nmc virtual worlds

A Virtual World, Endless Learning Potential

published 12.Jul.11 by Carol Pfeifer/Tayzia Abattoir

CISI Cyber-Campus via David W. Deeds

Part 1 of a 3-part series

Second Life can be utilized by educators for almost any curriculum. Art, English, writing, language, fashion design, architecture, science, social studies, physics …. the list grows everyday. As is the case with any emerging technology, the innovation shines through in the real life examples of educators using Virtual Worlds to better engage students.

Angela Giovanangeli, a lecturer from the Cultural Studies Group at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, has been exploring Virtual Worlds as a way to more effectively teach students foreign languages. “Role-playing and expression through the body are an integral part of language learning,” she explains. “The body also inhibits this learning process. Adults are conscious of the mistakes they make  –  they stutter to find new words, misunderstand meaning, and pronounce sounds incorrectly.” To eliminate this issue of self-awareness, she and her group are examining how replacing a human body with a virtual body impacts the language learning process. The hope is that students will be able to more easily cast away their inhibitions and more quickly absorb the new language.

One of the main attractions of Virtual Worlds is that it mirrors real life as closely as possible, while providing authentic opportunities that learners would not otherwise be able to experience. Deven Thornburg and Laura Martin, the educators behind the Integrated Curriculum for a Digital Native Nation at the Second Life “Freedom Center” are providing those kinds of opportunities for a graduate childhood education course.

“We utilized the power of [Second Life] to create a collaborative and constructivist learning experience for our students,” they share. “In Second Life, we held mid-week classes, facilitated small group interactions, and guided students in the construction of virtual elementary school classrooms. As future teachers, it was valuable for our students to be able to ‘bring to life’ their mental images of an ideal elementary classroom, as well as test their classroom schemas with their peers.”

Virtual Worlds has proven to be so effective in engaging learners on a deeper level that some educators are building entire schools based in Second Life. Dr. David W. Deeds, IT manager and teacher at Changchun American International School (CAIS) in China is one such case. Under Dr. Deeds’ leadership, CAIS joined forces with Beijing International School and the Western Academy of Beijing to create China International Schools Inworld (CISI) – an institution that is teaching students computer design, programming, and project management among other subjects in Second Life. One humanities course offered is Information Technology in a Global Society (ITGS).

“Second Life is perfect for ITGS,” says Dr. Deeds. “Instead of just writing about making products, students actually can; instead of just reading books about running a business, learners actually will.” This learn-by-doing strategy is one of the fundamental philosophies of Virtual Worlds that continues to resonate with educator and students and is drawing more learners “inworld.”

Stay tuned for part 2, where we’ll be delving into the immersive art programs happening in Second Life…

Interested in Virtual Worlds space of your own? Check out the open properties that the NMC Virtual World Campus has to offer.