Exploring new technological resources such as VW’s and their unique environments opens new dimensions of the formative teaching and learning process. Current space-temporal barriers are opening and disrupting up the ESL teaching field. The contexts within VW’s requires thoughts about how the role of ESL teachers in VW’s. Also, an exploration of the dynamics of ESL students entering VW’s, their learning, the interaction between peers, teachers and ‘drop-ins’ or visitors is necessary. Exploring, sharing and learning in a VW unfolds venues of student network collaborations, leading to Personal Learning Networks (PNL). ESL language acquisition cannot be understood without this social and educational perspective.
Virtual Worlds are emerging as a strong educational phenomenon because they enable participants and in-world travelers to meet and socially interact with others in a variety of online environments. Users navigate these online environments utilizing an avatar. Avatars are personalized by the user and act as their ‘alter ego’ in their chosen virtual setting. There is a multitude of virtual worlds focused on education. Here a small sample: ScienceSim, Heritage Key, Active Worlds Educational Universe, Secret Builders and WizWorld Online.
VW’s invite and require a certain degree of self-organization in the personalized trajectory of improving L2 language skills. The importance of self-organization as a learning process is stated by Wiley and Edwards:
“Jacobs argues that communities self-organize a manner similar to social insects: instead of thousands of ants crossing each other’s pheromone trails and changing their behavior accordingly, thousands of humans pass each other on the sidewalk and change their behavior accordingly.”
In her article, Wendy Drexler, University of FloridaI, “The networked student model for construction of personal learning environments: Balancing teacher control and student autonomy” states:
“Principles of networked learning, constructivism, and connectivism inform the design of a test case through which secondary students construct personal learning environments for the purpose of independent inquiry. Emerging web applications and open educational resources are integrated to support a Networked Student Model that promotes inquiry-based learning and digital literacy, empowers the learner, and offers flexibility as new technologies emerge.”
Balancing the benefits of technology and real-life experiences in the experiential realm will be a challenge for the educational system at large. The benefits of VW’s are anchored in participants’ ability to create PLN’s; enhance their imagination; to grow and learn; to create with one’s mind and fingers a world that existed only as a representation and then enter that world as active learners. One future of education is the establishment of learning communities where we come to learn with each other and from each other in a collaborative process. Collaborative processes give rise to vibrant cultures of growth and development with the result of a harvest of student achievement filled with a growth mindset, mental flexibility, curiosity, risk taking and intrinsic motivation.