sábado, fevereiro 14, 2015

Virtual worlds in education: real success beyond 00's rhetoric and the challenges of reality

Serendipity occured, yet again.
Within a year, a pair or papers has emerged, which combined provide a global panorama on the status of virtual worlds' use in education. More on them ahead.

It's been 9 years since the early 2006 surge in the attention given to Second Life by the worldwide media. Other educational communities had been working in virtual worlds for years, using Activeworlds (e.g. Quest Atlantis) and some even remembering the efforts of the late 1980s and 19
90s text-based virtual worlds: MUDs and MOOs (Portuguese speakers can check my written seminar on the subject at this link). But Second Life's 2006 public exposure, 5 years after its creation, really filled the balloon of expectations and enthusiasm, and is to this day synonym for many users with the term "virtual world", even though it never accounted for more than a trifle of virtual world users, dwarfed by most the largest players in gaming virtual worlds, even if one ignores the stratospheric user figures of World of Warcraft. The media's hype went fullblown, expectations ran wild, and many other virtual worlds meant for social interaction were created. Some evolved, some remain with us still, some disappeared, some morphed.

Educational uses are now more solid, research has provided insights and hard data. Experienced practicioners have developed know-how and a trove of exaples. Many bad practices have been exposed, many good practices highlighted. The technology itself has grown more stable, the required hardware has become more commonplace. New challenges such as the move from the desktop to low-cost laptops, tablets, and smartphones has emerged. And then concerns subsided, has the graphics capability of these devices increased and new approaches such as augmented reality started to emerge.

The media frenzy went away, not without announcing the death of Second Life and virtual worlds, eager as always to kill babies themselves had fed with hype. Regardless, Educators kept on using virtual worlds, the number of people at least cursory involved kept increasing, and in some cases they've achieved widespread audiences. Minecraft for young teens is perhaps the best recent example, with such a status that finding its merchandising and inspired toys - and figurines - is now commonplace.

So why aren't virtual worlds being used in most schools or indeed most online educational environments? As research and practice demonstrated over these years, we now know they work - and how to achieve great learning results with them. At the same time, research and practice has revealed the shortcomings that need to be tackled. We've moved on from the hype phase, the media has gone. The post-hype desillusion has also faded from the media, and sustainable, mature use is now growing.

The two papers below complement each other to provide the global panorama.

My own paper brings to fore the technological perspective.
Morgado, L. (2013). Technology Challenges of Virtual Worlds in Education and Training - Research Directions. In "2013 5th International Conference on Games and Virtual Worlds for Serious Applications (VS-GAMES) - Bournemouth, Dorset, UK - 11-13 September 2013, Bournemouth". Piscataway, NJ: IEEE.
I describe the required research agenda for educational use of virtual worlds to become more widespread, from individual computing issues, explaining the need to have better tools for educators and learners, and the almost virgin path of technology features supporting educational organizations, not just users.

The paper from the Australian and New Zealand Virtual Worlds Working Group provides the complementary educational perspective.
Gregory, S.; Butler, D.; de Freitas, S.; Jacka, L.; Crowther, P.; Reiners, T.; Grant, S.; et al. (2014). Rhetoric and reality: Critical perspective on education in a 3D virtual world. In Hegarty, B.; McDonald, J.; & Loke, S. (Eds.), "Proceedings of the 31st Annual Ascilite Conference (ascilite 2014): Rhetoric and Reality: Critical perspectives on educational technology, Nov 23-26 2014", pp. 279-289. Dunedin, NZ: University of Otago. 
It provides a nice summary of current knowledge on educational practices - and which practices - and then explain the challenges found in the educators' practice, such as adequate learning design and easier to use tool sets, and all the way to the need of a life cycle approach to virtual world use.

The parallels in both papers, developed independently, are almost eerie, and a great demonstration of how the community is reaching similar insights from both perspectives. Let's hope this junction of realizations can bring about more widespread change.

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