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Archive for the ‘Experiential Learning’ Category

Second Life is an open ended virtual world that is popular with educators interested in the potential of this technology. The environments in Second Life are created by the inhabitants. You can create an account and download the software for free. Below is a list of places you might enjoy visiting to get a flavor of a number of Second Life areas (most have educational themes). It will take a little while when you enter a new area for the graphics to load, so your avatar may be in limbo for a time. The images will quickly form around you and then you can walk around. Be aware that Second Life is like a large city, so there may be areas that may not be appropriate for educational purposes depending upon your intended use for this technology.

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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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For my second visit to the virtual world of Everquest, I created a new character (an elf) and began exploring the surrounding area. I noticed activity on a nearby hill and upon coming closer spotted a group of avatars defending the hill from an onslaught of foul looking creatures (orcs as I recall). The group leader sent me a message to ask if I would like to join them. I was delighted to be invited and for the next hour or so I became a member of the team, using my abilities to help defend the high ground against the “evil” enemy. When we appeared to have succeeded and the number of orcs attacking us became fewer, we decided to disband the group and go on our separate ways. We congratulated each other on our success as a team and vowed to work together in the future. I recall feeling quite energized by the experience and it reminded me of times I had gone on “adventures” with my friends as a child. I was struck by how effectively this virtual world had recreated that experience.

What a Difference a Day Makes

The very next day I logged on and went straight to the same hill to see if any members of the team had returned. (more…)

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My First Virtual World Experience

In 2001, ten years after my my first computer game experience with Sid Meier’s Civilization, I was teaching an online course entitled Psychology of the Internet. Our text was a title by the same name authored by Patricia Wallace. Although somewhat dated (1999), it’s still a good read, filled with research comparing online and real life behavior. Wallace made several references in her book to Metaworlds which she described as “Internet based graphical multiuser worlds.” While I had heard of text based virtual worlds such as MUDs and MOOs, I was unfamiliar with the online worlds that included sound and graphics. Given the nature of the course, it seemed to me that I should have some first hand knowledge of these online environments.

My stereotyped image of a virtual world was that of a glorified chat room for teens with graphics. Definitely not a place I would want to hang out for an extended period of time. My plan was to visit one of these worlds for a couple of hours, snoop around, and then be able to say that I had been there. Not enough time to be an expert, but enough to avoid looking like a total novice on the topic. Looking back, I had no clue as to what would await me.

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After using Civilization in 1991 for a semester, my next use of educational computer games occurred in the mid 90’s when a few “thinking games” were added to a critical and creative thinking course. The development of the this new course “The Mind at Work, The Mind at Play” was inspired by the difficulty students displayed with a variety of thinking skills as they attempted to play the game Civilization.

Students were required to complete the assignments for one of the games (they could do more for additional credit) and they had their choice of a few games. The course was held in the college’s Center for Self-Paced Studies so I was able to work individually with students.

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(Follow-up to the Sept. 1 post)

Using the computer game Civilization in the classroom back in the early ‘90’s was a bit of an adventure, but we learned a lot from the experience and there were several surprises. I used the game in a social psychology course and my history colleague used it in a world history class. We were also teaching computing skills since not all students were computer literate at the time.

Surprise #1: Not all students loved the game as much as the teacher did.

This shouldn’t have been a surprise, but I was so enthusiastic about the activity, I forgot the fundamental principle that students will not always respond identically to any learning activity, particularly one the teacher loves.

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I had been using a computer for just a few years back in 1991. Like many teachers, my early educational use was primarily for basic tasks such as creating my syllabi and tests and computing grades. The Internet Age had not yet dawned. I found myself wondering if the computer might also be used as a teaching/learning tool.

I happened across a review of a game called “Sid Meier’s Civilization that claimed the program had educational value, so I decided to give it a try despite never having previously played a computer or video game. (more…)

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