E-learning with web 2.0


- ► category - Virtual worlds have much in common with web 2.0, given that they facilitate multimodal interaction and collaboration across the internet. Some people view them as representing a push in a web 3.0 direction, where web 3.0 is conceived of as a geospatial web. From one point of view, virtual worlds represent the cutting edge of web-/internet-based technology; from another, they have been partly bypassed by mobile technologies which do not focus on a separate digital realm, but rather focus on (re-)integrating the virtual and the real through augmented reality and similar paradigms.

- what - Virtual worlds (occasionally also referred to as MUVEs, or Multi-User Virtual Environments) are simulated 3-dimensional environments, much like gaming environments environments, which you enter with a character known as an avatar.

- ► why - Virtual worlds present ideal opportunities for immersive, situated learning in a simulated environment. Students can visit museums and galleries whose layout matches that of their real-world counterparts, as can be seen in the replica of the Dresden Old Masters Gallery in Second Life (see image below right). They can visit simulations to learn about everything from the structure of molecules to customs in Ancient Rome. They can also practise skills in areas ranging from patient-doctor consultations to urban design, building up confidence before embarking on real-world encounters or entering real-world scenarios. Given the linguistic nature of most avatar-to-avatar interactions, there is great potential for language learners, with effective communication depending also on the development of multimodal literacy.

The possibilities for interactive and collaborative learning in virtual worlds have become evident as educational institutions have experimented with running courses and classes in these online environments. It is possible to recreate most learning environments - from lecture theatres to tutorial rooms - as well as key facilities; thus, it's possible to play audio recordings, show videos, or give PowerPoint presentations, as can be seen in the image (top left) taken in the Conference Room on the University of Western Australia's virtual campus in Second Life.

There has been some discussion of situated cognition, based on the notion that embodiment has a major impact on the way we learn. Although the avatars' bodies, like virtual worlds themselves, are simulated, it may be that this affects the nature of the learning that can and does take place there. A great deal of related research is now taking place in gaming environments, which combine many of the features of virtual worlds with game-oriented goals.

SL-2009_-_Alte_Meister_3C.png- ► how - The best-known of today's virtual worlds is Second Life, although there are numerous others, and although some educators have now shifted their attention to OpenSim (software that allows users to create their own virtual worlds; for further details, see below under Where).

For more information about Second Life, see Pia Klaar's video Second Life: Education and Professional Development: Classrooms without Borders, which is also embedded on the machinima page of the E-language wiki, along with other examples of videos made in and/or about Second Life. See also Laura Van's Second Life Education Machinima and MrKlug1's Second Life Video on Education (focused primarily on science learning).

You might also like to take a look at Second Life's YouTube Channel, the Education section of the Second Life Wiki, or the Second Life for Educators group on Facebook. Try looking up 'Second Life' on Flickr for a range of photos taken in-world, including in educational settings. Language teachers may be particularly interested in Graham Davies' ICT4LT section on Second Life and Nik Peachey's Teaching Speaking in Second Life. There are interesting educational possibilities in machinima movies, which students can make relatively easily in virtual worlds or gaming environments.

- ► where - Some virtual worlds can be accessed on the web, though others, including Second Life, still require users to download specialised software.

To enter Second Life, you need to sign up for a free account, which includes choosing the name and the initial appearance of your avatar. When the registration process is complete, you can download the necessary free software to your computer. Once you're logged in, you can visit the different areas of Second Life using the in-world teleport facility.
Other virtual worlds you may like to visit include There and Twinity. There are a number of virtual worlds for children, which typically roll virtual world, social networking and gaming features into a single platform. These include Club Penguin, Habbo (originally Habbo Hotel), Moshi Monsters, and Whyville. Many of them have very large numbers of users. Note that although Teen Second Life has been discontinued, teens can enter Second Life subject to certain restrictions. See Sharon Burns' Virtual World Tour 2008 for an overview of the educational possibilities of eight virtual worlds, or Gary Hayes' The Social Virtual World's a Stage for a brief overview of 50 worlds.

As noted above, Second Life has long been educators' preferred virtual world, but some interest has shifted towards OpenSim (see the screen capture on the left). OpenSim allows users to create their own customised virtual worlds. These can be accessed in a variety of ways, including on the web. OpenSim can be used to create virtual worlds which are similar to Second Life and can also be accessed with the Second Life software. Other sites where you can create your own virtual worlds include Active Worlds, Kaneva and Multiverse.

- ► more - For academic and journalistic references about virtual worlds, see the E-learning references page. You'll also find current information in the E-learning tag cloud.

Credits: The SL images above are screenshots taken by Mark Pegrum in the virtual world Second Life in September 2009. I owe the There link to Nik Peachey.

Contact: There's no such thing as a finished wiki. Like all wikis, this one is a work in progress and there will be changes from time to time in organisation, content and links. However, don't let that stop you from contacting me at any time with comments, suggestions or questions.