What are Virtual Worlds?

Virtual worlds garnered a tremendous amount of attention in 2006-2009, when millions of individuals created online avatars and institutions were developing building after building on designated plots of virtual land. In Linden Lab’s Second Life®, world-class universities hosted thousands of educational projects and experiments, from recreating historical spaces to replicating renowned museums and works of art. A lot of energy was devoted to building tools, climate simulators, physics engines, and facilitating the overall capability of these platforms to simulate reality. The idea was that these environments could foster unique and immersive learning opportunities, doing so in a way that uniquely made people feel like that were together in the same place. While the hype around virtual worlds has waned in recent years, there are still compelling developments, mainly in the form of WebGL, a new way of rendering 3D objects in via a web browser, which has been applied in virtual worlds. CloudParty, a Facebook application, is a good example of the capability of WebGL, though it is more of a hangout space and does not have as strong a tie to learning as do other purpose-built spaces. Google is a leading player in academic WebGL technology, and its vast collection of user contributed “Chrome Experiments” range from an interactive timeline of satellite launches to a visualization of connected cells that enable people to create biologically-inspired patterns.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • - davidwdeeds davidwdeeds Mar 2, 2013 What's this about "waning interest"? If we're just talking about Second Life, I agree, but this is primarily a matter of cost. OpenSimulator is going to take over as the #1 Virtual World for education within two years...or as soon as the software can get to Version 1.0, whichever comes first! They've already solved the common currency problem via PayPal. The only thing missing is...wait for it...coming up in (2). ;)- jmorrison jmorrison Mar 4, 2013
  • Just one other thought on VW learning, it is our limited experience that the work in world is better for ELL or Special Ed students vs. AP students. Educational use with special populations can positively impact their learning. - jmorrison jmorrison Mar 5, 2013
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(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • - davidwdeeds davidwdeeds Mar 2, 2013 I'm in the process of selling the Tri-Association (an organization of 60+ schools in Central/South America and Mexico) on the idea of a 3D Global Village...a Second Life only for teachers/students, using OpenSimulator. Classic example of why this is needed: the upcoming Global Issues Network Conference in Costa Rica. Our kids want to go but can't afford it. If the conference were to be held inworld, they could...and so could many others.- jmorrison jmorrison Mar 4, 2013
  • Moving around is just complex and confusing in a virtual world because we don't have the cues we get in RL - Surround sound, vibration, and easy vision shifts. Virtual worlds will become much more usable when integrated with wearable tech and can function either as full virtual or as augmented reality. Right now it's akin to gaming - some love it; some don't. When it becomes more natural and integrative, it will be more usable. - Derrel.Fincher Derrel.Fincher Mar 5, 2013

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative expression?

  • - davidwdeeds davidwdeeds Mar 2, 2013 Imagine each school maintaining its own private OpenSimulator grid. Local access control would be absolute...no one would get in or out without administrator approval. Another school or organization would host the central grid...the meeting place. The central grid would allow hypergridding only from authorized (member) schools...and then from this grid teachers/students could hypergrid to other member school grids. This solves the security problem...everything would be private versus public...and prevents kids from seeing anything objectionable...everything would be G-rated. So it offers the best of both (virtual) worlds...security plus the ability to interact with others. Oh, yeah...it'd be affordable too. A private grid via a host like Dreamland Metaverse (http://www.dreamlandmetaverse.com/) is only $45 a month. If a school can't afford that, then they can piggyback on another institution's. This is part of what we're planning on offering as an attempt (a modest one, sure) to bridge the Digital Divide. All we need is a host for the central grid...gee, maybe the NMC would be interested??
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(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

  • - davidwdeeds davidwdeeds Mar 2, 2013 I've been maintaining OpenSimulator grids for more than three years now...both inhouse and via hosts like ReactionGrid and Dreamland Metaverse. We're getting a Language Exchange Program going with a school in Virginia...so their students can study Spanish with ours...our kids are pretty good at Spanish, doncha know. But here at Peterson Schools OpenSimulator really started to get some respect when I told the powers-that-be about the MOSES (Military Open Simulator Enterprise Strategy) Project: http://openvce.net/moses. Now if we can just get this kind of investment (time, effort, money) behind using virtual worlds for educational versus military purposes!
  • - jackwest jackwest Mar 4, 2013 Minecraft is absolutely taking the 7 to 12 year old boy world by storm. I hear that some teachers are employing the 3d constructive environment for science classes, but I am skeptical of the real pedagogical value here. Artistically, I see the potential, but in other disciplines I still need to be convinced.
  • - mscofino mscofino Mar 8, 2013 (Note: I'm not sure if this belongs here or in the gamification trend report) Middle School Humanities teachers Rebekah Madrid and Alex Guenther at Yokohama International School are currently teaching several units through Minecraft. Frank Curkovic (MS Art at YIS) is teaching a unit on community and collaboration through Minecraft. Minecraft is increasingly becoming part of our content curriculum, and collaborative and individual work is being assessed the same way we assess more "traditional" projects. A reflection on the Humanities unit by Alex:
    http://alexguenther.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/course-5-final-project-reflection/ and by Rebekah:

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