Wednesday, February 27, 2008

BPN 1021 Building a virtual world at school

It is quiet around Second Life. No longer are governments, municipalities and banks wasting money and storming into the virtual world to show the world how internet savvy they are. But now a Dutch language (sorry; please try the translation facility) evaluation report Best practices: Virtual Environments in Education has been published about an education project using virtual environments. The conclusion is that virtual environments are valuable additions for education, provided that the virtual environment project is bundled in with the teaching content.

Seven high schools have participated in the pilot project. Four experimented with Active Worlds and three were active in Second World. The Dutch organisation Knowledge Net offered training and technical support. The pilot fits in the SURFnet/Knowledge Net Innovation program for education.

The report offers a series of recommendations in the field of technology, organisation, and didactics and practical tips for schools which want to start virtual world projects. Here are a few hints:
- Test the environment well beforehand and arrangements with system maintenance about support;
- Make a special section in the electronic teaching environment for the participating pupils and teacher;
- Produce a plan with clear objectives;
- Offer the pupils a special section in the system, where they can experiment;
- produce a map of the environment with the object to be built and a division of tasks;
- Bundle the project in with concrete teaching content;
- Keep the pilot small;
- Make the pupils depended on each other, which will promote cooperation.

In the report two examples are offered, which can be used during classes. In a module on Roman architecture, the teacher can show a lot of examples of temples and houses. Parallel with the lectures the pupils can start building a temple or a house with an atrium. Another exercise could be modelling the school (see illustration).

The report stresses that the virtual environment should not be a project for project’s sake. But it should be an exploration trip in which pupils can work together and use the knowledge they have picked up. A virtual environment object should help the pupils to gather information about a subject. Cooperation in such a project is essential. The virtual environment also serves to excite pupils and to activate them to learn something about a subject like Roman architecture.

In my opinion the teacher will be essential in starting such a project. And almost every teacher regardless of the subject which he/she teaches can start such a project. Of course subjects like chemistry, physics and biology as well as art can use virtual environments. But also language teachers can offer a virtual world around the Eiffel tower and have the pupils chat in French. Even those pupils following abstract subjects like math and philosophy can use virtual environments. What about building the cave of Plato and discuss the problem of representation of knowledge.

It looks all exciting, but these types of projects will depend on the enthusiasm of the teacher, his/her computer versatility and the factor time.

See movie.

Blog Posting Number: 1021

Tags: , ,

No comments: