Education, Virtual Reality and the 3D Campus

Virtual Worlds (VW’s) are bringing new challenges and a possible disruption of campus life as we know it to the forefront of higher education institutions via virtual campus creation. The quest for exceptional immersive learning spaces requires leaders in higher education and institutions to reflect on processes and practices into VW and 3D environments.

In their book E-Learning Ecologies: Principles for New Learning and Assessment, Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis explore the role of new technologies in communication with learners, changing knowledge representation and the role of new technologies in transforming educational institutions. E-learning has created robust learning societies outside academia. I predict that in the near future, educators, students, and VW participants will spend considerable time in VW’s interacting with each other.

Exploring new technological resources such as VW’s and their unique environments opens new dimensions of the formative teaching and learning process. The landscape of these”multimodal” workspaces has a global reach. Pierre Baldi and Crista Lopez discuss in their article The Universal Campus: An open virtual 3-D world infrastructure for research and education the “Universal Campus”, providing a campus 3-D virtual world with multiple buildings featuring fully furnished laboratories, classrooms, meeting rooms, auditoriums, concert spaces, libraries ,and lecture halls enabling virtual meetings and interactions for faculty, students, visitors, and administration. In my opinion, VW together with 3 D technology such as the Oculus will create innovative, global, transformative knowledge spaces.


Connectivism, Siemens, and teaching in 3D Enviroments

This week I was struck by the Siemens’ article Connectivism: Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Siemens states, ‘Informal learning is a significant aspect of our learning. Learning is a continual process, lasting for a lifetime. Technology is altering our brains => the tools we use define and shape our thinking.” I believe Siemens (p.8) makes an excellent point in relating learning theories and the impact of technology and new sciences => chaos and networks.

Again, I am looking at what this means in relation to teaching ESL and ELA in Virtual 3 D environments. My predisposition is the belief that learning is about to enter the “chaos and network” realm. Furthermore, the concept of “unbundling” colleges and universities might put much of learning online or into 3D environments, which is more aligned to hybrid constructivist – chaos approach where “learners create knowledge as they attempt to understand their experiences.”

VW’s strengths as learning platforms for English language teaching and training lie in their multinational, multiethnic, and multilingual set-up. “The organization and the individual are both learning organisms.” VW’s essentially are sandboxes for highly immersive experiential learning where almost any conceivable educational scenario can be simulated and carried out. In-World students often identify strongly with their alter-ego avatar. Avatars can manipulate and use objects while socially networking in a 3D environment. With an alter ego buffering the self-conscious hurdle of fluency practice participants are more likely to speak to peers and mentors, join or form groups to meet like-minded persons, seek out casual conversations and enjoy educative congregating such as coffee house socializing, fire-pit talks or rezzing in to meet new group members for hang-outs.

Hodges notes:

Conversations depend on action-perception systems operating in dialogical arrays to orient us to the ecosystem and to identify its goods, and the directions in which we might go to realize them. Language, thus rendered, is a values-realizing activity, one that allows us to engage in the moral tasks of caring for others, ourselves, and the ecosystem within which we all live. (Hodges 2007b, p. 602)

Again this points to  networks, an interconnected world and “decision-making itself [as] a learning process” (Siemens p.5)

Once participants become comfortable in their virtual learning environment, they experience VWs as places that enable both native and non-native interaction with a potential for community building and Virtual World –> Real World (RW) carryover. Particularly favored features are instantaneous virtual traveling (teleporting) to a variety of locations on SL, the existence of support groups and forums for formal and informal learning, all of which enable L2 language acquisition through innovative experiences.

L2 is furthered not only through voice communication and interacting with a broad range of accents, pronunciation, and language usage but also through lectures, presentations, RL-like lessons, team teaching, collaborative projects, quests, storytelling, games, and roleplaying. Other favorite activities include holodecks with instant simulations focusing on situation-based learning, which potentially leads to higher retention due to word, image, action and experience association. Speed writing is inadvertently practiced through in-world blogging, twittering such as BlogHUD and SLTweets with choices of private versus public text. VW’s encourage volunteerism with eagerness to participate and connect to RW supplemental experiences such as web 2.0, are opportunities for introspection, self-examination, observation of others, and the ability to log out at any time => self-organized, controlled experience.
In VW’s there is a new orientation and (de)evolution of the teacher status as hierarchy has no place in VW, all are learners. The teacher’s role becomes that of a “facilitator” of both content and process. In the content area tasks, subjects, problems are being addressed while in the process area it is the how which is being addressed. Procedures, format, tools, style of interaction and group climate play a significant role in enabling students to interact and reach their fullest potential. So facilitator-teachers essentially become guides or discussion leaders. The process of facilitation is a way of providing leadership without taking the reins. A facilitator’s job is to get others to assume responsibility and take the lead. I believe this reaffirms “Chaos,” as the “cryptic form of order” – the connection of everything to everything section in Siemens Alternative Theory part (p. 4)

Skepticism for professional ESL teachers centers around possible gung-ho adoptions of lessons, an undefined SL learning curve due to a lack of clear objectives since most of the learning arises from self-determined experiences.Other issues center around confidentiality (recording chat), certified vs. non-certified teachers who have various linguistic backgrounds, reliability, and other collaboration difficulties, plus no apparent dominant standard such as American, British or ‘Globlish.’ In his article “Rethinking Language Learning: Virtual Worlds as a Catalyst for Change,” Dongping Zheng of University of Hawaii cautions “that many educators simply apply their classroom approaches in the virtual space, treating the environment merely as input.”

In my interpretation of this quote, this means that ESL teachers try to transfer their Behaviorist or Cognitive teaching approaches into the Chaos and Networking Reality – an unsuccessful approach which does not work in a 3D environment.

I believe that Virtual World – 3 D learning will one day become a standard tool in the 21st Century classroom, especially with the rise of 3D technology. However, there is a tendency in educators, particularly administrators, to look for a panacea. As virtual world technology strengthens, some will look to these virtual worlds with just such an eye. Sydney Papert and the predictions he made in Mindstorms asserts that we are “…indeed in the world of the future, a world where connectivity spawns creativity, where the ability to transcend barriers to communication and to spread seeds of growth and knowledge has been enhanced to a point almost beyond comprehension just thirty years ago.”

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