Second Life allows you to meet people that you would not normally meet in person. You can expand your PLN but you can also meet people that may not enhance your learning experience. Since it’s in real-time, you need to excuse yourself from a room. There seems to be a little more etiquette involved in Second life than with Facebook or Twitter. You might be stuck in a sticky situation!  Maybe you had some fun and you were in a zone, but did you accomplish anything or did you waste time? We all need to keep up with our emails, social networking sites, blogs, meetings etc. Do we really have time to learn a new world when we barely have enough time to figure out the world we live in today? Do we have time in our classrooms and curriculum to introduce a new world to our students when we struggle to teach them about the basics of this world barely integrating  technology into it. Unless you are very proficient in Second Life or have very techno-savvy students, be cautious of the amount  time you spend on teaching and learning in virtual environments. You may lose sight on what you wan to accomplish!

For your reference, the Discovery Educator Network Leadership Council, a group of volunteer educators who assist other educators in beginning their own journey into the virtual world, share tips for those starting out and setting them on the right path to begin their own explorations in the virtual world. Also EDTECH Island is located in Second Life, and is a free resource for all teachers and offers a variety of spaces for educational events and teaching, a sandbox, and an informational center.

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