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Archive for the ‘Educational Gaming’ Category

Recent additions to the themes of this blog have been moved to a new WordPress site.  The new blog “Beyond the Crystal Ball” will focus on preparing teachers and  students for the 21st Century, so the focus has been expanded beyond the original topics covered on this site.  To visit the new blog click on http://futurestudy.wordpress.com

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The following resources were collected in preparation for a meeting of members of the COPPER Carnegie leadership group (involving six colleges) that are a part of the Carnegie Academy’s CASTL initiative http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/general/index.asp?key=21 . Members will meet in a virtual world to explore the educational applications and potential of this technology. These resources may be of value to those looking for information on virtual worlds and games as educational tools.

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Bridging Cultures

Our theme will be “Bridging Cultures,” exploring new teaching strategies and technologies to bridge the gap between the digital culture of our students and the culture of school. In addition, given that the majority of college faculty at most institutions are age 40+, we have a generational gap to challenge us. While we will be focusing on one social technology, that of virtual worlds, there are a range of tools from podcasting, blogging, streaming video, interactive voice and video, computer simulations and games, instant messaging, etc. that can be of use.

There are three individuals who are writing most persuasively about the theme of “bridging cultures” that I can recommend. They include Harvey Jenkins (MIT Comparative Media Studies), James Paul Gee (Arizona State Professor of Literary Studies), and John Seely Brown (visiting scholar at USC, formerly Chief Scientist of Xerox Corporation). Here are links to their bios if you want to know more about them.

Henry Jenkins – http://cms.mit.edu/people/

James Paul Gee – http://www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/about/our-people/gjames.html

John Seely Brown – http://www.johnseelybrown.com/bio.html

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While there are a number of specific attributes to consider when choosing a virtual world world for educational purposes, the culture of that world is of particular significance. The Internet still resembles the “Wild West” in some ways, and when venturing into cyberspace with your students you never know who or what you will encounter. Most virtual worlds have a community culture which varies greatly in terms of the ages of the members, common topics of conversation, acceptable behavior and helpfulness. While many high school and college students are Internet savvy and little will surprise or distress them, older students and those with minimal online experience might find some potential encounters bothersome. In addition, the appropriateness of the environment for educational purposes might make some virtual cultures more desirable than others. While public spaces are never free from some risk, there are some virtual cultures that are better bets than others.

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At Vanderbilt University a first-year writing course entitled “Worlds of Wordcraft: Narrative Forms in the Digital Classroom” makes use of a variety of media to engage students in the learning process while enhancing their writing skills. Games and virtual worlds that are used in this course include Lord of the Rings Online, Dark Age of Camelot and Neverwinter Nights 2.http://sitemason.vanderbilt.edu/vanderbiltview/articles/2007/11/01/learning-in-a-digital-age.48427

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If you’re fairly tech savvy or have spent some time in virtual worlds, this post may not be for you. If on the other hand, you have an interest in getting your feet wet in the virtual waters, but your current use of online technology is limited primarily to email and surfing the web, then this entry is intended to help make this process quite manageable. Some of the earlier blog posts on virtual worlds might be useful as background, but this one will focus on the nuts and bolts of getting started.

When I’ve had a chance to talk with educators about virtual worlds I’ve noticed a considerable amount of interest, but also some concerns or apprehensions. One concern is related to the technology as mentioned above, the other relates to time issues. We’ll address them both below. (more…)

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There has been considerable interest in recent years in the study of virtual worlds and computer/video games. This interest can be broken down roughly into the following four areas:

  1. Pure research
  2. Knowledge and skills acquired while gaming
  3. Games as educational models
  4. Virtual Worlds and Games as teaching/learning tools

In this post we’ll take a look at the first area, pure research, with a focus on virtual worlds.

Virtual worlds with their millions of participants worldwide has drawn considerable interest as a social phenomena. They represent fertile grounds for research and study in such varied fields as psychology, sociology, economics, education and even law. What are the implications for those who spend 20 or more hours per week on average in these spaces and for the future when many more people will be inhabiting these worlds while at work, study, play and when socializing?

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If you’re If you’re interested in taking the leap and exploring a virtual world or two where do you start? Your first decision is to determine whether you want to visit one of the open-ended non-gaming virtual worlds or one of the theme based MMORPGs (massive multi-player online role playing games).

Free-Form Worlds

The first category is most widely used for educational purposes. Second Life is probably the best known of these worlds and offers much to explore. There are also a number of published guides to this world to assist you. However, I have found its interface unique and somewhat complex for beginners.

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Types of Virtual Worlds

Lord of the Rings Online

There are a large number of virtual worlds in existence with memberships that vary from a few thousand to several million inhabitants. For the most part they can be seen as falling into one of two categories, the open-ended, non-structured (sandbox) virtual worlds, and the theme based, game-like Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (know as MMORPGs or MMOs).

“Real Life” Virtual Worlds

The first category has been more widely used for educational purposes. These worlds allow you to create your own environment as well as utilize environments created by others. They often simulate real life surroundings and activities. Academically, classes can be taught in these spaces, meetings or conference sessions held, and experiments and simulations created.

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If you’re new to virtual worlds and are curious about this social phenomena and its educational potential, this post will attempt to introduce you to some basics to get you started. The concept of a virtual world is very difficult to explain in a meaningful way if you’ve not experienced one directly. Most adults over the age of 40 have never visited a virtual world, nor did they grow up with computer and video games. Those of us in this age bracket who have had this experience came to it through our children or as an interest later in life. This post will deal with the more modern worlds that make use of graphics and sounds rather than the early worlds which were text based (MOOs, MUDs, MUSHs).

It’s Not Just a Cartoon!

When first exposed to a virtual world many adults describe what they are viewing as looking something like a cartoon or one of the video games children play. Certainly the graphics employ some of the same technology used in the creation of video and computer games, and the imagery is more like an animated film than a photorealistic environment. The difference is that many of the animated characters you are viewing are controlled by real people.

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There were a couple of memories and observations that remain with me from the days of using the Zoombinis and the other thinking games mentioned in the previous post.

Multiple Intelligences

There were often a few students in the critical and creative thinking course that had difficulty with the intensive writing in the course. They seemed to struggle when attempting to effectively express their thoughts and thinking skills in writing (and also in their oral communication). However, a number of these students did quite well with the computer thinking games. While observing them playing, I could see that they possessed considerable intelligence and some strong thinking and problem solving skills. The games had revealed abilities that had not been apparent in the more traditional measures of assessing student performance and achievement. I suspect that learning disabilities may have been a factor in at least some of the difficulties with language expression. The games were allowing them to both demonstrate their abilities and experience a sense of success and accomplishment, while also providing the teacher with a more complete assessment of their talents and thinking skills. Traditional forms of educational assessment may very well overlook these forms of intelligence to the detriment of student development and growth.

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